By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt
A group I belong to recently had the opportunity to listen to the Canadian author and humorist, Terry Fallis, offer an introduction to his book "Albatross".
It is a worthwhile read for those who want to explore some of the realities of relationships of friends, family, and mentors who are placed in Toronto settings which are familiar to the writer. Anyone with a love for the use of fountain pens and golf will find these elements used to enhance the story.
At the heart of the book the seed of a question is planted in the reader’s mind.
Does Success Equal Happiness?
In the midst of the pattern of life which we have been experiencing in the cycle of lockdown restrictions, which have been our reality for more than a year, many of the “extras” of life have been unavailable to us. The concept of “going out” is an idea which we remember with fondness.
If we are still given the opportunity to connect up with others, we see their faces on the screens of our computers. We put ourselves on “mute”, so that we may listen to whomever is speaking without being the cause of any technical glitch or audible feedback. The new politeness which is a part of these gatherings may be a learning we might take into the post pandemic future… but I doubt it.
The politeness of our interactions is only one element in our new pattern of life. After spending time in the Internet defined presence of others, all we have to do is direct our arrow to the box that says,” Leave Meeting”,…and we are home! No commuting is necessary. The complexion of the familiar post-meeting parking lot conversations where the content of the meeting is re-hashed, reappraised and reviewed take extra effort. It is clear that any social media connection lacks the dynamics of a person to person, in person conversation.
These questions of interpersonal relationships only take on significance if they take part when we are a member of a group in which we have made a commitment. How many social groups or activities used to fill our calendars? Why did we affiliate ourselves with that group? Was it to make a difference in the world or to advance our own status? Do they bring us happiness?
Jesus clearly outlined the challenge we all face. “What will a person gain by winning the whole world, at the cost of their true self?” (Luke 9 :25)
The experience of being engaged in work which permits us to live a pattern of life which brings us comfort, or at least allows us to put a roof over our heads and food on the table, may be a pattern of life which shaped the framework of our world in the past. These days, there are individuals, (you may, in fact be one of them), who do not have a clear vision about what the future, when we are able to define it as being “post-pandemic”, holds for you.
Short-term goals of the past may not be sufficient in providing signposts for the way forward. Bigger goals of academic achievement, or employment with promotional benchmarks measuring success may not sufficiently answer the question asked of us as we seek to define what brings us happiness or how would we describe our ”true self”.
I remember well what it used to be like to be caught up in a crowd of people, who gathered in celebration or protest. I have been part of the crowd witnessing Stanley Cup parades in Montreal and Philadelphia. I was swept up in the enthusiasm of the crowds who were brought together for the first Earth Day gatherings in 1970. I have protested increased university student fees and the Vietnam War. In those settings, the sentiment of the crowd provided a great personal excitement. Yet it was not in the energy of the crowd where I found my “true self”.
In the peace and quiet of personal prayer, the opportunity is there for you to listen to the still small voice of God calling you to discern the way forward. I suspect that anyone who has experienced a vocation to ordained ministry will be able to identify that moment of clarity when the framework for the future began to take shape in their lives. This moment of clarity does not simply apply to ordained clergy. It applies to all of us who seek to nurture our ”true self”, and experience true happiness in our own lives. We yearn to discover how true happiness may be lived out in relationships with those individuals whose lives intersect with ours.
As people who build our lives on a foundation of faith and in relationship with our Lord, these Covid days may indeed prove to be a gift, when we have the opportunity to describe what would bring us true happiness. As a part of that journey of introspection there will be moments when clarity of vision for the future begins to take shape.
William Shakespeare caught these sentiments and placed them in the mouth of Polonius, in his play “Hamlet“ (I, 3):
This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
I suspect that if you put time and energy into defining for yourself what brings you happiness then you will be able to look towards a future which is filled both with hope and promise.
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry, but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese.