by Sister Madeleine, O.S.A.
ONE becomes so used to water being tamed in a tank or a tap that one almost ceases to fear its destructive power. Until Hoods come, that is. For most of us, though, fear of the elements—fire, wind, water—has given way to fear of the side-effects of technology: a polluted environment, deformed babies, catastrophically destructive arms. Water has many symbolic meanings in the Bible. One of them, I think, is formlessness, chaos. We may no longer fear water, but we do dread, very deeply, formlessness, the breaking up some kind of mastering—and ordering of the earth, of ourselves, of society.
Deep down, none of us is 100 per cent secure. For we live our lives just at the edge of chaos, and disintegration. Our bodies and our minds are fragile miracles of order. Our industry, agriculture, art, morals, politics, religion are attempts to order a possibly anarchic universe.
It Often seems to me that it is this fundamental insecurity in us all that explains hostility to change. For change begins with a certain destruction of an established order and established forms. Both good and bad change implies some kind of loss or at least sonic taking leave of established patterns. And yet, without the courage so to take leave at certain times, the forms in which we express our life, our art, or music, our politics or religion would become so rigid and routinised as to paralyse creativity and even good sense.
New styles in education seem to many, in comparison to the old, to be formless and chaotic. Surrealistic art gives a like impression to many lovers of realism. For those who have appreciated ballet in classical style, contemporary developments may seem to be simply a loss of style.
Many Catholics experience the changes in the liturgy or the life styles of monks and nuns as a betrayal of values, a distintegrating and anarchic permissiveness.
Perhaps some kind of prudential fear is a good thing as it prevents our uncritically accepting all change as good. But prudence is also an enabling virtue, the capacity to take risks for the sake of growth, renewal or creativity. It would, I think, be quite the opposite of prudence so to panic at the unfamiliar that we strive to suppress the new, the surprising, the original.
Not every and any outburst of festivity over bread and wine is a Eucharist, I agree. As not every and any assembly of colours and shapes on canvas is art. Not every kind of well-intentioned behaviour of religious or married is consonant with their commitment to a particular way of life. But in all these areas, not to progress is to regress.
If our life is to be human it must be marked by imagination and intelligence. If it is to be Christian there must be the willingness to lose one's life in order to find it again at a higher level. Both imply periodic new forms of expression in almost every area of existence. But surely it is obvious that not all such waters of change are flood waters. Some must be streams in arid deserts, baptismal waters of renewal.