What is the greatest shift in human thinking?
Sometimes I ask myself what is the greatest paradigm shift or systemic change in our thinking in history. When I do, I no longer think of the Industrial Revolution, the Copernican shift and the realization that the earth was not the center of the universe. Not even the invention of the wheel or telling stories in paintings on walls in prehistoric caves. Certainly, these were all significant in their own way.
I always come back to thinking of Incarnation and the Paschal mystery as the most significant changes in consciousness in history. The Crib and the Cross are invitations to change our minds about God rather than God’s mind about us. (I have written of this elsewhere. See links at the end of this post.) We had made God into our own image and likeness either as an all-powerful King or an angry old man who need to be placated. These two events were invitations from God to repent, to change our way of thinking!
But I never really gave much thought to what we could learn about the process of bringing about change in our society from the way God worked in human history. In reflecting on how God changed us through the Incarnation and his life death and resurrection it dawned on me that the change agent would do well to model how God deals with us. So first let’s tease out the broad line of God’s intervention in our history.
God’s model of bringing about a change in our ways of thinking
God understood the human condition from the inside.
God emptied himself and took on human form. The Word became flesh! God took flesh in a womb, experienced human values as a son who “grew in wisdom, age, and grace.” The Word allowed himself to be “mothered” in the best sense of the word. Mothers teach their children so much and they are usually our greatest cheerleaders. We have no reason not to think that Mary carefully guided his first steps, healed his first scraped knee…the gamut of firsts in a young boy’s life.
Jesus offered us another way of looking at God… and each other.
When Jesus had “grown in wisdom, age, and grace” he began in earnest to teach us another way of looking at God… God as the loving father or Abba, Emmanuel – God with us, the Good Shepherd, etc.
- Jesus told us there was a different way to think about God beyond our stereotypes rooted in the high and the mighty figures in history.
- Jesus told us, each and every one of us, we were important and invited us all to “get along.”
- Jesus especially told the least among us, those who did not think they were special, that they were special.
- Jesus called us to “repent’ or change our way of thinking about how we are brothers and sisters who love and respect each other in spite of our differences.
Think of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the prayerful intimacy of the Our Father. He uncomplicated rules by saying all that mattered was realizing we are loved by Abba, Our Father, and called to love our God and love our brothers and sisters as ourselves. That is what we would be judged by.
Jesus not only expanded the way we could think about God. He demonstrated in his actions what this new world (kingdom) would look like if we lived according to this vision.
But wait! God went even further. Jesus showed us just how serious God was. He “walked the talk” of laying down one’s life for one’s neighbor.
Jesus literally put his life on the line
He taught us that death and resurrection is as much a part of life as a grain of wheat falling to ground and bringing forth new life.
He endured the most hideous and shameful of sufferings then known. The cross of Christ has changed the meaning of pain and human suffering— of every kind of suffering, physical and moral. Suffering and death are no longer punishment, a curse. They were redeemed at their roots when the Son of God took it upon himself.
What is the surest proof that the drink someone offers you is not poisoned? It is if that person drinks from the same cup before you do. This is what God has done: on the cross he drank, in front of the whole world, the cup of pain down to its dregs. This is how he showed us it is not poisoned, but that there is a pearl at the bottom of this chalice. (Fr, Cantalmessa, preacher to the Papal household.)
The root of the Easter message lies in this: There is nothing to fear, nothing– not lock-down, not defeat, not threat, not loss, not sickness, not even death. The resurrection of Jesus assures us that in the end all shall be well, and every manner of being shall be well; and if it isn’t well… then it is still not the end! (Rohr “Why Suffering?“)
Lessons we can learn about being agents of change
If we choose to bring good news to all, especially those on the margins, we must imitate Christ and enter into the mysteries of Christ’s death and resurrection.
- We should be sure to enter the world of those we claim to serve.
- We should boldly speak of a vision of what can be.
- We should walk the talk with those we serve.
- We should have confidence that God can bring good out of even the evils.
- Two Greatest Changes in History
- Incarnation as the Mother of all Systemic Changes
- The Systemic Change that Began in Mary’s Womb
- Mothers as Mentors of Dreams
- What My Mother Taught Me About Systemic Change
- Eucharist As Systemic Change USCCB
Fr John, I found this article most inspiring. I want to change my thinking, to make a shift. I look forward to reflecting on what you have sent us here in order to achieve some change of thinking in myself. I am convinced of the importance of the thinking component of Total Behaviour. As my mother used say, ‘Your mind is a kingdom to you.’ So I will try through reflection on your article to bring about some shift in my thinking. Thank you!
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I too was personally challenged in the process of writing this reflection.