Sister Doreen’s Reflections
“IT IS THE BEST POSSIBLE TIME TO BE ALIVE, WHEN ALMOST EVERYTHING YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW IS WRONG!” (Tom Stoppard)
Some time ago when reading Diamuid O’Muchu’s book “Catching Up with Jesus” this sentence above by Tom Stoppard jumped out at me as a challenging truth in my own experience. Over and over again as experiences and circumstances have changed in my own life journey, what I thought I knew has had to undergo radical changes, is no longer an answer but becomes instead a question, or has turned out to be just plain wrong! Indeed, the best possible time to be alive, which is always ‘now’, has often felt like the most difficult possible time to be alive – for sure the most challenging time, and the most exciting time!
As I was pondering this idea, I remembered a quote from St Augustine “God is best known in not knowing God.” In a very real sense, the more we know, the more we begin to know, the more we also realise that there is so much more knowing that is calling out to us. Somehow there is a profound truth in Socrates quote “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing” or “Wisdom is knowing what you don’t know”. In my own experience, doing the hard work of trying to grasp this wisdom, I can see that being at ease with not knowing, doing the hard work of being at ease, accepting not knowing has been so important in allowing answers to come to me in their own good time. I have found that in not knowing, not hoping to know and not acting like I know I have found an inner space, a new access to my own inner strength. It’s an amazing discovery, a gift, to begin to see that everything can be interesting if you are willing to go into this deeply enough.
I find that to accept myself means I also need to accept the fact that what I think, feel, and do are all expressions of myself at the time they occur. At some other time, what I think, feel, and do may very well be quite different! In fact it sometimes makes me wonder who I am! Life isn’t static, it is always changing, and I find changing – losing myself, not knowing who I am – the best part about this is that it gives me the perfect chance to become the person I really want to be! Life really is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next.
All of this stretches our faith and our understanding of the world we live in. I used to think I had all the answers, and now I really don’t have the answers but I have questions, questions that lead me in to deeper and deeper understanding. We live with many paradoxes and contradictions that challenge us with questions, that call us to live in creative and liberating ways. The Jesus of the Gospel stories was very much a prophet of the creative imagination, someone who was always demolishing boundaries and inviting people to radically new horizons of vision and fresh hope.
Jesus poised the most important question for all time when we were asked “Who do people say I am?”. It is a question that I believe we need to keep on asking, over and over again. It’s a question that fits every time and circumstance and brings with it new insights, new visions, new hope. Jesus never answers the question, but uses it as a catalyst for us, both individually and as a community. We are invited to question ourselves and our role in God’s world at each new cultural moment. This has become so important at this moment in our history, as we have gone through almost three years of COVID and all that it has done and cost in our personal and corporate lives, and along with this, the floods and fires and drought, mass shootings and unrest in so many parts of the world, the terrible war in the Ukraine, and the poverty and hunger in so many parts of the world. Into this, that question continues to ring important “Who do you say that I am?” as it calls us to question ourselves and our role in partnership with God. The world continues to become flesh in these questing and questioning times. It continues to ask us – challenge us – to bring God to birth, anew in our times and our places.
For us in our time, living with questions, longing for inclusiveness and belonging: believing that it is the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong, is a time both of liberation and confusion. It leads us into an agonizing search and hunger for the radical inclusiveness of Jesus.
Richard Rohr in one of his books said: “In a culture of multifaith dialogue, we need a Jesus who can dialogue with diverse cultures, just as the earthly Jesus had a place at the inclusive table for people of every creed, colour, and cultural condition. … The incarnation is the radical immersion of God in our midst.”
Somehow the truth that rings out, in reflecting upon the quote ‘it is the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong’, is that to live well, resonates with something Joan Chittister wrote in one of her books: “to live life well, we can join the dance of life, move to its magical music, be moved by its rhythm for us, sing its plaintive songs, or we can sit sullen and watch it all go by, forever a stranger to the cadence it requires of us and the multiple keys it challenges us to reach.” Yes, it is a choice – a choice to enjoy life as it comes to us, to endure each costly effort, to cope with each exhausting hurdle and to learn, to stretch, to groan and to grow – to change and keep on changing from question to question.
Joan Chittister goes on to say: “If we do not resist it, if we dance the dance whole and entire, we too may come to the end of it weathered and strong, winsome and laughing, stomping and reeling in holy hysteria for what we have learned, for what we have become that we could not have been without our own particular recipe of cleansing pain and perfect joy in proper proportions.”
Indeed, the best possible time to be alive, which is always ‘now’, has often felt like the most difficult possible time to be alive – for sure the most challenging time, and the most exciting time! But I do believe it really is the best possible time to be alive when almost everything we thought we knew is wrong!