The Fountain 2016 Essay Contest Shortlist

Here are the 36 writers who qualified into the shortlist. Winners will be announced on March 31. Good luck!

Afrouz Razavi; Amos Abi, Oleh; Arte Krasniqi; Aura Truelove; Claudia Verona; Denise Faye Oliva Tabilas; Duncan Rowan Ireland; Elizabeth Jaeger; Faleeha Hassan; Gabriella Brand; Giusi Catarinolo; Helen Stead; Janette Conger; Jessica Ornelas; JG Horta; Joel Moodley; Karina Nava-Melchor; Kathleen Jacobson; Khajira Christopher; Lawrence Brazier; Mansurni Abadi; Matthew Hawk Eldridge; Michael Mardel; Michael W. Smith; Mike Brinkac; Nuran Elif ├ľzt├╝rk; R. D. Rogers; Ray Mwareya; Rebecca Foster; Rosemary McKinley; Salma Hany Abdel Fattah; Santiago Selva; Sifon Ikpe; Suzeth Lozania; Terri Doby; Valentina Locatelli

A Moment for Reflection

  • Issue 98 / March - April 2014



    Missing Pieces

    Caroline Lancaster

    Once I could see God in one thing - even though it was the vastest, most mysterious, and perhaps most obvious example in creation - I was able to see God in almost anything.

    Before, there was no meaning. There was no cohesion. There was no contentment. Instead, there was sorrow. There was an endless search for pleasure. There was a fear of death, but also a fear of life. And there were questions. There were always questions. And the answers I found only made me ask more and more questions. I was under the impression that there was no certainty, no order, no higher meaning - that I was asking questions that were not meant to be asked.

    To put it another way, during this time in my life, I had the perception that knowledge and belief were incompatible - a relatively common idea, as I have found. Many will say that science goes against religion. Some will choose religion; I chose science, because in many ways, it appeared to be the more difficult one to dismiss. In retrospect, I know that my conception of religion was simply wrong, that the two really can be, and are, compatible. After all, not only did God give us intellectual capacities for a reason, but also, the book of divine revelation cannot contradict the book of creation. Would that not undermine God's wisdom? Regardless, at the time, my belief had melted away due to my increasing awareness not only of science, but also that scientific accuracy was lacking in my faith. As a result, a never-ending barrage of questions ceaselessly entered my head.

    To me, life had no real meaning. Everyone at some point asks, "Why am I here?" Before, my answer to this question was, "To make myself happy." Therefore, my life was centered on myself - I was the center of the universe. No one else mattered. All of my time was spent on seeking pleasure - physical pleasure, material pleasure, intellectual pleasure. I was focused on finding happiness, and I thought this happiness would be found in gaining the acceptance of others, in having many possessions, in being well liked, in indulging in worldly pleasures. In my career path, I did not desire to make a difference in the world nor was I concerned with earning lots of money, strangely enough - I simply wanted a job that I adored: a job that made me happy. Mind you, what this job was, I did not know, but this was my goal and my primary concern.

    I did not know the meaning of life, nor did I know why or how I got here, so seemingly, the only reasonable solution was to enjoy the life that I had. Why I had this life was of little import. So, I set off on a journey in search of lasting, worldly happiness, but I did not find it. Instead, I found that this abstract entity was very elusive. When it seemed I had found real and genuine happiness, I would lose it. The pleasures I partook in on this journey were only transitory, so when the contentment I found in them was gone, there was only pain. This left me still feeling empty, feeling that there was no real deep and lasting contentment to be had in this world. It was akin, in a way, to an addiction. I was always trying to get my "fix," and over time, it became increasingly difficult to satisfy myself, to hide the pain - pain that resulted from wanting, from desiring even, to live a life of higher meaning, all the while not knowing how to attain it.

    Regardless of the fact that, initially, it was knowledge and questioning that caused my belief to wither, during this time, I was not at all interested in increasing my knowledge - not in reading or in learning. I was simply apathetic; perhaps I had become burnt out due to knowledge causing me to ask questions that seemed unanswerable. Pondering frustrating existential questions was not pleasurable, nor was it, seemingly, a path to happiness, so I just ignored my thirst for knowledge and answers. In lieu, I spent my time on shallow frivolities, but this got very old, very fast.

    Despite my pulling away from intellectual endeavors and from belief, there were still some topics that occasionally caught my interest. It was my seemingly innate fascination with space, with the universe, that made me reconsider my belief in God. I could not look at the order and perfection inherent there and think that it was all just a random occurrence. This was simply impossible to me. There are innumerable examples, but for one, if the earth were any closer to the sun, it would be too hot to sustain life, and gravity would be too strong. If it were any further away, the opposite would be true - it would be too cold and gravity would be too weak. As I see it, the earth's distance from the sun could not have been a mere coincidence. In the words of Nursi, the universe is a "macro Qur'an," and I was able to discern this even before my personal beliefs were solidified; I could clearly see that the universe is brimming with God's signs, and that the sheer vastness of it is a testament to His infinity and oneness.

    Once I could see God in one thing - even though it was the vastest, most mysterious, and perhaps most obvious example in creation - I was able to see God in almost anything: the tides of the ocean, the composition of the atmosphere, a seed sprouting into a small tree, the uniqueness of a fingerprint, the utter complexity inherent in an atom, despite its size, or even the varieties of difference - and remarkable similarity - between people. To emphasize this, God repeats over and over, "Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?" And it had thus become clear - I cannot deny any of them because all of creation is a reflection of its Creator.

    At this realization - that God does indeed exist, for He manifests Himself everywhere - my thirst for knowledge made a swift resurgence, but first I had to forget everything I had previously known about my beliefs, my desires, my goals, my life's purpose - I even had to forget everything I knew about myself. I had to gain a new mindset and refine my worldview. I had to reevaluate my own personal motto. I had to change even the minutest aspects of my daily routine. There was so incredibly much to learn, as there had been so much time that I had wasted. The turnaround seemed hasty or even abrupt, but it had been in the works, covertly, for a long, long time. Those times when I pushed aside my questions? They were the final moments of calm before my life would be flipped upside down, losing every last bit of resemblance to my previous life.

    Now, I feel guilt if I waste too much time. I have, seemingly, almost a compulsion to learn something new every single day. I read - constantly - about anything and everything. My desire for knowledge is no longer in a vacuum, as it was before, because now I know that knowledge could be used to increase faith and belief, and faith and belief could be used to increase knowledge. For every question of faith or of the nature of life that knowledge led me to ponder, belief gave me answers - answers that satisfied me. The satisfaction was in seeing how knowledge and faith were not only compatible - they were intertwined. I could see the perfect order in everything created by God, and I could see all of the problems inherent in the society created by man - materialism, narcissism, and a lack of faith. But these problems were not only on the macro scale of society; on the micro scale, they had been my problems. They had been the obstacles to my happiness and contentment. I had life, and I had knowledge. Faith was the missing piece.

    I still partake in worldly pleasures - I am not an ascetic, nor do I claim to be. These pleasures, however, are not the means to happiness. Belief is the means to happiness. Worldly pleasure is a gift from God, and so I experience pleasure for what it gives me - temporary pleasure. I no longer expect it to give me lasting contentment. Faith gives me that. Life for me is no longer this endless search for worldly satisfaction because happiness cannot be found among things of this world; it can only be found through certainty of belief. With certainty of belief, I now know that even pain and suffering has a greater purpose - everything has a greater purpose.

    Before, I wanted happiness at any cost. That was my motto. Now, I focus on increasing my belief and my faith. I study, read, and reason since exercising my intellectual capacities is a way to do that and because I must not waste the gifts I have been given. My life has a different purpose now - to contribute to the greater good, to use my free will responsibly, to live rationally and reasonably, and to remember God in everything I do. One can always strive for this and never tire of it because there are infinite rewards and there is infinite room for improvement. So now, the motto that I live by is "knowledge to increase faith, faith to increase contentment." Now, I have found all of the missing pieces.

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