Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My New Year's Resolution

At this time of year, you may be thinking about making New Year’s resolutions. In the spirit of the season, therefore, I would like share my resolution with you. It is a simple one, but I hope that it makes a larger point. This coming year, I will try to observe the speed limit.

Now, before you report me to the police or at least raise your eyebrows at hearing a priest confess that he breaks the speed limit regularly, let me say it plainly: almost everyone I know breaks the speed limit, at least once in a while. We know it; the cops know it; and as long as we don’t transgress too far, everyone agrees to live and let live. As proof, I offer the witness of a police officer, a parishioner in my previous community, who told me that the cops rarely ticket someone within 11 kilometres of the limit.

If a member of the Cranbrook police department happens to read this article, we may no doubt see a rise in the number of tickets given for marginal speed limit infractions... My point here, though, is not to exacerbate the incidence of speeding in our town, but simply to indicate that, despite the comfortable status quo in which we find ourselves, I resolve today to keep the speed limit to the best of my ability.

Why? Not because I want to shatter the hypocrisy of low-level lawbreaking, to which even the authorities turn a blind eye. Not because I want to rise above the rest of society, and look down on everyone from the height of moral superiority. No, I want to keep the speed limit because I want to and need to improve my spiritual health by living my life within proper and established boundaries.

The principle of boundaries is central to the biblical world view. When God created the world He established borders for the land, the sea and the sky: “Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds which cannot be passed.” (Psalm 148:4-6)

In the world of Scripture, boundaries are a symbol of the limits of created things. Only God is without boundaries—boundless and omnipresent. The rest of the world must exist within the limits that God has set. When parts of creation break their bounds, such as in the Great Flood, the result is a disaster. A world without restriction is a disordered world, of lawlessness and anarchy. Indeed, according to the Christian teaching, it was Lucifer’s attempt to overstep his limits as an angel that led to his downfall. And the disobedience of Adam and Eve was just another restriction ignored.

Human life is no less defined by boundaries. Psychologists tell us that well-defined and respected boundaries are the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. When people overstep their boundaries, they become abusive of others, with results ranging from discomfort to loss of life. To use a common example, think of those incidents when someone stood too close to you, violating your “privacy bubble,” which is just another word for the boundary of personal space—invisible but very real.

The speed limit is just another kind of “bubble,” one that ensures social harmony and safety on our roads. Traffic engineers will tell you that if everyone observed the speed limits, traffic jams would be far less common. It is when individuals choose to transgress this boundary that the orderly flow of traffic is disrupted, and everyone shares in the resulting inconvenience. Like all boundaries in life, the speed limit allows human beings to live in relative peace and harmony with each other and the world around them.

When I violate the speed limit, not to mention all those other boundaries in my life, my initial sensation is pleasant: a rush of adrenaline, a feeling of power, as if nothing can stand in my way, as if I can do anything I please. It is a taste of being God. Inevitably, though, anxiety sets in. I feel insecure, afraid. I feel out of control and uncomfortable. I lose my sense of equilibrium and peace because, having made it past the border, I am now travelling in an unfamiliar world, a strange land that is not my home. For me, at least, living without boundaries leads to personal chaos and destruction.

When I choose to live within certain limits, however, including those set by the government on our roads, I am making a spiritual statement of my place in the universe. Which is to say, I am declaring that I have a place. I am not boundless or infinite. I am not God. I am a created being, and as such, I have limitations within which I must live and work if I am to be truly contented and fulfilled.

As much as another part of me would love to be utterly free from restrictions that human existence places upon me, the better part of me—the real me—knows that I cannot live that way. Humbling as it is, I must choose to accept that I am a human being and God is God. Whatever else I might imagine, I am happiest within the limits of human life, and that’s where I’m resolving to stay, for one more year at least.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Fr. Richard, All the best with keeping the established speed limit! Truly they are there for a reason...so I remind myself. And no doubt boundaries are as well. Except we are frail creatures and quickly use all manner of good thing to our own ends, including boundaries. They become little more than barriers to keep the inconvenient (duties, chores, people) away. They can become barriers to love. They need not be, but...I think we have all seen that they are used as an excuse. Though no doubt the local constabulary might differ...
    In Christ,
    Teresa

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