Why are we so divided? Do we lay responsibility at the feet of social media? Politics? Economics?
All of these have a place, but according to Otto Scharmer, MIT researcher, the reason isn’t all that new. Certainly, polarization has been heightened in the past decade, but he observes that “without intentional action, we are always at the center of our experience and tend to see our lives through the lens of past experience.” Each person is convinced that our particular reflection on an experience is the same as the experience itself. Each of us live at the center of a world we define and thus can only be fully understandable by us. We cannot truly engage what is new but are instead limited to reconfirming what we already know to be true. We cannot see beyond our blind spots.
Scharmer’s work has implications for our abilities to work together — if I only accept my version of reality, and you only accept yours, we have little to build on. Nothing new permeates our bubble of interpretation, not even God.
Viewing life with ourselves at the center, instead of God, is classically known as sin. Repentance and amendment of life are the response, but how? How do we step outside of ourselves?
Looking to scripture we find Saint Paul’s invitation to “put on the mind of Christ” to recognize the possibilities inherent in a life lived with Christ at the center. He writes “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20) and again “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…who emptied himself” (Phil 2:5-6).
Christian faith invites us to consciously and prayerfully move ourselves to the edge, rather than the center, and notice what we see. Some people talk about “watching from the balcony” or “assuming the attitude of researcher.” All of these involve letting go of judgement, cynicism, and fear and offer space to see new possibilities.
Victor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, thoughtfully stated “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” The power to choose rather than react comes from preserving the space between input and response, finding a still point.
Prayer is a practiced still point. The work of liminal time, the time between “what was and what will be,” is soul tending. Soul tending is deepening discernment (listening to God speaking in our heart), shaping memory (remembering what God has done for us and in us and through us), clarifying purpose (how we are called to use our unique gifts and experiences), and engaging what is emerging (naming what is coming into focus, however dimly).
Healing of divisions will not come from listening to our own voice or the voices we agree with. It will come with intentionally keeping God at the center and allowing God to question us in ways that help us to see beyond our own interpretations and into the future to which God is inviting all of us.