There are other ways

Crows squawking their way across the evening sky to roost in the large trees near our house was one of my earliest memories. It came back to me on an evening walk in Harare where neither the roar of traffic nor the pollution of the city air seems sufficient to break the habits of these harbingers of the night.

They just adapt and carry on doing what they have done for thousands of years. Scientists who study the intelligence of animals know their ability to change in response to circumstances, but in terms of great leaps of development the animal world is basically stuck.

Not so humans. On the evolutionary ascent we have made amazing progress. As we watch the depressing news in Palestine and Ukraine night after night we know at least that war, in our time, has been proved to be avoidable. You don’t have to go to war today to solve problems. There are other ways.

It is just that people don’t want to take the other ways. It is true that every victory in human development seems to bring the shadow of a new threat. Forty years ago we worried if the super powers would blow us all up. They didn’t because we solved that. Now we worry if the planet is going to burn up with all the gas emissions heating up our atmosphere. We are in the process of solving that too.

But there do seem to be elements in our ascent that we stubbornly resist. They seem timeless despite the passing of the centuries. A crow is a crow and there doesn’t seem much hope that it will go anywhere soon. But a human being is the one creature who has immense possibilities of becoming greater than they are now. We have this yearning, this longing – not shared by crows. And yet we stubbornly ignore our yearning, or we seek its fulfilment in the wrong place.

Take Ignatius of Loyola, for example, a Spanish noble, born at the end of the 15th century. He felt that yearning and sought to fulfil it by deeds of war that would make him a name and open the way for him to win the heart of a fair lady. His plans went awry in the form of a bullet in the leg. Forced by idleness into reflection he read the lives of people who had answered that yearning at a deep level and had discovered that God alone could satisfy their longings.

It involved a period of painful emptying of what Paul called his personal ‘garbage’ (Phil 3:8), things that he had thought were essential for his life. Paul saw them as hindrances and so did Ignatius. What then opened up was a whole new way of becoming more fully human. Ignatius, who was a Christian but – as the Italians say – non fanatico, suddenly realised that, embedded in his faith, was a treasure which he never realised was there. He set himself to acquire that treasure and “buy that field”.

We are good at the external gadgets that mark our ascent but we find it so hard to pay attention to the inner movements that open the way for us to satisfy our restlessness.

Post published in: Faith

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