In the wider world, this is a week of change.. President Obama is serving his last day, and tomorrow, President Trump will be sworn in. Yesterday, Theresa May set out the basics of her approach to ‘Brexit’. Today, Martin McGuinness has said that he will not stand in the forthcoming Northern Ireland elections. The world feels very precarious.
Here in Jesmond too, change is in the air. A new Vicar, Canon Brian Hurst, will be installed at St George’s and St Hilda’s ‘in the Spring’ of 2017 (the precise date depends on building works to be completed soon). The Mistletoe Bakery, a long-time part of Jesmond life, has just closed its doors for good, as has the Oxfam clothing shop in Acorn Road (though the bookshop remains). There are plans afoot for new activities, new ways of doing things, new people and new spaces.
Have you ever been on the waltzer at the Hoppings? I have once, and it is not an experience I’ll ever forget! You think – well it looks OK – and you get on – and at first it is – you think, that’s great, I can handle this, but then the attendant decides you’re looking a bit too comfy, and he starts to spin it. Back, and forth, as it goes faster and faster – and very soon you have no idea where you are.. . And then after an infinity of moments gritting your teeth and wondering whether eyes open or closed will be best, it stops… But when you shakily stand up to get off, you have lost all sense of balance, and stagger off as if drunk, falling to your knees sick and dizzy in the grass…
Life seems a lot like a waltzer. It looks OK, and you think you are on top of everything it can throw at you – but then things change… Valued friends can move away, changing the networks which sustain you and leaving gaps that are hard to fill. Illness can change your life – challenge the way you have lived for years, turn that life upside down. Changes at work or in the community can also throw you off balance. Everyone is trying to find out information, to position themselves for the future. On the one hand we might be right there, where we need to be – but on the other hand, a new direction might mean we are picked up and thrown around like people on the waltzer, only to be deposited giddy and uncertain somewhere new.
How can we deal with those stomach-churning moments of realising that things are not going to ever be the same again – that we will have to take risks in order to reach that position of relative stability and security again, and that even then, things will alter again and again? Being human is at least in part about wanting security, order, safety, long term relationships. But being human in the 21st century is about dealing with almost continuous change – in technology, organisations and everyday relationships to name but some. Being a mature human being has to be about coping with change.
Some of that coping will come through stillness – prayerful waiting upon God.. not telling him the answer we want, but waiting for the answer he offers.. Some of that coping will come through loving our neighbours – listening not only to those around us that we like and find congenial, but also to those we find hard to understand, those who are different.. taking them seriously, because they matter.. Change is risky – but stagnation is worse. There is no growth without change.