We all tend to think that if we had been in charge of creation we would have kept all the nice things and discarded all the bad ones. The more we learn scientifically how the world works, the more clearly we see that this is just not possible, for fruitfulness and destructiveness, order and chaos, are inextricably intertwined. John Polkinghorne
My teeth are wearing out. A few weeks ago I had a filling renewed. The tooth probably won’t survive another patch-up-and-mend. A couple of years ago, its neighbour was extracted, the dentist and I being jittery about root-canal work. I am wearing out.
A friend and I go to John Lewis. As we walk through one department she says, “They’ve changed everything round. It makes me cross. I used to know where to find what I wanted.”
I go with a friend to a workshop. We sing a chant to the Divine feminine: “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes.” “DON’T TOUCH THAT!” he jokes.
We don’t like change. We like things to stay the same so we can feel secure.
When I talk here about change, I don’t mean the changes we make – our constant drive for growth, progress, innovation and entertainment – which leave us exhausted and jaded.
Rather I have in mind the turn of the days, the seasons, the repetitive cycles of heartbeat and breath, birth, the ageing of our bodies and minds, death. These changes remind us that most of our little life is utterly beyond our control and, like Canute, subject to forces we cannot finally avert.
There is no life without change. A world in which there were no tectonic plates, no earthquakes, no tides, no weather, no seasons, no Sun that is slowly giving out – a world without change – would be a world without life.
This body changes: I am physically a different person today than last year, yesterday, a second ago. The very substance of this body changes with each inhale and exhale, ingestion, digestion, assimilation, elimination, excretion.
Change walks hand-in-hand with risk, bringing stress and anxiety. It is why we tense up, refusing to let go and relax, hoping to hold on to things as they are.
Something bigger than this small life is going on – something “whose meaning,” Mary Oliver writes, “none of us will ever know.” When we are able to relax and to trust this ‘something’, prayer helps us to receive new life, to lean into loss and to let go.
Breathing holds the essence of change deep in this body. Consciously to breathe is to consent to moment-by-moment change in a world of meaning utterly beyond comprehension. Each breath is belonging to Life. Each breath is a prayer.
Last in the series.