Friday, 11 November 2016
Still Moving Forwards, Still Remaining Still
I think that a great many people would agree that as years go, 2016 has been somewhat less than ideal. A slew of well-loved actors, singers, writers and other famous personages have shuffled off this mortal coil, while we’ve been faced with unexpected political upheavals. Here in the UK, we suddenly found ourselves preparing to drift away from the European Union, a situation that I do not consider to be good, either in the short or long term, and in the US they’ve just managed to elect a man who, as far as I can tell, is woefully unsuited to the job, and whose campaign has relied largely on divisive and discriminatory rhetoric. I suspect that for many people, especially for minorities in the US, this is a real ‘one set of footprints’ time for them.
Nevertheless, I remain cautiously optimistic. In the case of Mr. Trump, I hope that the realisation of the responsibilities he’s taken on will cause him to rethink his more radical policies, and present a more conciliatory and understanding style than his populist vote-winning suggests. In the UK, there is a chance that we will be able to make something of our new-found independence, and that the rash of racially and religiously motivated attacks and harassments that followed the vote will die back down, and Britain will maintain its reputation for tolerance and openness.
I’m not saying I necessarily think these will happen, merely that I remain quietly, cautiously optimistic. I have been thinking recently about one of the less well-known Christian virtues; that of Stillness. In eastern traditions, it might be called tranquillity. In Catholic thought, it is (or is related to) the heavenly virtue of Patience, which our second holy tome (i.e. Wikipedia) defines as “the forbearance that comes from moderation; enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity; building a sense of peaceful stability and harmony rather than conflict, hostility, and antagonism.”
It is also, obviously related to the theological virtue of Hope (pipped to the top spot by Love, but nonetheless on the podium as one of the Top Three Virtues as voted for by a live television audience). Of course, Hope is itself related to its fellow medalling virtue, Faith. I suppose that in some ways it is much like the classical virtue of stoicism, although that has connotations of emotionlessness, of suppressing the emotions and the outwards display of them, rather than cultivating a stillness within oneself.
Christian scripture, litany and hymnody is full of calls to stillness. “Be still, and know that I am God”. “Be still, for the presence of the lord, the Holy One is here.” “Be still my soul.”
It’s about remaining calm, remaining tranquil, being patient and hopeful in the face of upsets and setbacks. It is about trust as well, about having faith that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Or, if you prefer, not disimilar to that now horrifically over-used,over-adapted and irritating wartime catchphrase "Keep Calm and Carry On".
It is easy to react, especially given the way the world seems to be shifting back towards bigotry and intolerance, with fear and despair, or worse, anger. The protests we’ve seen in America in the nights since the election are not a useful reaction to the election of Mr. Trump. They are an emotional lashing out, and while they’re perfectly understandable, they are not helping. If anything they’re making things worse and confirming Trump’s supporters in their conviction that they represent order and lawfulness. He was fairly and democratically elected, now we have to figure out what to make of the situation we’ve been given.
I am not suggesting not taking action; stillness isn’t about inactivity. Having faith and hope in a better future doesn’t mean sitting around and waiting for it to happen. Action must be taken, work must be done, that future must be built, and we, unfortunately, are the ones who must build it. We must have faith that we will be guided and supported in that work and remain hopeful that the goal is achievable, despite what appear to be difficult times and significant setbacks. We must keep moving forwards, and atempt to remain still while we do it.
So, I shall try to remain patient, I shall try to remain hopeful, I shall try to maintain my faith both in God’s guidance and in the future He guides us towards. I shall try to be still, and in the stillness, hear the small, silent voice that says, “All will be well. I am with you. Do not be afraid.”
I’ll finish this post with a verse from the hymn, Be Still My Soul:
Be still my soul, thy God doth undertake,
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still my soul, the waves and winds still know,
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.