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New Life

The picture at the head of this letter of a tree torn out of the ground and waving its roots in the air is perhaps a graphic illustration of how we all feel when great changes are afoot. The more reasonable, every-day changes in life we can normally take in our stride. But the huge shifts that have taken place in the history of nations give us pause to think how the people of those days accomodated the great changes which affected them. The industrialisation of the 19th century and the move from the country to the new towns was a real uprooting - a seeming destruction of the family roots of centuries. The same process can be seen now in China and other countries yet to take their part in the technical revolution that is taking place everywhere in the world.

But of course change, and even uprooted-ness, is often necessary for new growth to become possible. Without going along with every new fad that turns up and every new idea of the politicians we do, almost imperceptibly, adjust to new conditions, new people, new visions of what life can mean for each one of us. It is this fact of the inevitable changeing-ness of life, giving us new energy to respond, which challenges our conception of what being a Christian means. Do we, for instance, regard God, as the hymns often say, as the unchanging deity - a sort of cosy, faith blanket to keep out the cool air of change in daily living? And what can it mean for the practice of prayer while believing in that sort of God?

But of course it is quite true that we need, in the daily experiences of the changeing-ness of life, an essential, inner understanding of how God is dynamically present in the 'changes and chances of this fleeting world'. And 'present' not as the eternal, unchanging deity but as the personal, openly compassionate one of whom Christ is the image. Prayer then becomes naturally part of our daily toil, living life as the response to what is new in every moment; and God closely with us as we respond to change.

Monasticism has often been seen as an opt out of the changes of living that I have been talking about. The life of the monk appears to be the contradiction of all that I have been trying to say. But, ideally, the monk is responding in mind and heart and body to the God of 'changes' - to the challenge of Christ who calls us to be disciples in the turmoil of human desire and human need and the feelings of despair in small and great ways. The monk's life is really ordinary human life magnified to a greater intensity, where the changing kaleidoscope of our feelings and the intellectual need to understand what is happening within ourselves draws one into deep worship of the God who enters into our experience of 'change'.

Coming back to 'roots', it is never wise, the professionals tell us, to dig up the roots, without good reason, just to see what is happening. Facing the inevitable changeingness of life requires secure foundations - the spiritual foundations of understanding which are continually fed by love. But there are occasions when we are as it were, dug up and transplanted elsewhere. Then it is we do become aware of God as the one who himelf experiences 'change' - not perhaps in the same way as ourselves but at least as humanly as we do in the effects of being wrenched out of the emotional security that we had perhaps long experienced, into a greatly transformed relationship with God, ourselves and our neighbours.

© Aelred Arnesen

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