Change vs. Transformation

In On the Threshold of Transformation, Richard Rohr writes that there is a difference between change and transformation.

Change happens when something old dies and something new begins. Transformation happens when we personally change in the process of outer change…The ego wants to find a way to avoid changing if at all possible, but most especially if another ego is commanding it.

God usually has to demand change of us. In fact, we call some unavoidable changes “acts of God,” and those often elicit actual transformation more than anything else.”

This is a helpful distinction. External change may not always be easy, but we can undergo all sorts of chosen and imposed external changes – changes in relationships, in jobs, in location, and so on – while inteternally remaining the same. Without being internally transformed.

Yet, we know that what God seeks is a complete transformation…a dying to self and rising in Christ. And, I think Rohr is quite right that sometimes have resistance to transformation, to giving ourselves completely over to God.

For each of us, the sources of resistance are different – fear of giving up who we are….lack of sufficient trust…the effect of various wounds we have experienced. Getting in touch with that resistance – and with its source – is an important step in our spritual journeys.

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Deciding and Doing

I finally finished reading Andy Andrews’ book, The Noticer. The length of time it took me to read it has nothing to do with the book, which is a worthwhile and thought-provoking read, but my having gotten distracted by other things (including writing my own book). It is a book that contains much simple wisdom and I found myself dog-earring a number of pages to go back to.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on change, which contains some useful reminders, including a centrally important one about the difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.

The wisdom figure, Jones, asks a question to one of the people he meets. Simple math: “Five seagulls are sitting on a dock. One of them decides to fly away. How manys seagulls are left?” His companion answers, “Well…four.” But, as Jones points out, there are still five seagulls left. “Deciding to fly away and actually flying away are two very different things.”

We often talk about intentions and we often have very good intentions. But unless our intentions result in action, we might as not have them. As Jones points out to his young friend, “there is no difference in the person who intends to do things differently and the one who never thinks about it in the first place.”

He then makes another point which struck me as worth reflecting on: “Have you ever considered how often we judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their actions? Yet intention without action is an insult to those who expect the best from you. ‘I intended to bring you flowers, but I didn’t. I meant to fininsh this work on time.’ ‘I was going to be there for your birthday…'”

I suspect Jones is right in saying we are far quicker to excuse our own action or inaction based on our good intention than we are to excuse others. Just something to think about.

Transitions and Finding One’s Path

Although I’ve been on research leave this semester, and therefore not subject to the normal flow of the academic calendar, no one can mistake the end of semester feeling around the law school. Classes ended this week and some students will be getting ready for their last exam as law students. Others will soon be off to summer jobs before returning for another year or two of law school. Many of those students are scrambling to get last minute writing projects finished.

I think especially right now of those who will be graduating in a few weeks. (This year’s group of UST graduates holds a special place in my heart, as they and I started at St. Thomas at the same time.)

Periods of transitions are always difficult and leaving school and moving into the work world can be a particularly difficult and stressful change. As I thought about what it is I would want to say to these students, what came to mind were the words Ita Ford, a Maryknoll sister who was murdered in El Salvador in 1980, wrote once to her niece:

I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you. Something worth living for—maybe even worth dying for. Something that energizes you, enthuses you, and enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be – that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search.

Prayers and Blessings for the UST Law Class of 2010.

Looking Backward and Forward as We Welcome in the New Year

We’re all familiar with the ritual of New Year’s Resolutions. We vow that we will go on that diet and lose weight. Or we will quit smoking…or get more exercise…or [fill in the blank]. Then the days of the new year start to go by and it is not long before the resolution is forgotten.

Our failure to meet our usually-not-very-well-thought-out New Year’s Resolutions does not mean there is not value in using this transition to take stock. The end of the year is a good time to reflect a bit on where we’ve been and where we are going.

Someone once shared with me some questions for reflection that had been prepared for Elul, the time in the Jewish calendar that is a time of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I share some of those questions because they seem to me to provide a valuable tool for reflection as we prepare to usher in the new year.

What have been the happiest and most gratifying parts of this past year? In what areas have I acted as my best self? Which of my current habits or behaviors to I want to bring with me into the coming year?

What have been the most painful or difficult moments of the past year? When have been the times that I have not acted as I would have hoped? Which of my current habits or behaviors would I like to modify or leave behind in the years to come?

What are the relationships in my life of which I am most proud? The ones that feel most painful? What would it take to create change in these relationships in the coming year? Who are the people that I most need to ask for forgiveness?

You can think of many other questions to add. Unlike tossing off a New Year’s resolution, the idea here is to seriously spend time reflecting on particular things that did or did not go as well with respect to my relationship with others, with God and with myself. And maybe out of this reflection will come one or two concrete directions for change that we might seek God’s help in effectuating during the coming year.

Happy New Year!