My last semester of graduate school, the administration announced that the school would be closing. A cornerstone of the Graduate Theological Union, after 44 years on “holy hill”, the Franciscan School of Theology would be closing its doors in Berkeley and reopening near San Diego, 500 miles south. I remember sitting in my seat, after school liturgy, when the announcement was made. Outwardly, it was a shock. How can this be? Inwardly, I felt a calm, knowing presence. This, too, was changing. Is it true then, that everything, even our most beloved places and people and moments, must change? Despite my efforts to control and keep close, so many things in my life had already been given over to change. This one just seemed to confirm the inevitable.
Years before I had learned and begun praying, almost every day, this prayer by St. Terese of Avila, also known as Terese of Jesus:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
Everything is changing.
God alone never changes.
She who has God lacks nothing.
God alone fills every need.
At a time in my life when I was experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety, it gave me great comfort. It also taught me what has become a core principle of my life—everything is always changing.
I don’t think it matters, praying a prayer like this, what you call God. Maybe you prefer Goddess, or Allah, Krishna or the Tao. Maybe it’s Father or Mother or Jesus or Spirit. I think what does matter is that there is something in your life— it can even be your own heartbeat or breath, the cycles of the moon—that remains constant, that you can return to again and again when everything else is swirling. To know there is a Force of Life connecting and holding us all, that there is something central and constant when everything else is changing.
Humans are made to take our place in something bigger, to know our connection to All That Is. Back when religious and spiritual practice was deeply connected to the earth, this was a given. Tracking the cycles of moon and sun, rain and soil was essential to living. Our ancestors turned their faces to the sun and the stars and knew their smallness in the grand design of everything.
A friend and mentor of mine refers to GOD as the “Grand Organizing Design” and I love this because it speaks to this same holding in something so much bigger than our small selves and isolated communities. WE ARE PART OF SOMETHING SO MUCH BIGGER THAN US. This isn’t esoteric or “woo-woo”—it’s science. It’s as simple as the fact that we literally could not breathe life if it wasn’t for the trees offering their oxygen to our lungs. That the food that grows out of the earth feeds our life and it makes a difference to our health whether it is pumped full of chemicals or grown according to nature’s design.
The deeper, more soul-centered connections are not as obvious, but still as true and essential. When we suffer, someone else feels and knows our suffering and most likely weeps with us. When we rejoice, that too is felt and relished by others. When we open our hearts in love, love spreads multifold across the world, from one loving act to the next. While the holding is big, the web of connection far-reaching, each point of light on that web is small. Yet each light, each one of us, when we remember and come home to what is true, lights up the entire grid.
This is what doesn’t change—the integrity of our personhood, and our connection to all that is. What doesn’t change is our ability to come home, and our power to affect others when we do so.
In every moment, in every change, we can come home—to who we are, to God our Mother, to the Grand Organizing Design, to, as the poet Mary Oliver says, to “our place in the family of things.” What doesn’t change is that Great Holding, that family of life.
I know this is a time of immense change, and it is scary. Yet change is the constant, and in the grand design of things, it is essential, part of the fabric of God, of Life. To change means to evolve—and to evolve means to become who we are and to co-create with the Spirit of Life a world where all beings can thrive. Change asks us to keep becoming, to evolve. To love more and live better. To bring into alignment all that has been out of alignment for the good of all.
This doesn’t happen all at once, and it doesn’t happen alone. It happens by each point of light, each one of us on the grid of humanity, coming into alignment, into integrity, into deeper and more meaningful life, into healing. It happens by ceasing our endless and exhausting efforts to control and give ourselves over to Expansive Love, always calling us into evolved and evolving being. It happens by asking yourself, “what am I learning, right now? What is happening in this time of pandemic that I am grateful for, that is actually opening me to more life? How can I keep that current of energy in my days, even when things go back to ‘normal’?” It might be time in nature, in might be grace or generosity, the unexpected gifts of family and friendship through distance. It might be that you’ve finally, finally, had more time to hear your own thoughts and feel your heart. It might be that faced with so much suffering and death, you are more convicted than ever to do what you are here to do.
If change truly is the constant, then there is no “normal” we will return to. We simply get to step into the next becoming in this evolution of being human. It is a gift, a great honor, to grow in this way, to love and Be Loved in all that is, to dance with these changes, to take our true place in the family of things.
These days, this offering of writing is a central part of my ministry. As I tune in to the flow of all that is Moving, I give thanks for the space and time to follow my heart in this way. If you feel moved to support this ministry, you can do so at paypal.me/ErinDuffyBurke. I am humbled and grateful!