Dear Donagh,

….I have to say I'm shocked at the way the world is going now…. My niece is a single parent of a 10 year old boy and I lie awake sometimes thinking what’s gong to happen to him.  The world frightens me now with all the crime and drugs and the breakup of marriages and young kids now getting into drugs and sex, and all the violence you see in the news.  What does the future hold for him?  What chance do the youngsters have? Does anyone have any power to turn it around.  I'd like to hear what you have to say about it….  Tom C.



Dear Tom,

When film makers don’t have much of a storyline they put in lots of sex and violence.  I think it’s the same in real life.  Many people have lost the storyline, and they go for cheap kicks to fill in the void.      

There’s a giddy sense now that nothing is stable, that everything is moving.  I experienced an earth tremor once, and it was weird to see (and feel) houses moving – the very symbols of stability.  Society is like a vast house, and while we like to see a bit of change, it’s very frightening when everything begins to change at once. 

I remember an old man who used to say, thirty years ago, “Constant change is here to stay.”  Yes, but it doesn’t stay quietly; the rate of change keeps on increasing, as when an object is falling from a height.  We should probably say, “Constant acceleration is here to stay.”  Until everything blows up.  It’s technologically driven: that’s what dazzles us.  Every technological advance enables further technological advances; and these in turn affect our lives.  There isn’t a lot that the ordinary individual can do to stop this or slow it down.  To say this is to feel powerless, helpless…. 

(However, a qualification is in order here.  You notice that we don’t complain about advances in medicine!  And we are very much inclined to complain if an ambulance doesn’t arrive within ten minutes of being called.  We all pick and choose the parts we like.  Very few people are totally opposed to change and speed.)  

Wherever there is speed there are bound to be accidents and tragedies.  A whole society in a state of constant acceleration is almost certain to shake itself to pieces.  We forget where we set out from, and we don’t care where we are going.  All that matters is the excitement of the journey itself. 

Our faith gave us the story of where we came from and where are going.  Now that many people either reject or ignore faith, and it has not been replaced with an equally compelling story, we have cut ourselves adrift.  If we want to be very dramatic about it, let’s quote the great dramatist himself: life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

But I don’t believe we are powerless.  We may not be able to change the speed or direction of change, but we can take responsibility for our own lives.  You can choose to be still at any moment, even when everything around you is spinning.  I read an account by a man whose life changed course as he was talking with a Zen teacher in Tokyo.  There was a severe earth tremor, and people began to panic; but the Zen teacher remained completely calm.  This so impressed the other man that he took up a serious practice of meditation from that day. 

Without doing anything, that Zen teacher created a zone of calm that is still expanding, because that other man is now a Zen teacher in turn.  We have far more influence for good than we care to believe, and if our hearts are in the right place we can create zones of calm and decency around us without doing anything.  That is the purest way to do something: there is no ego involved.  What you are will influence the life of your niece’s boy; what you are is what he will remember. 

“What does the future hold for him?” you ask.  No one knows.  The future doesn’t hold anything; the future is nothing yet.  The only thing we have influence over is the present.  Pray.  But don’t let your prayer become just a worry session.  Pray with confidence.  Embody the faith of the ages.  You will be embodying it for him too – because we are all one in the Body of Christ. 

Your care and concern for the lad, and for our world, is already a kind of prayer.  But don’t let it vaporise into worry.  Worry is the opposite of faith. 



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