The moment when mortality, ephemerality, uncertainty, suffering, or the possibility of change arrives can split a life in two. Facts and ideas we might have heard a thousand times assume a vivid, urgent, felt reality. We knew them then, but they matter now. They are like guests that suddenly speak up and make demands upon us; sometimes they appear as guides, sometimes they just wreck what came before or shove us out the door. We answer them, when we answer, with how we lead our lives. Sometimes what begins as bad news prompts the true path of a life, a disruptive visitor that might be thanked only later. Most of us don’t change until we have to, and crisis is often what obliges us to do so. Crises are often resolved only through a new identity and new purpose, whether it’s that of a nation or a single human being.
- Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby (2013)
[This past weekend was the inaugural (?) “Rain and Snow” winter festival at SSU, and Carol and I had the privilege of offering hospitality to Pádraig Ó Tuama, receiving more hospitality than we gave, from his presence, his words, and his easy appreciation of our shared moments. Here is a passage that shows the thoughtfulness behind an approach that combines hospitality with truth-telling:]
In many circles of faith or spirituality, there is generous time given to the testimony – the telling of the story of conversion, or re-conversion, of enlightenment or change. It is a moving thing, to listen to the testimony. But testimony, if told or heard unwisely, can be a colonisation of a single experience into a universal requirement. Jesus fed me when I was hungry, we hear, and those who are hungry feel bereft. Jesus healed me when I was sick, say the healthy, and the burdened feel more burdened. Meditation cured me of depression, say some, and others make plans to hide the Prozac. Upon whom is the burden of words? I don’t know. I don’t think there is answer. I cannot dampen gladness because it will burden the unglad. But I cannot proclaim gladness as a promise that will only shackle the already bound. Faith shelters some, and it shadows others. It loosens some, and it binds others. Is this a judgment of the message or the messenger, the one praying or the prayer prayed? I don’t know.
Hello to what we do not know.
What I do know is that it can help to find the words to tell the truth of where you are now. If you can find the courage to name ‘here’ – especially in the place where you do not wish to be – it can help you be there. Instead of resenting another’s words of gladness or pain, it may be possible to hear it as simply another location. There are there and I am here. At another point, we will be in different locations, and everybody will pass by many locations in their life. The pain is only deepened when the location is resented or, even worse, unnamed.
Hello to here.
- Pádraig Ó Tuama, from In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World
When you give in to helplessness, you collude with despair and add to it. When you take back your power and choose to see possibilities for healing and transformation, your creativity awakens and flows to become an active force of renewal and encouragement in the world. In this way, even in our own hidden life, you can become a powerful agent of transformation in a broken, darkened world. There is a huge force that opens when intention focuses and directs itself toward transformation.
– John O’Donohue
[Gareth Higgins and Brian McLaren have written a children’s story and companion book of essays on the need for a new story. This is quoted at the outset]:
Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society. Rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story … one so inclusive that it gathers
all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into the future so that we can take the next step…. If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.
-Ivan Illich, as quoted in the introduction to The Seventh Story: Us, Them and the End of Violence.
We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change.
– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy