Recently I went to Chicago’s Macy’s to meet a friend for lunch in a restaurant there that is frequented by so few people that it’s possible to converse with no strain of hearing.
Entering the building, people are asked to use the revolving doors to pass between the Chicago streets on one side and the shopping area on the other. That’s not unique; many places use this clever invention to limit the wind on cold days, something especially helpful in this Windy City. A regular door is available for those who cannot manage the revolving one, but the inner and outer air are immediately mixed. When one is in the revolving door, one is on neither side. It’s a transition spot.
Perhaps it was the shock of leaving the chilly air-conditioning and walking smack into the oppressive heat that prompted my reflection on transition times. I wished I had had more time to adjust between extremes. Might that offer some wisdom for our troubled times?
It seems to me that many people are overwhelmed by the changes in our culture, lifestyles, technology, values. The existing problems of inequality, pollution, environmental destruction, violence, migrations, isms, group hostilities, fill-in-the-blank are so overwhelming that we often feel helpless and hopeless. We cheer those making untiring efforts, but also see people making every effort to shore up the failing order and justify the continuance of structures that we know threaten our future. Fear and frustration — and worse — are tempting, but useless, responses.
Some experience world-to-come fears from seeing unfamiliar religions and cultures (and colors!) that threaten to change the world in which they have been comfortable. Some are loathe to alter their cultures and lifestyles. Change and the unknown can be very unsettling. Again, fear and frustration — and worse — are tempting, but useless, responses.
One way or another, facing the future is challenging, and legitimately so. We need what Einstein and others call a “new consciousness,” a new worldview to form a future borne of deep layers of compassion and awareness of our unity.
Programming in regular times for awareness — even in small amounts — can help us to transition from the world we’ve known to what comes next. It can give us a sense of our own ability to contribute to its formation.
For example, taking time to look at creation’s long history with the realization that it is OUR history — proven by faith and by science — would assure us that our story proves we are not the first to face overwhelming challenges. Our Universe solved the problems thanks to the extraordinary power residing in it — a power called by many names, including God. In the past it managed to do this without humans. Now humans cause many of the problems — and we can create the solutions. Whatever we call the power in evolution, the more united with it we can be, the better prepared we are to create a future that benefits the whole.
Life of Earth originally consisted of various types of single-celled microorganisms. After billions of years, some of these microorganisms evolved a way to capture the energy in sunlight: photosynthesis. Amazing! But that process had a toxic byproduct: oxygen. Oxygen was poisonous to most microbes that had evolved in an oxygen-free environment, making it the world’s first pollutant. So Earth evolved microorganisms with methods for protecting themselves, using oxygen as a powerful new energy source. Awesome! (For beautiful details of this process, see Betsey Crawford’s recent post: https://thesouloftheearth.com/photosynthesis-living-light/.)
About 65 million years ago the dinosaurs would have had reason to believe they were invincible — until volcanic activity increased, meteors hit Earth, and dinosaur-life ended. Bad news for them, but this allowed for the eventual development of the human line.
I suspect that, if they could have thought, final members of most species along the evolutionary line would have assumed they were the best and last, and that they would rule creation forever. Yet evolution moved on.
How well do we know, relate with — how much do we appreciate — the sacred community that preceded us here for billions of years? Deepening our appreciation will surely help us in our transition times.
Fall in love, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, advised. “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything….” (www.ignatianspirituality.com/…/fall-in-love). The power that has kept creation going is still making life possible. Life is never static, not even for a split-second. How much time do we spend with that source of life? Where are we most in touch with it? When do we feel the power of love?
Some find that words in Scriptures, their own and others’, can alter their lives for the better. Reading sacred words — even when Nobody reads it more than you (!) — will do little good without taking time to love the Good News message and let it deepen our compassion by meditating, learning to calm the mind in stillness….
Some fall in love by spending time with those on the margins, being with the poor and handicapped, with children, with the dying. These experiences help us to pause “between worlds” and motivate us to care about the future one.
For many, the answer includes being outdoors, not just enjoying good weather (when it comes), or sports or outings — important as they are in a balanced life. But taking time with ONE flower, one bird, one blade of dune grass: studying it in detail, pondering its history and potential future, listening to what it might say to you — what it IS saying to you. In some cases (for example, surviving members of endangered species) we might not actually be with them, but we can learn about them and befriend them from afar. We can ponder the inconceivable immensity of the universe, of which we are an intrinsic member!
Many find poetry and music and other arts to be important ways to transition.
Some combination of things already listed can be especially powerful. Combining nature and poetry reminds me of a poem by Elizabeth Mary Strub, SHCJ:
Be Still and See
Jump up and down?
Shout to it, “You’re marvelous”?
That still won’t do.
Oh, what can I do about that tree?
“Nothing,” it says to me,
“but see, see, see,
see, until we’re a we.”
I think a deep awareness that we are a “we” leads to life-giving transitions and gives us the power to form a future built on compassion for all life! It helps us live consciously and peacefully — albeit actively — within an evolving world where change and complexity cannot be avoided.
If you have found ways not mentioned that work for you, please share them here.