So much is covered by the over-arching metaphor of expansion and contraction. It is the activity of our lungs as we breathe, of our heartbeat, and some physicists say it is the constant activity of the universe.
But it’s more than merely physical activity. It’s the living of our lives, our relationships, and all our endeavors. It’s even the description of neuroses: Imagine a continuum. On the one end, one is out of control, extreme expansion; on the other, one is out of touch, extreme contraction. In interactions with others, one may be extroverted in a state of expansion and introverted in contraction.
Expanding and contracting is the activity of birth. As it is the activity of living, it might be considered a constant “birthing” of our lives. In the arts, there is a place for creation and a place for performance—for the composer and for the musical performer, the playwright and the actor, the poet and the critic. And both are equally necessary, interdependent. Neither can exist without the other.
In our pursuit of secular vocations, we discover that there is as much need for creative innovation as for maintenance and management. Since both are equally necessary, neither should reject the other.
In our spiritual lives, we follow the paths of service and prayer. God teaches us via our own experience and responses whether we are more active, outward-oriented, or more contemplative, given to inward reflection. Martha serves others; Mary listens to God. Both are expressions of love.
At some point, we might learn our own personal homeostasis on that continuum. The discovery can lead to self-knowledge that will help us to live our lives as God intended. Only following his will for us can lead to fulfillment and the inner peace every human being craves. The absence of that peace is almost always due to the absence of self-acceptance, which causes interior conflict and leads to conflict with others. The disdain sometimes expressed by active people for their contemplative counterparts, or vice-versa, is so destructive, and so contrary to God’s will.
We live at present in a culture that holds contemplation in varying degrees of contempt. In our churches, the condemnation of “faith without works,” when preached from the pulpit by active-minded priests, leads to frenzied competition with politics, rendering unto Caesar what is God’s and ending tragically in joyless works without faith. There is a reason that frantic social action Catholics so often lose their faith, and there is a reason that small obscure parishes where perpetual adoration is established survive and thrive. “We want God!” shouted millions of Poles to a government founded entirely on social action.
Awareness of the motion that governs our souls can save us from frustration and disharmony with God’s will for us and teach us to understand better the tensions of the world around us, and even to accept those changes we struggle with so often. That awareness is faith—which always brings hope and conquers despair.
Happy New Year!