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24 Questions for Advent: Twenty-One

Don't Worry by Martin Creed, installed at St. Peter's Church, Cologne, Germany

Worrying does not do any good; who here can claim to add even an hour to his life by worrying?

Matthew 6:27, The Voice

Anxiety continues to be symptomatic of the high-paced and increasingly dystopic future that we find ourselves. The tragic loss of life, isolation and division that the pandemic has brought only adds to our stress, and undercuts our traditional ways of coping with it.

Jesus’ question may be the most common-sense inquiry of all time. Worrying accomplishes absolutely nothing. The only control we have is in the present moment, and none of us knows what is coming just around the corner. So why do we worry?

A couple of theories:

It’s an understandable response to a complex and beyond-our-control world.

Let’s face it. The world is getting smaller and change is coming faster. When I was in high school, a trending book was Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. It examined what happens to our psyche, family relationships and societal norms due to exponential technological change. We are creatures of habit, forced to adapt more and more quickly, and it’s too much.

It’s the result of self-determination and focus on the individual.

I grew up in the “Me Decade” of the 1970s. The phrase was popularized by Tom Wolfe in his essay in New York Magazine. Wolfe states: “The new alchemical dream is: changing one’s personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self . . . and observing, studying, and doting on it.”

It’s the result of isolation from others and disconnection from God’s creative order.

Part of modernity is to pull everything apart in order to study its pieces, and thereby searching for solutions that model efficiency and mass-production. What can be lost are the connections between the pieces which are more sustainable and make life worth living.

It demonstrates a lack of faith or experience in Providence.

When we learn to rely more on ourselves, we seek to depend on God far less. The popular song “The Greatest Love of All,” originally recorded by George Benson and then re-recorded by Whitney Houston, is an inspirational anthem to self-love and determination. While an understandable response to much of the guilt-ridden, self-condemning messages that many people received from the Church growing up, it ignores the good news that our value truly lies not only in ourselves but in God’s great love for us.

Don’t get me wrong: the rise of secular humanism makes perfect sense as a response to the “bad news” that much of organized religion has brought upon the world over the centuries. The rise of the value of the individual has given people a needed voice and the power to break away from oppressive systems of injustice and inequality. In truth, the Church should be, can be and at times is at the forefront of long-overdue changes to our society.

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.

St. Augustine

Trust in Providence comes from having our eyes opened to what has happened behind the scenes in our lives and applying those observations to what is coming ahead. Steps of faith are required, yes...but not as much when we are open to remembering from experience. I had to have faith to first step on an elevator; though I had seen others do it and was with people I trusted (most likely, my parents). I also had some understanding of the science and history of people safely using elevators for decades. There is an element of risk that must be taken to use it, but the anxiety lessens the more often we do so.

Jesus remarked to the disciples:

“Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”

“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”

And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Mark 8:18-21

So much of faith, and of combating worry, lies in the ritual and art of remembering. Rafiki teaches Simba that classic lesson in The Lion King:

Oh, yes, the past can hurt.

But you can either run from it, or learn from it.

So what are you going to do?

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