A parishioner said to me the other day, “I can certainly understand why people hold on to things as they are and resist change, with all the changes we have to endure keeping some things as they are is an anchor in a world that seems to be drifting away.” I’ve thought a lot about that comment. There is logic to it and evidence it is held to be true by many people. If you feel threatened by many things shifting under your feet you will want to stand on solid ground. And many, many people appear to be embracing this reality, the more things change, the older we get, the more we find our habits and practices to be normative, not only for us but for others too.
Indeed that latter point is interesting. Not only do we seem to want things to remain as is for us, there is a clear signal in the body politic that we want them to be maintained for others too. Somehow it is not enough that “our” traditions remain a constant but we need to ensure and enshrine and codify these experiences for others around us too. It’s interesting to me that this leap of logic, from me to we, takes hold and we want to insist that what is meaningful for ourselves be replicated for others in the public realm.
My own experience is slightly different. I agree wholeheartedly that constant change can be chaotic and habits and ritual is a wonderful antidote to this anxiety. But I find that “things” and “stuff” has the opposite effect with regard to creating a sense of “permanence” for me. Rather than these items remaining me of permanence, instead they taunt me with “one day you will have to remove me, and what a tremendous amount of work that will be.” A lot of stuff is also distracting for me, I cannot focus on many things, having one thing in my line of vision is enough and if that thing is filled with an air of meaning, all the better. Having strategic items that remind me of key people and experiences in my life is a settling feeling to me. But overload has the opposite effect.
I often think of the Israelite experience, that Jews have often been forced to move against their will from place to place. They take with them their sense of identity, a strong notion of who and whose they are. Amidst constant change of country, context, generations, these peoples are focused on maintaining their sense of self. Rituals, spiritual practices, story-telling, icons, religious symbols, all need to be transported from one place to the next. It requires the ability to know what is important and what can be left behind. It gives a people a sense of permanence in the midst of constant change.
As we navigate change in a far less intense way than the Israelites perhaps we can learn from them, take heart that some things are permanent but that the changes around us and the stuff we try to carry along for the ride of life are less necessary than we imagine. There is enough to worry about as we age than to add the need to find a place for things and the upset that everything around us is different. Can we let go of that, can we let people find their own sense of permanence and can we focus on what we need to maintain what has been so important to us?
I pray we can.