PROMISES: the practice of creating the world


Ellen Lowery


Random or Divine?  by Don Lifto

Fifteen billion years.

Big Bang regurgitation.

Random or divine?

The meditative song, “Where Do We Come From?” is based on an oil painting by French artist, Paul Gauguin.  It chants three fundamental questions about the universe:  Where do we come from?  What are we?  Where are we going?  These three questions are framed in the reproduction of Gauguin’s painting below.  The artist encourages us to interpret the painting from right to left.  The three women and child on the right of the painting symbolize the beginning of life.  The middle section represents the daily experience of young adulthood.  The composition on the left is most complex and depicts the end of life with an old woman approaching death.  Gauguin includes a white bird to represent the futility of words and a blue image to suggest the beyond.  Reflecting on the painting, the artist was quoted as saying, “I believe that this canvas not only surpasses all of my preceding ones, but that I shall never do anything better – or even like it.”

The setting for these larger than life questions is our shared universe, which scientists estimate is about 15 billion years old.  This is unfathomable to me in terms of both its seemingly endless, refluent passage of time and its disputed origin.  As the Haiku questions, was the creation of the universe random or divine – a deliberate engineering by an omnipotent force, or a big bang explosion of cosmic elements swirling about randomly for eons, without the benefit of a divine architect?

Gauguin’s unusual painting and the song it inspired provide us with both visual and auditory stimulation from which to reflect of life’s most fundamental questions.

Where Do We Come From?

I don’t know.

What are we?

Soulful beings.

Where are we going?

I don’t know.

The meditative chant concludes with what for me and many others is a central truth and an understated reality: “Life is a riddle and a mystery.”