I need a different spirituality for this time…one postured for uncertainty. I realize now that what I had before was not sufficient.
For all of us this time has been a continual onslaught of change and turmoil, unpredictables and unknowns, etc. etc. etc. But rather than constantly reacting to and defending against the next new disruption, I find my soul needs a new posture: one that forms me to hold all the uncertainties and unexpecteds of life.
Those of us who have a certain amount of privilege have always had the comfort of planning to give us a sense of control and certainty.
This year revealed that certainty has always been an illusion.
Melba Padilla Maggay calls this a particularly western illusion “…that by sheer planning and management one can buttress oneself against the uncertainties of the future”1
In the US, we’re now seeing the tension and lashing out when certainty is threatened.
I am reminded of Jeremiah’s words, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Yi Fu Tuan noticed the same dynamics when he studied ancient Chinese religions. He observed that the elite practiced religion by studying astronomy and building beautiful sacred sites. He wrote, “The elite believe that they can impose a certain order on reality.”2 People with power can use their religion to reinforce their power and give them a sense of control. Tuan wrote, “In contrast, ordinary people, with less power to regulate their own lives, see reality as made up of largely arbitrary forces…” Those without power found religion around them in trees, in water, in symbols…as evidence that the supernatural could break into the ordinary. Power came from outside themselves.
Perhaps my sisters and brothers around the world who have always lived with uncertainty knew this already, that we need a spirituality for a life and world we cannot control.
Unfortunately, our spirituality isn’t primarily formed in the anxious seasons when we need it most. Our spirituality is primarily formed in the ordinary days. Think of your most routine, uneventful day. That is where your spirituality is happening….or perhaps not happening. It is who we are on the ordinary days that determines how we respond when the unexpected happens. To be postured for uncertainty requires an appreciation for all the quiet moments and mundane tasks. It requires us to have spiritual eyes to see that the holy and supernatural are already here all around us.
And in those times when the unexpected requires of us action, strength, and boldness, it is the sacred moments formed and layered over time that sustains us through.
How I will be formed in uncertainty:
- Be ok with not knowing all the answers.
- Rather than always planning and calendar-ing ahead to give my life meaning, look at the past with gratitude and the present with expectation for the holy to be here in the ordinary.
- Be aware when I’m planning and organizing in order to give myself a sense of control, certainty and safety. Look to the Divine presence for that sense of comfort.
- Rather than using spiritual practices as a temporary hold over or relief, allow my daily and routine practices to slowly transform me for the long journey ahead.
- Spend time dwelling in the mysteries and unknowns of God: like the complexities of nature, the vastness of the cosmos, and the inexplicable depth of the Trinity.
1 Padilla Maggay, Melba. The Gospel in Culture: Contextualization Issues through Asian Eyes. (Manila: OMF Literature, 2013) 54.
2 Yi Fu Tuan, “Sense of Place,” American Journal of Theology & Philosophy 18 (1997): 53.
This blog series is my own journey to de-westernize the ways that Western values have distorted my spirituality. This series is not a criticism of Western spiritual traditions. See series Introduction: This is my Un-Forming for more info.