Spirituality, Broadly Speaking
When I grew up in the Cold War era, we had a lot to worry about. Mainly THE BOMB or, more precisely, ICBM’s flying back and forth across the polar region like the volley of arrows between hostile armies of yore. I recall one day dreading a certain hour arriving because one side had given an ultimatum to the other that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. There was a Diefenbunker just up the road from our school in case of a nuclear attack where the government could take cover to maintain good order among the cinders left above ground. A popular comedian on the Ed Sullivan Show fed on our fears for a few laughs telling us that those little globules in our milk were not, in fact, bits of unhomogenized cream but, rather, “solid chunks of Strontium 90”, part of the fallout from the nuclear tests that left our atmosphere polluted and deadly.
Well, those days are past, sort of. Today all we have to worry about is a sudden terrorist attack. Or the consequences of climate change. That is, if a deadly pandemic doesn’t get us first. And it looks like the old Cold War might be in the microwave heating up again.
My “sources” tell me that young people are particularly gripped by anxiety these days. Why bother going to school? Why get a job? Why commit to a stable relationship? Why vote or get involved in any civic or community activity? Why, when it is surely all doomed anyway? Officials are reporting high rates of student absenteeism. Apparently the students are too tired to come to school even if they wanted to, having played video games long into the night – an addiction, like any other, to mask pain.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” stated Franklin D. Roosevelt in his Inaugural Presidential Address in 1933. One good reason to fear fear is that it can help make what we are afraid of more likely to happen. If youth give up then, indeed, what does the future hold for them and for future generations?
“Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me,” is the wry rejoinder of the defensively fearful. It reminds us that fear can be a very legitimate reaction to a very real situation. The things youth fear these days are neither baseless nor illusory. Critical issues clutter our times, with potentially devastating consequences, more likely because of the way our technological advances have ratcheted up our ability to hurt one another and our planet.
Roosevelt – in the dark days of the lingering Depression and advancing Fascism – was appealing to his people to remain hopeful. I don’t think he was appealing to a Pollyanna hope but to hope that is the fruit of character. Perhaps he was meaning something like this: “Don’t let fear rule us but, together, let us exhibit the qualities of character that rise above fear and lead to transformative action.”
Where do we muster that kind of hope and character to bequeath to our children and grandchildren?
That is a bigger question than I can answer. Even if I had the space, I am not sure I have the smarts. But let me offer one thing at least, which I am calling ‘connectedness”. Connectedness in community and to the earth.
From one perspective, growing urbanization and advancing technologies are signs of human ingenuity. But, like all good things, urbanization and technology have their shadow sides as well.
As we, literally, move closer and closer to our neighbours, we are forgetting the art of neighbourliness. As we have more and more people “friend’ us, we are losing the capacity for relationships. As more of the earth is paved over and as more of our reality is of the virtual kind, we are losing our connectedness to the earth and to our community.
I hope I am being more than nostalgic here, for “the good old days” when we knew most of our neighbours by name and when, as kids, we could play all day in wide-open spaces without constant parental planning and supervision. For me, that meant exploring the way the overnight tides had changed the beachscape; climbing the trees in the forest across our back fence and trying to blaze paths that would lead me deeper into the mysteries and even the breath-catching dangers of the woods; or knocking on a neighbour’s door and being invited in for cookies and milk and stories of their lives.
Well, I suppose little islands of those days still exist in some places. I have a friend, for example, in a small town who, when I asked her if she would ever leave now that her kids had grown up and moved away, answered me this way: “I don’t think so. When the time comes that I am wandering down the road with my dress on backwards and don’t remember my name or where I live, I will be grateful for the neighbour who will come by, call me by name, gently take my hand, and walk me home.”
For the most part, those good old days are behind us. But that doesn’t mean we no longer need that kind of connection to community and to the land. We just need other ways to experience it.
In these days of critical issues facing our world and our youth, I will leave the more complex work to better qualified people. In the meantime, I will do my part by trying to be a good Grampa and by encouraging anyone who may be reading this to find meaningful ways for us all to experience real community with one another and with the earth. These are the things that deflate fear and instil character and hope.
Ted Hicks is a spiritual director, workshop & retreat leader, minister, and hospital chaplain in the Comox Valley who seeks the connection between personal spiritual formation and social transformation