By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

We are beset by uncertainty at every moment in life, and under such circumstances we seek a means of ensuring success and stability in an uncertain world.  For humans everywhere that stability is provided by religion: by faith that there is an order to the world, that some force greater than us has created us and has a plan for us and that we are a part of a larger spiritual force that has purpose and meaning.  Religion helps people to understand the particular circumstances of their own lives and the purpose of human life in general.  Nevertheless, people are occasionally surprised by misfortune and other unexpected events. At those times, religion helps people to understand and cope with life's challenges.  The staff made by an artist of the Yoruba people in Nigeria represents Eshu, the God of the Crossroads, the Messenger of the Gods, who trips us up when life is going smoothly, and who must be honored to avoid the pitfalls that lead all humans into disastrous errors.