Friday, September 20, 2019

On crowds, or, Mary pondered

In his book Sacred Fire, Ronald Rolheiser contrasts the gospel opposites of pondering, as exemplified by Mary the mother of Jesus, and amazement, as exemplified by the crowds.

Each relates to a different, an opposite, response to the emotional energy that surrounds and flows to us.

To ponder is the deliberate act of taking that energy into ourselves, holding it, transforming it, and releasing it back in another form. Or, where emotional energy is mixed, filtering out anger, hatred, fear, so that something of that stops with us, and only love flows onward through us.

In contrast, to be amazed is to have whatever energy flows to us, flow right through us, untransformed.

So, we see Mary, after three decades of pondering the sword that will pierce her heart, standing at the foot of the cross, absorbing the hatred thrown at her son and refusing to give back in kind. Siding with her son, who, even as he is being executed, prays ‘Father, forgive.’

And, in contrast, we see the crowds, who are carried along, at turns excited, confused, disappointed; on more than one occasion, rising up to make Jesus their king; on more than one occasion, incited to call for his death.

Jesus always has compassion for the crowds, but he is not a popularist.

Without doubt, we are seeing a powerful surge of energy in the crowds of children, women and men taking to the streets in towns and cities around the world, demanding action on climate change.

There is an amazement to this, with some being swept along in an exciting, rising tide of protest—and, conversely, others being swept along in a torrent of derision against it all.

Moreover, crowd dynamics are complex. They are easily manipulated by those whose agendas are far from the intentions of the originators. Then again, they are also vulnerable to dissipation, as suddenly as they came together.

The crowds we see today are welcome, and call for a compassionate response. But we ought not be naive about crowds.

Pondering what we witness today will involve taking into ourselves the powerful energy, filtering out any hatred and anger, and allowing only love to flow through us. This will determine how we respond honestly to climate change, sacrificing personal comfort; how we respond, graciously, to climate change denial, or apathy; and how we engage with the complexity of global relations to build with pragmatism and hope.

We are all out of our depth. Amazement feels good, being part of a tribe in the face of emergency. But the important, non-urgent discipline of pondering these things is what will really transform the world for the better. Those who do this will be a lasting force for good.

It seems to me that climate activist Greta Thunberg is such a person, who not only inspires crowds but who ponders, in the gospel sense, the climate emergency we face, and how we ought to respond.

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