We are a people who are losing heart. The effects of this can be seen almost everywhere.
There is a loss of heart for fidelity within relationships, as less and less people find within themselves the resiliency needed to live out the tensions that long-term family life, friendship and marriage demand. There is a loss of heart for the church, as more and more people, for every kind of reason, quietly or angrily leave their ecclesial communities.
There is a loss of heart for civic communities and the politics needed to build them as less and less people take pride in their neighborhoods, cities and countries. There is a loss of heart for children, for simple freshness, for romance, for innocence and renewed virginity.
There is a loss of heart for proper aesthetics, for manners and even for the good things of life. Finally, there is, in all of this, a loss of heart for God, both for Cod’s mercy and for God’s challenge.
Today we live lives not so much of quiet desperation, as Thoreau put it, but, in my view, of quiet, inchoate, unrecognized, denied and often highly-rationalized depression. This depression has caught us unaware because it has come upon us imperceptibly, slowly, the by-product of a certain fin de siecle tiredness.
The last decades of this century have been, in the Western world at least, characterized by two major moods: 1) a loss of naivete that has brought with it a debunking of almost all of our heroes and heroines and a concomitant sophistication that has wreaked havoc on our childhood faith and values, and 2) an ever-intensifying sensitivity that has polarized and politicized daily life around gender, ethnicity, ideology, hierarchy, values and power.
The combination of this, has, I believe, slowly tired us and left us hemorrhaging in the heart. Slowly our strength and resiliency is draining out of us. Our hearts are beginning to bleed and lose strength.
A wounded heart acts out: It prefers a negative tearing down over a building-up, cynicism over trust and cursing others over blessing them. In the end, devoid of trust and fatigued from constant tension, a wounded heart finds its rest in a certain emotional apartheid—”I’ll find my home and niche with certain like-minded persons and avoid as much as possible dealing with those different from myself. I haven’t the heart to deal with others beyond that!”
But we are not a bad people. We are only a tired, depressed one whose strength, resiliency, trust and robust will for community is hemorrhaging. And like the woman in the Gospels suffering from chronic internal bleeding, we too are slowly despairing of finding something to stop the drain. Slowly, but steadily, we are losing heart.
When I try to read the signs of the times, what seems clear is that the depression, polarization and loss of heart that is besetting us at all levels today must be recognized and addressed.
We face some radical dangers today, both in the society as a whole and within the church. Our marriages, families, homes, communities, churches and even our friendships are breaking down as, more and more, we are unable to find the heart to make them work. Given the truth of this, it is time, I submit, to seriously discern what aspects of the prophetic challenge of God that we should be emphasizing today.
My own belief is that, given a certain naivete within the church of our youth, for those of us who remember the pre-Vatican II church, certain emphases of the last quarter century, 1965-1990, were what was needed. The more liberal thinking, the openness to deconstruction, the challenge beyond individualism and piety, the uncompromising emphasis on social justice, and the strong challenge to grow beyond an infantile faith—emphases that have slowly taken over essentially the intelligentsia within ecclesial, academic, and artistic circles alike—are, I believe to a large extent, a real response to the signs of the times.
My own belief, too, is that now, for awhile at least, a new shift is needed. The shift that is required is not a conservative one, nor a fundamentalistic one (though that certainly is the temptation for many!), but it is clearly in the post liberal, post-critical, post-modern, post-hypersensitive and post-deconstruction direction.
Liberal, critical, modernist, hypersensitive and uncompromising social justice-emphases thinking, like John the Baptist, help prepare a path for the Way, the Truth and the Life. But they are not the Christ. Eventually, they must decrease while something else must increase!