CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEET #26
WE LIVE SUSPENDED
The word anticipation suggests something fascinating about human nature. The English word comes from the Latin words ante, meaning before, and capere, meaning to take or to seize. The English word thus implies taking hold of things beforehand. Clearly there is something about this process that is automatic, instinctive. Whether we like it or not, we tend to take hold of the future – or at least we try to. Just as our lives are, typically, a constant openness to and appropriation and configuration of the past, they are also a constant openness to and appropriation and configuration of the future.
We live suspended. Even as we are necessarily grounded in the past, we are also, in some mysterious way grounded in the future. We are, as it were, always and necessarily ahead of ourselves, always leaning into the not-yet, lurching towards territory that is uncharted by us – yet, we are "there" already.
Again, just as remembering can evoke a profound sense of the mysterious and wonderful creation that we are, so anticipating can have the same effect. What sort of a being is this that draws past and future into the present? What meanings and implications can such concepts as "past", "present" and "future" have for this remembering and anticipating being? Where am I? Who am I?
Often, when we are dealing with difficult human issues – eg, anxiety or depression – we look to either the past or present or both the past and present for understanding of what is happening. We seldom look to the future for the cause of the way we feel or behave now. My depression, for example, might be telling me something about the past and how I remember it. But it might also be telling me something about the future and how I anticipate it. A failure to anticipate realistically and creatively – a failure to live into the future in accord with my nature, respectful of its needs, possibilities and limits – can cause more or less deformation. The future is, in some measure, already written into my being – it is essential that we listen and pay close attention to what is given and what must yet be created in light of the givens.
A STORY: "THE MAN FELL OVER"
"Never seen anything like it," said the man with the hat and the sunburned face. "Went down like a sack-a-spuds, he did. Poor bugger." And a young woman in a navy pants suit said he was walking towards her and just fell over. "I got the fright of my life," she said, holding a handkerchief to her mouth with her right hand while she held her stomach with the other hand. A young man with a ring in his ear asked, "Is he all right?" and looked from side to side. Another man just glanced in his direction for a moment and kept walking. An elderly man and a plump woman, both with cameras slung over their shoulders, paused. The man said, "Did somebody call an ambulance?" The accent betrayed someone from America’s mid-West. A man said, "Sorright mate. They’re on their way."
Meanwhile a middle-aged woman knelt beside the man, took his right arm and, with two fingers, gently felt for a pulse. She was trying to speak to him. "Can you hear me?" she asked. The man opened his eyes. He looked confused and disoriented for a moment. Then he smiled faintly. "I’ve been waiting for this," he said, in a soft, matter-of-fact sort of way. "Are you diabetic? Do you have low blood pressure? Are you on medication?" And so the middle-aged woman gently but definitely spoke to him, as a doctor might talk to a new patient in the surgery.
The sound of a siren was heard at the other end of George Street, and the people who had gathered started to move on, merging with the lunchtime crowd. Like the water in a creek flowing around a sandbank, they passed by and around this woman and this man, she kneeling, he now sitting up, with his arms casually around his knees, his right hand grasping his left wrist.
"Thank you," the man said. He looked at her, then looked away and said again, as if to someone else who was not there, "Thank you". "You’ve torn the knee of your trousers," she said. He looked at the small tear, brushed it with his right hand before returning to hold his wrist again. "What were you waiting for?" she said. He looked back at her, quizzically, as if she had said something he did not understand. "A moment ago, you said you had been waiting for this." "Did I say that?" He looked away. "Yes," he said, "I was not aware that I was waiting for it. But now that it has happened, I know I have been waiting for this for some time now."
If the ambulance had not arrived, they might well have become part of the street, with people now hardly sparing them a sideways glance. The paramedics took over and were very professional in the way they dismantled the human tableau. "Do you know this man?" one of them said to the woman. "No … uh … I mean … well, no I don’t." She could not understand her stuttering response. She had never seen this man before. He was a complete stranger. "Er, can I go with you?" she blurted out. The paramedic said, "Sure, get in the back."
And so they drove towards St Vincent’s Hospital. No need for the siren; the man seemed to be okay. He lay back on the stretcher, with his head turned slightly to one side, away from the woman, the smile now confidently on his face. "I’m an accountant," he said, apropos of nothing. "I have a wonderful wife of twenty-three years, four healthy, intelligent children – good kids. My life is humming." He turned and looked at the woman and laughed silently. "So what were you waiting for?" she said, sensing that she was being drawn into some place that was at once new and utterly familiar. "What was I waiting for? I don’t know. But it just happened." And they both began to laugh as they had not laughed for many years.
JESUS CHRIST AND HISTORY
Because of the action of God in Christ, we experience history as moving towards an end point of definitive victory – where good triumphs over evil, the truth over the lie, love over hate, justice and peace over injustice and violence, life over death, being over non-being. The human experience of anticipation is radically transformed by this conviction. We move into the future with a sure sense of hope; my personal history, the history of those I love, the history of the entire human family and the history of the cosmos, is moving towards fulfilment in the timelessness of the Trinity. Our future, the future of the Church and the world are in the hands of God. All else is relative to this. This sense of history – this anticipation of a triumphant end point, so central to the Christian consciousness – gives me a liberating perspective on every person, event and thing I encounter.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
Recall your experience of anticipation as a child. Give an example.
How do you experience anticipation now, as an adult?
Give one example of formative anticipation and one of deformative anticipation.
What does it mean to say, "you have a future"?
What does it mean to say, "you live suspended"?
What struck you about the story?
How do you experience waiting? Give an example.
In what sense might we speak of life itself as waiting?
Can you recall any passages from the Gospels that speak of the way the future will unfold?
What does it mean to you to be a person of hope?