Philosopher, Eric Hoffer, saw that unlike the perfection he saw in nature, humans remained “permanently unfinished”. We are always a “work in progress”. I like the image used by both the philosophical John Dewey and the theologian Karl Rahner who labeled each of us as “unfinished symphonies”.
Life at times can seem a little discordant. As we largely have no script for the particular complexities of our time and circumstances, it is important to intentionally take time to slow down and reflect on what we are doing and how this affects what we are becoming.
A cardiac professor demonstrating a procedure told his students “at this point in the operation, you have only 60 seconds, to tie off the artery, or the patient will die. He then added, “This is why, you must slow down and take your time”.
Formation is the process of exercising deliberate attention to what we do in alignment with who we are, and what we are becoming. In chaotic, stressful and uncertain times, it might seem like a luxury. It is not a luxury. It is essential. It is about taking responsibility for our unfinished symphonies.
In 2004, I spent a week at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, thanks to the generosity of the Sisters of Chariry (RSC). While there, I caught up with a dear friend made new friends who I soon recognised as kindred spirits. On different levels the time was rich and rewarding.
In one of our last sessions, Joel Elkers, a retired professor Johns Hopkins spoke briefly. He spoke of losing his family in the holocaust while he was overseas, studying to be a doctor. He said that he had learned that “If the darkness is coming, we will all need to learn how to garden in the dark”. These words were so obviously profound that they were met with silence and reverence.
Over the years, I have randomly recalled these words and pondered their meaning, always thinking that I was missing something. Covid19 and the unraveling that accompanied it has been like “darkness descending“ for much of the world. In recent weeks I have become aware that many people I know, have taken to gardening with the opportunity this uncluttered time has given them. This in turn, has pointed me to reflect further.
In the richly blessed land of Australia, forewarning, shutdown and isolation meant that we “dodged a bullet” and did not suffer Covid19 like Italy, Spain, New York and many other places. The current challenge is to recognise this with ongoing gratitude. They danger is that we think that it wasn’t a big deal after all.
It is awesome to think of the enormity of what could have so easily happened and appreciate that it did not happen. To be honest, I remain “in the dark” regarding the true immensity of this.
My grandson is right, “we Never stop learning”. At this point the question pressing us is how do we put our new learnings, and perspectives, to good use? The greater good has been waiting for us and the right moment. What is being revealed needs us to be present and to participate. We cannot, must not, underestimate this.
Dr Michael Downey is an Author, Teacher, Consultant, Retreat Leader & Workshop Facilitator. ,