Saturday, July 14, 2012
The path that an object in motion follows is called a trajectory. It is usually fairly predictable. If you watch a stream of water flying through the air, you can tell where it is headed. If a hockey puck is coming at a goalie, he knows where to place his body in order to stop it. An object in motion stays in motion, unless a force acts upon it, Newton observed. Our lives are always moving (objects in motion, if you will); we can't stop time or the turning of the earth or the progressions of life in and around us. In a way, all of life is ripe for transformation, but it depends on my trajectory, on what I am going toward, on what direction I have oriented my life.
If I am heading toward a goal of healthier living, I must avoid the beloved potato chip, exercise several times a week, and get a decent amount of rest. I have to stay on that trajectory for there to be any lasting effect. Most times transformation is just staying on course, taking one small step after another in the right direction, even if the progress is so incremental that it seems invisible. A lot of my writing falls into this category. It is rarely an easy task fuelled by an inspired burst of energy and a bit of caffeine. For me, writing is pretty much like doing a long workout, except that sweating is replaced by hair-pulling. It is just plain hard work and it has to be accomplished one word at a time, one day at a time, week after week, whether I feel like it or not. This is the only way I can hope to make any progress as a writer.
There are other forces which can act upon trajectories such as sudden starts (when a golfer hits a ball), obstacles (when a ball bounces on the ground) and other, often volatile forces (a gust of wind which lands a kite in a tree). Major life changes are like these forces and they can impact the trajectories of our lives. However, after a relatively brief period of adjustment, we find ourselves once again embarking on a predictable trajectory, even though it may be in a different direction or at a different speed. It is my theory that transformation does not happen primarily in these sudden or dramatic events, but in the long road leading up to them (the proverbial overnight success that usually takes many years) or the long road we have to walk after something dramatic happens. The encounters are not the transformation itself, but they do provide the opportunities for transformation.
The stories of biblical characters seem to bear this out. While many of the people we meet in the scriptures had dramatic encounters with God, these only became transformative if they were followed up by commitment to the new trajectory (the ways of God). The two Sauls (Saul the king and Saul who became Paul) are excellent examples of how dramatic encounters do not guarantee transformation. King Saul was given a great opportunity when he was appointed king, but he failed to remain on course and chose his own way over God's way. Saul's dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus was a turning point for him, but he had to follow it up by renewing his commitment to Jesus every day, no matter how much opposition he encountered.
Let me translate this talk about the trajectory of transformation into today's language: winning the lottery does not automatically make me a wise investor and a generous person. Being healed won't necessarily eradicate a victim mentality. And having someone acknowledge they did me wrong does not guarantee that I will be at peace with them. Becoming a generous person means that I am generous today. Part of being healed means that I stop feeling sorry for myself today. Being at peace means that I forgive today. Being a writer means that I write today. What I do today matters because it sets my trajectory. And that is good news, because it means that transformation starts today.
the photo: a fountain in downtown Montreal: water in several trajectories.