by Pastor Doug Kings
Marshall Davis is a retired Baptist pastor living in New Hampshire. Our book group read one of his books earlier in the year and I have quoted him in previous Reflections. In his last blog post, Davis reveals that he has been diagnosed with AFib, a relatively common heart condition. He says that AFib is a type of heart arrhythmia, where the heart’s lower chamber is beating just fine but the upper chamber has bouts of beating much too fast. The lower chamber then races to keep up.
As he thought about this condition, it occurred to him it was a good analogy for our society today. We live, Davis says, “in an AFib world.”
The world is running at a frantic pace. Our country is in AFib. Sometimes it feels like our country is going crazy. Our minds, emotions, and bodies follow suit. That is the problem. Our brains and bodies evolved during a simpler time. They were not designed for the complex stressors of modern culture. That is the reason for the high levels of anxiety and depression in our society.
As Davis goes on to explain, we all have a calm and steady center, often called our heart or Spirit. But we let our minds and emotions lose touch with that center when we focus our attention on the world around us. In our case today, that world often seem chaotic, out-of-control, in upheaval, and even threatening. Our minds and emotions then race wildly, following the frenetic pace of events and ideas surging around us. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Beneath all the fury of the world – including social media and political turmoil – is the slow steady beat of the Spirit… Thoreau observed, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
Good advice! There are two levels of life. The upper level of emotions and thoughts are spinning out of control, while the lower level of the Spirit is doing just fine. There is no way to control outward stimuli or emotional reactions. The only other option is not to be governed by them. Let the world be as it is. Let emotions respond as they will. Let thoughts go where they will. All we need to do is keep our attention on the Spirit.
In times past, it was easier to stay in touch with our calm center. People used to be in church a lot more. People had regular devotional practices. And the culture generally moved to the rhythm of the liturgical calendar of holidays and festivals.
But those times are over and not coming back. As a result it’s up to us individually to center ourselves. But as a society, we have only recently begun making rather fumbling efforts to establish practices to do that. It’s actually pretty easy. The challenge, however, is to see it as essential to our wellbeing and to make it a priority in our lives.
There is no one right way to stay in touch with our center. Do whatever works! You may prefer more traditional religious practices like prayer, Bible reading, etc. Regular meditation can have a religious focus or not. Or you may be renewed by something more physical: a walk in the woods or on the beach, a run or bike ride in the country, gardening or making art, or just letting a dog or cat sit in your lap.
What’s important is to genuinely appreciate the peace we experience at such times and recognize it as our true self. All these activities, whether formally religious or not, don’t so much create peace but help us discover the peace that is always present within us. By maintaining that connection on a regular basis, it becomes much easier to resist the pull into distress and anxiety by events around us.
There are lots of people who benefit from keeping us stirred up: politicians, newscasters, entertainers, drug makers, and retailers with their unending stream of products to distract and amuse us. It wouldn’t hurt to put some of them out of business because we have discovered that the peace we need isn’t out there somewhere in the marketplace, but has been within us all along.
Blessings in your life and ministry.
Blessings in your life and ministry.