FROM RIGIDITY AND CHAOS TO INTEGRATION
In some of our institutions, parishes, buildings complexes we have watchmen or security personnel. I am talking about the day-watchmen particularly those who mind the gates, not the night-watchmen, who are actually paid to sleep in our properties! In any case, I think, there are three types of watchmen. There are the rigid ones; there are the chaotic ones; and then the integrated ones. The rigid ones prefer to stand or sit stiff at the gate, much like the Queen’s Guards at the Buckingham palace in London! They would not do anything else except to guard in attention position. I wonder if they really enjoy what they do. There are the chaotic ones who would be doing many other things – talking, running around the compound, joking with everyone. When they are most needed they may not be around. The management can’t be sure of these chaotic guards. The third type, are the balanced ones. They know when to be alert, and when to relax. They enjoy what they do. They are the integrated type!
This is a silly analogy that I have just put-together to help us reflect about something very profound that, I think, the Word of God is telling us in this 1st Sunday of Advent. The gospel text of this Sunday actually talks about doorkeepers keeping awake! The key message of this Sunday is, “Waiting for the Lord.” The gospel reading began with these words, “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come” (Mk 13:33). Now, how do we stay awake, how do we wait, how are we to be on our guard? We can wait in rigidity – in fear and trembling, not enjoying the here and now. We can be chaotic – doing a lot of things, running around, and missing the Lord who wants to encounter us. We can be also waiting in integration – going about our daily tasks with mindfulness and a sense of balance; being aware of our own selves, reaching out to others and being open to an encounter with God! Could this season of Advent be for us, a kairos of integration?
Rigidity Vs. Chaos
Faced with the need for change, or even growth or transformation, we could have a fear that if we change too much we might end up in chaos – confusion and disorder. This could be true of individuals and institutions. So what do we do to avoid chaos? We fall back to the default-mode. We continue to think and behave as we have always done.
Let’s say, you are in a planning meeting for Christmas in your religious or parish community. May be you want to plan something for your family get-together. There is a possibility to be creative, wanting to do something novel, and say, “this year we will do it differently!” But this is frightening because we do not know if the new way of doing will work out or not. The feast could possibly end up in a big fiasco! So we say, “What did we do last year? Oh yes, last year it was very good actually. So we will do exactly as we did last year.” Now this is rigidity. This way of planning a Christmas presupposes that nothing significant has happened between last year and this year – that the people and the situations are exactly the same. The danger is that if we keep doing this for the next five years, our Christmas might just become insipid.
This is exactly what could be happening in our personal psycho-spiritual lives. This is what could be happening also in the faith-life of communities, even as we would like to respond to the God who wants to “keep us steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor 1:8). I know I would like to grow. And to grow I might need to abandon a particular old way of behaving. But I am afraid: after all, the old way of behaving has helped me survive all these years! And if I change, how will I handle the new situations. So I fall back to default-mode: this is what I am used to; I know, it gives me trouble, but it has worked somehow, and surely this is better than the unknown chaos! So I remain rigid. I become growth-less. I become life-less.
There could be similar situations in our faith communities – parish communities and the universal Church: Oh if we change, there will be disharmony (chaos!), and people would abandon our church! But we know there are elements in the community that have become insipid and need to be thrown away so as to remain meaningful (see Mt 5:13). And because we choose to remain rigid, we know, there are also people who are falling out of the fold. What happens within us as individuals, in terms of the dilemma between rigidity and chaos, is not isolated from what happens in our community. After all, individuals make up the community. And the rigidity of the community could be maintained by the inner-insecurities and fears of individuals.
So what is integration?
Integration is changing without losing our identity. This is transformation. This is growth. It is a sense of balance that harmonises stability and growth. It is also being mindful of my own personal inner processes and the dynamism that are in play in the groups that I belong to.
So, in the example of planning for Christmas, we might want to ask, how could we do this meaningfully this year, rather than merely focussing on the avoidance of chaos. And in my personal life, I could be asking myself: how could I grow out of this style of acting so that I can enhance myself? And in our own spiritual journey, we could be asking ourselves: even as we wait for the coming of Jesus, how can we experience God here and now?
In short, being on guard, staying awake, or waiting, is not being rigid. It is being dynamic enough to realise that by calling us to communion, God has already “joined us to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful” (1Cor 1:9).
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.