I have just finished my 6-day retreat for 2010, in an Advent that saw the end of the first decade of the 21st century and yet our yearning for the new thing as keen as ever. My spiritual director, as usual these days, was the forest around me. One afternoon, I watched a cicada emerge from its shell. Almost imperceptibly slow, but as inevitable and awesome as the Coming of God, the new broke forth. Let me share 3 new things I noticed in these 6 days.
The post-Christians, ex-Christians, postmodernists, and that peculiar tribe of ‘lapsed Catholics’ are banging on the doors of the Church wanting to hear about Jesus. I read Thomas Moore (Writing in the Sand: Jesus and the soul of the Gospels) and, slightly more lunatic, Tom Harpur (The Pagan Christ: recovering the lost light). They want Jesus without the Church. (Harpur also wants him without history, just in mythology, but I’m cynical enough to suggest the two categories are not so distinct.) The new thing is Jesus has left (or been lifted from) the Church’s arms and is speaking to people again. Scary! The new thing is that Jesus, within the Church, has moved from being the unquestioned Centre of things to being the Problem.
The nature of human development has changed. Bill Plotkin (in Soulcraft and/or in Nature and the Human Soul) and a host of others are now convinced that most of the western world is stuck in adolescence. Whole countries and cultures are, in effect, simply teenage gangs on the loose, because an essential step in their growing up into adults has been missed. This step he calls soul initiation and it involves a serious encounter with nature and wilderness. All the last six years I have spent running around the world inviting people to “love your local ecosystem”, it turns out, have really been about inviting them to grow up! Anyway, it feels good to have two more stages of life to look forward to (Adult and Elder), if you’re prepared to learn the soulcraft. And that will release new sorts of people into the Earth’s systems. We need this new thing!
Finally, I glimpse what Jesus saw as new. He used to say, “The time is fulfilled. Change!” His earliest disciples followed him because he convinced them there was a new thing happening. It wasn’t his magnetic personality; if it was, it was a very weak magnet. It was a new era dawning, that Jesus could see. And they were ready for it, longing for it. Aren’t we all? This is the real ‘new thing’ we are hoping for.
It’s no accident that the earliest attempts to understand Jesus as a Jew saw titles like Son of Man and Christ being used. These names implied we were living, in his presence, at the end of time. We were (and are). Not the ‘End of the World’ but the End-of-the-World-as-we’ve-known-it. This has huge significance for an evolving universe – the spiral is turning.
It was Paul who introduced the kyrios (Lord) title for Jesus, and in the cities of the Roman Empire this was clever marketing. (They knew too many ‘lords’, up to and including Caesar.) But, as happens with all fundamentalist surges, the theologising gets stuck. Jesus stayed ‘Our Lord’ up to my childhood in the 1960s. And who needs another Dominant Male, another Lord, another Bully Boy? We’re back in the area of teenage gangs and adolescent cultures. We need the new thing, now.
Moy Hitchen, Geneva
This ‘new thing’ is, in my opinion, that elusive thing, very vague, yet constantly desired by devout souls even though they do not know clearly what they want. Of course what they are looking for is happiness but unfortunately it is most often sought in the wrong places. This Happiness they seek has to be everlasting and total. The greatest happiness we humans know of is, of course, is love. And the only object of our love that is total, everlasting, freely available to all of us, faithful and fruitful, is GOD Himself incarnated in the person of Jesus. So this ‘new thing’ has to be a personal, loving relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. And the search for this could be a lifelong search, covering many years, sometimes perhaps taking wrong turns and having to admit: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.
I see the following steps:
Step 1: I WANT. Not “I’d like”. I’m totally determined even though I don’t know how.
Step 2: I CAN’T. I must realize my own helplessness.
Step 3: GOD WANTS. My wanting in step 1 is actually on God’s agenda too!!
Step 4: GOD CAN. Because nothing is impossible with God.
Step 5: LET GOD. I’m not putting God under pressure. He can have all the time He wants.
Step 6: GOD WILL. God will respond in His own time. It’s His agenda.
There may not be anything new about this in the history of prayer but it may be new to some Brothers who sometimes say: “We are not a contemplative order. Leave contemplation to the contemplatives”. But the fact remains that all of us humans were created to contemplate God for all eternity so there can’t be anything wrong with starting the process in this life. So it seems to me that this ‘new thing’ could be a move towards a more contemplative living.
Paddy Cripps, Ireland
The half-century since the watershed 1960s has brought a revolutionsworth of revisioning in many fields of human effort. Many things that were first dismissed as a fad, a fashion, or a foolish phase, are now recognised with respect as part of a coherent shift…
from discrimination to inclusion,
from complacency to compassion,
from certainty to open-mindedness,
from convention to conviction,
from outward conformity to inward conversion.
A critical mass of human hearts have now pushed past the inertia of a dying way of life, broken out of the shell of an earlier existence, fluttered into light and space from a cocoon no longer needed. It is too consistent to pass for random splashings; it has become a thrusting tide, and we are recognising the thrust as Grace. Though we might mourn what is lost or past, yet reaffirming that ‘God is in charge’ means we don’t have to lament “What has become of the ways I knew and loved?” It is the stage-theories of Erikson and Kohlberg and Fowler writ large, become corporate. The centre-of-gravity of humanity has rolled forward.
What is not new is the messiness and the murkiness, the mix of weeds and wheat. But what is new is our time’s budging another inexorable step towards God’s dream - ‘the kingdom’, in the words of its pre-eminent harbinger, Jesus.
Michael Burke, South Africa
compiled by Senan D’Souza, International Spirituality Team
published February 2011