French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr famously wrote, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
On the surface, this may seem like an argument against change, a perfect complement to another often quoted line, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” But the core message is that change brings us to the root of a thing or a phenomenon.
This is one of the basic messages of Advent, a reminder of the basic flow or process of life: change and continuity. We come to endings to allow us new beginnings; new beginnings give us the chance—a second chance—if we look back and learn from the past leg of our journey.
At every cycle of beginnings and endings, we reflect on this—we get another chance at renewal and transformation.
As we come to a new beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, I invite you to reflect on the grace of renewal and transformation.
In the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP) process, the cycle of reflection-action-evaluation is the core process. It prescribes, as Ignatius often did, that we must begin with our current experience or context and in this beginning go through reflection, which is a process of self-awareness and self-acceptance—revisiting and clarifying our values and eventually getting in touch again with our personal vision and sense of mission.
This is the process of renewal, which leads to a choice that invites us to live our life according to God’s will for us. Here, we experience our transformation—choice, commitment that leads to action. It is in acting, living out, that true transformation takes place.
Then the penultimate stage in the process is the evaluation of the action, another form of reflection that once more assesses values and commitments. After this evaluation, a new context and experience is created, one that is hopefully and ideally closer to our core defined by our God-given mission.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is the process that makes us undergo change through the reflection and action stages.
The change leads to “staying the same,” not in the sense of no growth but rather rediscovering once more our core, the integrity of who we are in our mission from God.
Last week, I attended the anniversary of MLAC Institute founded by Dr. Honey Carandang. She gave a short lecture on integrity and corruption; the need for a call to action to form circles of integrity to overcome corruption. She focused a lot on honesty and truthfulness as keys to integrity.
The truth of who we are, our integrity, is in our mission. As mentioned in previous articles, we come into this world whole, with a specific purpose or mission. The first half of our life, as many writers would say, is spent disintegrating by fulfilling roles and expectations that sometimes, perhaps often, wean us away from our authentic self, from the integrity or wholeness that is ours from the start.
Parker Palmer says that there is a moment when we ask, “Is the life that I am living the same life that wants to live in me?” This is the question of Advent, as we are given another chance at a new beginning. We ask and look at our life now, up to this point in our journey, how much have we remained true to who we are and to our mission?
Integrity is wholeness. Like the definition of an integer, a number that cannot be divided except by itself, such is personal integrity. Our mission from God cannot be divided, cannot be changed.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is an invitation to renewal, a going back to our hidden wholeness because, as Thomas Merton put it, “There is in all things a hidden wholeness.” In all things there is a wholeness that comes from the God-given purpose to all things his love and grace creates.
Things change because as we renew, we make choices and commitments that bring about change in the way we live our life. Things stay the same, not in a static way, but in a way that bring us back to our core and we become authentic.
Advent is a time to consciously enter and relive this process to renew and to transform—to experience that the more we change things in our life, the more we stay the same.
As Christ said in last week’s Gospel for the Feast of Christ the King: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
With this he made his way to his Cross, the fulfillment of his mission to bear witness to the love of his Father for us and his being the Beloved Son, and the mission that opened us and the whole of creation to the Resurrection, the New Creation.
In all things, there is a hidden wholeness that comes from God alone.