We tend to long for stability. We want to “settle down”. Psychologists will tell you that it’s human nature to desire security and predictability. This is why we like routine and ritual. It’s why we become so uncomfortable not only in the face of tragedy but when the traffic is suddenly greater this morning than yesterday morning and when our favourite restaurant takes on new management. Change is uncertain, change is unsettling.
Or so we think.
Thing is, change is necessary and it’s something that gives life meaning and diversity. The movie Pleasantville is a perfect example of how perfection and predictability makes for a bland and well, black and white, life. By some magic, two 20th century teens get pulled into a 1950s black and white sitcom. It’s wholesome, cheesy, and perfectly predictable. Life is boring. As the teens’ 20th century ideals influence the people of Pleasantville, things and people start to change into colour. The originally bland citizens discover love and art and literature. Life gets more interesting and, as expected, you have the “old school” citizens who resist the change and want to keep the status quo.
One scene, however, captures the deep yearn for change we all have deep inside. The soda shop owner, played by Jeff Daniels, realises that his routine is mindless. It’s boring. “It’s always the same: grill the bun, flip the meat, melt the cheese. It never changes,” he says. “It never gets any better or worse.” This is an epiphany for a guy who’s been doing the same thing for years. There’s an internal sting that something’s wrong, that maybe this isn’t how it should be. He goes on to talk about this one moment each year where he paints the window of the store front. It’s a Pleasantville tradition. But each year he paints a different thing and he says he looks forward to this every year. Why? Because it’s about change and diversity! He gets out of his boring automatic routine and gets to exercise his creativity, which is fluid and always changing and renewing.
In the spiritual life we’ll find a need for diversity as well to keep sane. Despite my own desires for regular, routine, set prayer time, I never live up to that ideal of “prayer stability”. Things come up, I’m tired, I’m busy. My new spiritual director, during our initial meeting, asked me how I pray. “Gee, it’s all over the place,” I responded. “That’s good!” he said. He recognises the need for change, that stability, though a desire of humans, is not always the reality of human nature—and that’s OK! Life is ever changing and ever new and our prayer ought to adapt to our situation as well. If I can pray in the car on the commute to work, then great. If it’s a moment in the bathroom that allows me to pause and acknowledge God, super. If it’s listening to a spiritual podcast on a run, fine. God is wherever you are.
God is always willing to adapt and meet you where you are.
Listen to an audio version of this post…
Music by Kevin MacLeod