worth trying?

Someone was telling me about a book on change called One Small Step can Change your Life. I’m not sure I’m going to rush out and buy it, but there were a few tidbits worth experimenting with.

Apparently, the idea is (obvious enough): big change means big fear. Little change means no fear. It seems to have to do with primitive survival instincts. Too much disruption and our fight-or-flight mechanism sets in. The flight-mechanism diverts all our energy from the parts of our brain that could respond creatively or wisely, so we run away from change rather than engaging with it productively. But apparently, if the change is small enough, the panic response lies dormant, and we can get on with being creative, adaptive human beings. Now I have no idea if this is scientifically true, but it sounds intuitively plausible, which is good enough for now.

So that means we need to look for tiny little steps towards change — something I suspect we all know, but often fail to apply.

The other helpful reminder was about how easily our brain can be programmed. Apparently, if we ask ourselves the same question every day, our brain learns to track the information for us throughout the day. That means that if we ask the question, ‘where was God’s blessing’, our brain will tag and sort blessings throughout the day; whereas if we ask ‘how have I failed?’ our brain will tag all our downfalls. (This is ‘Pavlov meets Ignatius’, isn’t it?)

If that’s true, it means we need to choose our questions wisely. But imagine if by the simple act of asking, we found that our brain got in the habit of noticing blessing, or beauty, or laughter, or forgiveness… if we got in the habit of noticing God.

So, here’s a one-off question (or two) for anyone who will join in:

What’s the best question we could ask ourselves each day? What will draw us closest to God?

17 thoughts on “worth trying?”

  1. I’ve tried to write a question and failed miserably. It either sounded trite or just too wordy to make sense. I guess my ‘best question’ would be something to do with seeing the events of the day and trying to discern the surprising, ‘wonder’-filled things I tend to take for granted…like bird song or how green the grass is. i’ve found that for me looking for these small but perceptible interventions of nature shifts me out of collecting worries into a big bundle of unappraochable and unmanagable anxiety. Once I’ve managed that shift it becomes a lot easier to sit in silence long enough for prayer. Was that the sort of thing you had in mind?

  2. Is the question as simple as ‘where have I encountered beauty?’ or maybe ‘who or what has shone with God’s light?’ … ‘where has transcendence broken through?’

    You’re right. It’s hard to focus it.

    I feel that we have stumbled back into the territory of R S Thomas’ Bright Field. Again…

  3. Rosemary – yeah, that’s a good one.
    Kimberly – I started with the ‘where have I encountered beauty’ and got myself tied up in knots about beauty and ugliness and how they’re socially constructed, and how that might lead to a sort of blind following of a norm to see God’s grace. At that point I stopped. 🙂

    The trouble is that somewhere I do think that beauty has a role to play in the revelation of God, and that not being able to experience beauty is like a rift between the Divine and Humanity. However, how can we learn to see the Divine in that which we consider inherently (or even as a construction of) ugly?

  4. Vicki — do you know about (and would you have any interest in) the Theology and the Arts Conference in St Andrews the first week of September. It is titled The Offense of Beauty’, and is considering just that sort of thing.

    I am going by virtue of a kind and unsolicited grant from my bishop.

  5. That is indeed of interest….but alas I suspect that my normal day job might get in the way of attendance. I am a lecturer in ‘Academic development’ (as well as Theology – although this quite often has an interface with my Church History/Theology stuff ……) Could you be tempted to feedback via your blog?

  6. Eamonn – This is the question I’m working with, too. I’ve started a little book in which each evening I write five things for which I’m thankful, and it really seems to make a difference. I also put in pictures. It seems to be a good frame for the day.

  7. To be honest, Sarah, there are days when I would be hard put to stretch to five! But there are always some. Being thankful means recognising everything as gift, and brings us closer to the Giver.

  8. Oh, come now Eamonn. Your wife, your dinner (lovingly offered by said wife), your family, your sense of humour and your training rector. There’s five ‘dailies’ without even trying.

    (and I’d love to see you combine that list with sister Sarah’s suggestion of drawing little pictures…)

  9. Ok, now that made me laugh…there was me imagining Eamonn as sad and alone, struggling with a dwindling parish, wondering whether any one would go out with him…and what do i find? How easy it is for me to fall into a fantasy based on my need to feel sympathy for the world! Perhaps a question for the day would be, how often do i project out my fantasy and from that place mis-hear God? 🙂 Maybe another question could be, ‘what did I celebrate today’?

  10. I was just sitting thinking about this and my eye caught on something written in my notebook-beside-the-phone. So my question for today is:

    Will your anchor hold?

  11. That made me blush, Kimberly (and Vicky too). All that you say is true, of course – and more! But thankfulness has a shadow side: if everything is gift, it is provisional and potentially ephemeral, i.e., perhaps more in the nature of a loan – certainly not a possession. Thankfulness is intensified day by day by knowing that the gift is still being offered, and that one can depend on the generosity of the Giver.

  12. Eamonn – I, too, have days where it takes me a while to come up with five things. That said, I should also say that for me it is the ephemeral nature of things that makes me aware of my gratitude for what is and has been. I started a thanksgiving list once when I was really struggling with finding anything at all, and started it up again, putting it in a book, when I was recovering from cancer surgery. I had so much to be thankful for at that point – every little thing was precious. For me, knowing that I can depend on the Giver is indeed key (and looking over old entries helps me to remember that), but remembering to take each day itself as a gift is intensified by a new knowledge of how transient all of it can indeed be. I feel freer when I am aware of that, somehow, and more grateful. Maybe that’s part of God’s gift to me from that time.

  13. Agreed, Sarah. One of the many things I have reason to be greatful for is that I have never had a really serious illness. But I’m at the age when one accumulates experience of family and friends moving away or passing away. Not only that, but obviously ministry in the church brings you into frequent contact with acute, chronic or terminal illness. All of which reminds us that ‘we have here no abiding city’.

  14. Isn’t it extraordinary that it’s often in the hard time that the gifts are easier to bring to mind? When I first moved to Scotland and was in the midst of a tough time, knowing no one, struggling to find a job and to make ends meet, my husband and i would frequently count our blessings – and it was a gift in itself to ponder how much we had to be grateful for, even in the midst of struggle.

    I guess it’s maybe not so extraordinary after all.

    I like Kimberley’s question of ‘where is God’s blessing?’ and also what vicky’s saying about interventions of wonder.

    And I like the idea of question as prayers and programming brains to pray! When I’m really struggling with praying and my mind is full of nothing but dissertation and work and mundane details – perhaps a pondering question behind it all could be a gracious guide!

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