There is an old saying I find myself repeating often now, that “it is the same to live in a tragic time as to be in a tragic place." I thought of it again when I heard the news of the tragic shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Scores of people were slaughtered on the sacred ground of mosques and within moments, people all over the world were thrown onto the ground of tragedy again.
At the same time that the shooting started at the mosques, students from local schools had gone on strike as part of the international student climate strike. It was the first day of Fridays For Future, the student protest started by Gretta Thornburg, a 16 year old Swedish student. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Gretta told international business and political leaders, "I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear that I feel every day."
As students took to the streets in more than 100 countries, the march in Christchurch was suddenly stopped by the lockdown that followed the massacre at the mosques. Once again, I was struck me by the mindless agony and loss of life; but also by a kind of twisted irony at the collision of tragic events. At the same time as the terrorist massacre occurred, and almost in the same place, students were going on strike to bring attention to the growing tragedy of radical climate change that threatens everyone.
It is as if we are all caught in an extended broken moment that has the effects of radical terrorism on one side and the threats of radical climate change on the other. And the sad ironies start to pile up as it turns out that sections of the manifesto patched together by the white supremacist shooter in Christchurch could have been pulled from similar statements made by radical jihadist terrorists.
The hateful ideologies of white supremacy and radical jihadism may regard themselves as polar opposites; yet strangely, their world views resemble each other. Siege narratives abound on both sides as deep insecurities and grandiose sense of self-importance drives extremists from all ideologies. Both exhibit extreme forms of paranoia and a toxic blend of superiority and inferiority, and both are nostalgic for an imagined past that involves a sense of cultural purity and dominance. The shooter in Christchurch actually claimed that his actions were motivated by an urgent need to avert a “white genocide.”
In this broken moment extremes of all kinds and urgencies of many types are reaching fever pitch. While radical climate change is exacerbating the extremes of weather patterns, the great uncertainties that plague the world generate extreme psychological pressures that can only add to the cultural atmosphere that produces an increasing cycle of extremism.
By virtue of being alive at this tragic time we suffer the troubles of the world and must feel the genuine urgency to make meaningful changes and find ways of bringing healing to both nature and culture. Yet, we can also become overwhelmed by the weight of tragedy and the numbing effects of extreme urgency.
So, I find myself recalling an old saying that was widely known during the period we call the Renaissance. It was also a period of radical change and extreme upheaval and people would say, festina lente, meaning “make haste slowly.”
Slow and down are both connective modes of the soul, instinctive ways of keeping connected to one's self but also to one's natural environment. Slowing downwards means growing down towards the roots of one's being and the ground of origins. Life, at times, must turn inward and downward in order to grow in other ways. There is a shift to the vertical down that can return us to the root memories and root metaphors, to the timeless things that secretly shape our lives from within
Slowing downwards creates opportunities to dwell more deeply in one's life as well as more deeply in the life of nature whichever renews itself. For the home we are looking for in this world is within us all along. The lost home that we are seeking is not in the past, but somewhere in ourselves. Ultimately we turn things around by turning within and turning to those things worth risking the rest of our lives for.
There is no historical condition of the past or fantasized state of cultural purity that can help us in the face of all the uncertainties of the present moment. There is something ancient and knowing in the depths of the soul that can give us grounding and centering and a connection to an imagination that might open ways otherwise not seen in terms of genuinely going forward.
Only by stopping in time can we find that which is timeless and therefore enduring and able to help us renew our lives and perhaps help the world find its next way of being as well.
That's the secret message of tragedy, the sense that we can genuinely feel and know the loss that others suffer because it reflects the greater loss that we are all suffering. In the tragic moment of Christchurch, which becomes a broken moment for all of us, we can see the two opposing responses to the current condition of the world.
On one hand the terror generated by paranoid, self-negating ideologies that insist that we are separate; that some of us are better than others or that only some people count in this world. On the other hand, the response of young people striking for a worldwide awakening and change intended to stop the destruction of essential life systems and heal the divisions that threaten the future of the world. Seen that way, we are in a struggle between suffering ever greater and more tragic divisions in life or else awakening to the deeper sense that all things are interconnected and we are, quite literally, all in this together.
Young people have an instinctive connection to the eternal inner youth that carries the dream of each person's life that knows how to connect to the eternal dream of the world. The only way this world makes sense is if all the suffering and divisions and all the tragic, broken moments are intended to bring us to a deeper understanding and greater awakening to the underlying unity of life that sustains both culture and nature.
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