“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves. We must die to one life before we can enter into another!”Anatole France, French author and philosopher.
“There is no sin punished more implacably by nature than the sin of resistance to change.”Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of Charles Lindberg the aviation pioneer.
“Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.”Alvin Toffler, American futurologist and author.
(Photo credit: emindful.com)
(Note: Biblical citations in this piece are taken from The Kingdom New Testament as translated by Anglican theologian and Bible scholar N.T. Wright.)
The list of certainties in life is very short: birth, death, and change. Some people add taxes to that list. However, it is theoretically possible to conceive a life without taxes, and we are told by anthropologists that in primitive societies they didn’t exist – although contributions to the common weal were expected.
I suppose birth is not even inevitable if we accept that a child in the womb is alive, but may not make it to birth. Of course, this has become a very uncomfortable and largely ignored subject in polite progressive societies like Canada, but scientifically there is no denying that an unborn child is alive. The US is not as “polite” as Canada, so this subject is still a hot public one there. But we will not follow that trail today, as worthy a discussion as it is to have.
The US has just undergone a very important change, a transition from one President to another, with the legislative reins of power also significantly shifting from Republican to Democrat hands. Some readers of this blog are doubtless also going through major life-changes, transitions from one chapter to another. All of us, young or old, rich or poor, famous or ordinary folks, partnered or single, are going through change, experiencing transition. As Henry Ford once said, “Life is just one damn thing after another.”
Our three citations above all point to different facets of how everyone experiences transition. I could have given many more. I will simply add the gist of a few of them: “… [the] gate of change…can only be unlocked from the inside” (Marilyn Ferguson); “Most of us are about as eager to change as we were to be born…” (James Baldwin); and finally, a famous one, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” (Alphonse Karr)
Toffler speaks of change “invading” our lives. This is because most of us, if we reach a place of comfort and ease, or just plain old being used to how things are even if they are pretty dismal, like “the devil we know rather than the devil we don’t know”.
Anne Lindbergh, who went through horrendous pain in her personal life, knew what she was talking about when she said that resisting the inevitability of change brings on “implacable punishment”. In her case, she was speaking of deep grief never being able to bring back her once fairy-tale life after her dead child was kidnapped and killed and her family destroyed. Anyone who has lost what is most loved and precious either learns this truth or ends up emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually destroyed.
It is easy to be philosophical about change as you observe it from afar. It is a far different thing when I am the one in the midst of it. When it involves great pain, loss, and prolonged suffering, whether physical, mental, or spiritual (and they are inextricably interwoven in the long run), philosophy becomes very thin. At that point, survival becomes primary. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s paradigm of loss and grieving comes into play with all its messiness.
There are many variables in how individuals, groups, and whole societies undergo transition and change. There is no fixed template. Kubler-Ross’s brilliant synopsis, nuanced since then by her and others, remains a tremendously helpful reference point, allowing that there is no clean order in which the phases occur, the length of time they may endure, or the intensity of the feeling.
“Navigating” change and transition is a helpful analogy. Traveling the road of transition and change is much more like a voyage in an old sailing ship than in a vessel equipped with powerful engines to combat the forces of nature. Even powerful modern ships are often blown off their planned course. “Nature” and Life do not play by our rules. Life is embedded in Nature and not governed by how humans hope, yearn, and strive to control its course and outcome.
With few exceptions, none of us knows ahead of time when “the end” will come. Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra famously sang “I did it my way!” with more than a little autobiographical hubris. I suspect that upon reaching the other side we find that what awaits us is not about “doing it my way” anymore, and in fact never was. A very old aphorism says, “You reap what you sow; if you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.” If all you have is now and then you go into oblivion, perhaps the complete ego-centrism of “doing it my way” and telling everyone else that they can just go down “the highway [to Hell? – as per ACDC]” – has appeal. But the deadness at the centre of such a life kills what is essentially human even for atheists.
“Doing it my way” is described by the Biblical author Kohelet (King Solomon’s pen-name) as “chasing after the wind.” You can never catch up to it or cage it. We like to think we are quite clever because we have found some technology to make the wind work for us when it is blowing the right way. But we always rediscover that, as Jesus described the work of God’s Spirit, “The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound it makes; but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going to. That’s what it’s like with someone who is born from the spirit.” (John’s Gospel in the The Kingdom New Testament, Chapter 3, Verse 8.)
We can never really have it all our own way. There is indeed a highway to Hell. Jesus once described it like this. “The gate that leads to destruction is nice and wide, and the road going there has plenty of room. Lots of people go that way. But the gate leading to life is narrow, and the road going there is a tight squeeze. Not many people find their way through.” (Matthew’s Gospel in the The Kingdom New Testament, Chapter 7, Verse 13.)
Born of the spirit. That’s the difference between insisting I do it my way and everyone else can just take “go to Hell”, and discovering a life full of greater meaning and enduring fulfillment. Humans are spiritual beings, but many of us spend our lives neglecting or even denying the inner source of our life. When we do that, change become hell, because the darn old world and cosmos keep insisting that we’re not in charge, no matter how carefully we strive and contort ourselves to make the reality we want happen.
That is the deep truth that Anne Lindbergh was referring to when she said, “There is no sin punished more implacably by nature than the sin of resistance to change.”
That is what Anatole France was driving at when he said, “We must die to one life before we can enter into another!”
The future will “invade our lives” as Toffler said. And when it comes, if we have not prepared to meet it with openness and grace, it will “punish us” and perhaps even destroy the life we led up until that time.
We will conclude these reflections with another saying of Yeshua/Jesus that is really the last word about changing, for it speaks of the only way to really change permanently to open the road to birth into what the Creator made us to be.
“Let me tell you the solemn truth,” replied Jesus [to a Jewish leader named Nicodemus two thousand years ago]. “Unless someone has been born from above, they won’t be able to see God’s kingdom.”
“How can someone possibly be born,” asked Nicodemus, “when they’re old? You’re telling me they can go back a second time into the mother’s womb and be born, are you?”
“I’m telling you the solemn truth,” replied Jesus. “Unless someone is born from water and spirit, they can’t enter God’s kingdom. Flesh is born from flesh, but spirit is born from spirit. Don’t be surprised that I said to you, You must be born from above. The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound it makes; but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going to. That’s what it’s like with someone who is born from the spirit.”(Gospel of John, Chapter 3, Verses 3-8)