We are what we are. We are "this way" or we've been "like this" ever since we were first aware of having an identity. Or so the popular notion goes.
Well, are we the same every day? And have we always been the same? When we take a thorough look at daily life, at our thoughts and motives, we may detect unseen changes that we haven't noticed before. I've found that putting one's life under the microscope of mental self-examination discloses a stunning fact: Life is never static.
Every day we change and are changed. We learn and observe. We think and make decisions. Despite the fact that most thoughts we think each day—at least according to many psychologists—are largely the same (and some thoughts are repeat offenders!), there is something different each day. Some days there's more difference than others, but each day has at least a small degree of newness. Just as it is true that you cannot step into the same river twice, so in much the same way there is an element of newness and diversity in even the most routine days or deeds.
On the geophysical level there is constant change as well. No spring is identical to those that came before, and no two tulips, or callas, or dandelions are completely alike. In a similar way, we are not the same day to day.
In a discussion about DNA structures, genetic engineering, and heredity, the British neurobiologist and author Steven Rose (Lifelines: Biology Beyond Determinism and Not in Our
Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature) challenges the notion that DNA structures are the most important and determining features of being. Although Rose remains an advocate of the "hard science" perspective, he's looking for a way to "escape the determinist trap," as he puts it.
What especially caught my attention was Rose's view of complex systems and the stress he places on the idea that living systems are just that—living. To one interviewer he said, "Should we see each other again in about three weeks, I hope that you will still recognize me. At the same time nearly everything in my body will have changed. Physically, nothing will remain the same. We think too much in terms of things, not in processes" ("Wir sollten den Begriff Gene einfach abschaffen," Sueddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, March 23, 2001, p. 31).
Less thing, more process—in other words, we don't really live as fixed states but more as movement, as ideas in development. Adapting, moving, and changing are facts of life. So even when our lives seem static, we are still in fact in a process of constant change. The key questions are whether we perceive the change going on within us or are unaware of it, and whether our thoughts are focused more on static appearances or moving realities.
The answers to those queries are found only in a close-up look. Just as a biologist needs instruments to see beyond the macro level in life forms, spiritual thinkers need instruments, too. Observation, reflection, and reason allow us to reach the basic truth of processes and changes.
A few weeks ago I took a walk to enjoy the sunshine and a beautiful spring day in Berlin. But at that moment I also had to deal with several important questions in my life. I felt surrounded by a variety of circumstances in which nothing seemed to move. A family member had been ill for several months without any improvement. A difficult faculty meeting lay ahead at the university where I work, in which I expected to hear "the same old story" concerning a contentious issue. And I was faced with a difficult decision for which I had no answer.
As I walked and thought, it dawned on me that these different circumstances had something in common: There wasn't any development, improvement, or change going on. Everything was static, without movement. And yet all of these settings involved people—living beings.
I was alone with my thoughts under a beautiful sky—the kind of moment in which I find it easy to think in a more expansive way—when an intriguing idea came to mind: "Man is the sum of the possible." I took hold of this thought and put it under my mental microscope. I remembered an explanation of man's nature in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: "Man. The compound idea of infinite Spirit; the spiritual image and likeness of God; the full representation of Mind" (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 591). I thought about this liberating (and astonishingly radical) outlook on our spiritual nature as the man and woman God has created—and how that outlook moves us beyond limited, material perceptions of ourselves.
In that moment I caught a glimpse of the infinite and eternal nature of being, and I saw that we are actually composed of spiritual qualities and rich possibilities. Because God as Spirit is always on the move, and we mirror the nature of our Maker, each of us has a living and lively spiritual identity. We cannot be static objects or frustrated prisoners of circumstance. And, as eternal beings, we have indestructible worth and dignity.
I believe that Christ Jesus was hinting at this basic truth when he explained to a Pharisee and theologian named Nicodemus the nature of rebirth, and therefore how to rebuild one's life. Jesus used an analogy to help Nicodemus understand this revolutionary concept: "The wind blows where it likes, you can hear the sound of it but you have no idea where it comes from or where it goes. Nor can you tell how a man is born by the wind of the Spirit" (John 3:8, J. B. Phillips translation).
The analogy of wind and Spirit is a play on words, because in the Greek language, the two words are virtually the same. The difference is simply one little accent: pnéuma (wind) pneumá (Spirit). I feel that Jesus is teaching us to learn from the wind in order to understand the nature of Spirit. The wind is seen by its effects; wind is itself movement. So, he's telling Nicodemus, and me: "See, the wind really has no fixed origin and no endpoint, and likewise you do not have a beginning or an end. You are eternal as God, the Father or Spirit, is. You will come to understand that there are no limits to life, and to feel the wonderful weightlessness and freedom of spiritual being. God moves, so move with the Spirit. Be renewed."
In those few moments during my walk, I could see the first buds of healing with the family member, and in the time since, the healing is coming along. We had an unexpectedly smooth faculty meeting. And I made that looming decision easily—almost lightheartedly.
Now I have at least one answer to the question, "Where does change come from?" And I find the answer best expressed in words from Science and Health: "Infinite Mind creates and governs all, from the mental molecule to infinity. This divine Principle of all expresses Science and art throughout His creation, and the immortality of man and the universe. Creation is ever appearing, and must ever continue to appear from the nature of its inexhaustible source" (p. 507).
I've given myself a multifaceted assignment since that stroll in Berlin. I'm making it a daily practice to look for change and not accept inertia in myself or others. I refuse to define anyone as being in a static state, but instead I try to discern the person's spiritual qualities—and to expect the unexpected good in them. I want to be more interested in newness than "in the same old story" and to side with renewal rather than inertia.
If Spirit is the moving force of creation, then our true employment always will be to move and develop as spiritual beings. Our relationship with God is a fixed fact, but with Spirit moving, and good appearing constantly, how can we stay the same? And why would we want to?
Annette Kreutziger-Herr is a professor of musicology and cultural studies. She lives in Berlin.
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