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American educator and management consultant W. Edwards Deming was quoted as saying, "The two basic rules of life are: 1) Change is inevitable. 2) Everybody resists change." We have all heard variations on Deming's first rule, such as "Change is the only constant." And we have probably all had the experience of resisting change. But resist as we might, change is all around us.
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This week we celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the day that marks a change in the seasons. The summer solstice is connected to the first harvest, and is the day the sun is directly overhead at noon at the Tropic of Cancer. As with the winter solstice, we won't notice the change immediately, but in a few weeks, the dusk will come earlier, the quality of the light will change, and we will begin the slide into fall.
This passage of days, months, and seasons is a good lesson for us - we do not control these changes but can only adapt to them. Yet we are constantly seduced by the illusion of control in our lives: Take this pill; make this investment; buy this insurance, and you, too, can be prepared for any eventuality and be in control. But life promises us no such thing. As much as we cling to sameness, control, security, so do those things elude us. Our children grow and change into independent beings, technology changes the way we live and communicate, and the natural world changes constantly. Think of the changing face of the glacier, or the places you used to go to pick berries and that are now overgrown.
Life is ultimately about risk. We are not meant to remain the same, to hide away, to seek only safety and security. We are meant to open ourselves to life's challenges and gifts. It can be painful, to be sure. It's much easier to resist, in many cases. This is why people remain in situations in which they are not challenged, not satisfied, not happy-it's easier than moving on. That's where that other old saying comes from, about the devil you know being better than the devil you don't know.
But stagnation is a form of death: it destroys our spirits. If we look at the history of the world, life has always been about growth, change, evolution, even though it's not easy, even though it can be scary.
A couple of weeks ago, the Christian world celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the feast marking the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus' followers in wind and tongues of flame. After Jesus' death, his followers were terrified. Their lives, their world, had been turned upside down. They had thought things were going so well, and suddenly Jesus was dead and everything had fallen apart. They themselves were in danger.
But the spirit filled them up and gave them the courage to embrace the change they were in the midst of, to move forward, to take up their new lives. It doesn't mean they were not afraid, of course, but that they were given the strength to be able to refuse to hide anymore. The gift of the holy spirit was that they learned the true definition of courage: to move forward anyway. Courage is not about not being afraid, but about doing it anyway, whatever it is that we are called to do. To move into change anyway. After all, Jesus' mother Mary was afraid, Jesus himself was afraid (remember the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus asked for "this cup" to pass from him), Gandhi was afraid, Dorothy Day was afraid, Nelson Mandela was afraid. But they did their work anyway, they stood for truth anyway, they didn't let the fear stop them.
The spirit wants to break us open, to break our hearts open, so we can move through the fear, with the fear, and act anyway, be anyway, love anyway. There's nothing wrong with being afraid. In fact, sometimes fear is absolutely the most appropriate response to a situation. But we can't let it stop us from doing our work, from doing the right thing, from growing and changing and moving forward.
Georgia O'Keeffe, the famous artist, once said: "I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."
The Rev. Kathleen Wakefield is a priest at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.