Sketching a picture like this brings us directly to the spiritual and pastoral needs that go along with this. Basically, Bob Dylan advices us to better learn how to swim, since the waters have grown unex-pectedly fast and are about to wash away everything that used to stabilize and secure. By giving this advice, he comes back to the individual person who has to react to the situation given on very personal level. And in fact, we can easily describe the times changing on a general level, but all these observations, then, need to be ascribed to the individual, since it is the individual who has to learn how to swim. And it is the individual who – as Bob Dylan puts it – needs to keep the eyes wide open to figure out what was going on. And, sure enough, it is the individual who is asked by Dylan not to speak too soon, since the wheel of the times changing was still in spin – and there was no telling what choices might derive from that. To sum this up, in the end it all comes back to the individual person succeeding or failing to cope with the times changing. Therefore and above all, the question of spiritual and pastoral needs has to consider the individual′s disposition while addressing the person′s needs.
a. The baseline is fear. The world in silence
But, what might be the core of the individual′s disposition that allows spiritual and pastoral care to get hold of this? Dylan does not address this question explicitly, but, still, offers an answer: The order is fading, Dylan states, and ″the curse is cast″ and will soon ″shake the windows and rattle the walls″ of everybody who is not following the new path. Furthermore, he announces that everybody would get hurt who stands in the way. This all adds up to the thought that the baseline of these emotions described in the song is fear. Fear to be left behind; fear not to cope with the new circumstances; fear to be run over by the next generation, by determined activist, and fear to do something terribly wrong and, therefore, to ″sink like a stone″ although swimming is required.
The German sociologist Hartmut Rosa also suggests recognizing fear as a major and influential issue in changing times. However, other than Dylan, he does not start with a close look at the declining society; he rather asks a question, which addresses a timeless desire of human beings. Rosa asks what ″good life″ might look like. What can be regarded as a ″good and fulfilled life″`? In addition, Rosa adds the question, what prevented postmodern contemporaries from leading such a life. While examining these two questions he also addresses fear as a crucial category of human existence in changing societies.
Coming from this point of view, Rosa develops an idea of resonance, and of relationships resonating. The baseline of this idea is that human beings are not only placed into the world and into their immediate segment of the world, they also long for relation and for resonance within this segment. Rosa is emphasizing that there is an inner relationship between human beings and the world surrounding them, and he stresses the point that human beings are mostly aware of them-selves when the world somehow answers to their existence as a particular individual. Therefore, the greatest fear one could have, is, that the world does not answer anymore. Rosa calls this the world′s lapse into silence that leaves the individual unattended and without resonance. Consequently, the individual now loses its strength to adapt the world. Moreover, it heavily realizes differences and becomes estranged from the world that once could have been adapted by the individual. Now, the individual painfully learns how inaccessible resonating relationships are, but Rosa states, in changing time individuals are not willing to endure this. In fact, they start to fight for resonating relationships in order to live a good life. Moreover, they secretly agree that it lies in one owns hand and capacity to shape the life the way it should be; even if they knew that resonance was inaccessible. However, unfortunately, Rosa continues, that this self–centered strategy of coping does not work out. In fact, individuals in postmodern and changing times realize, that all their effort do not lead to resonating relationships or to hearing the genuine voice of the other. In fact, despite all efforts to come to grips with the world by issuing new inventions, techniques, smart work flows, communication, new sciences and, above all, the sacralization of the individual, this does not force the world to answer. Moreover, fear, stress and time pressure which go along with these efforts and which can also be identified as a crucial marker of contemporary and changing times, apparently have the capability to kill resonating relationships at all. In the end, Rosa states, the individual experiences loneliness, because it finds itself in a world that eludes control, and that does not seem to resonate at all. That is the fertile soil for fear and actions of fear. In the end, the consequences of fear can be studied in social media and in polarized social discourses, which do not take the effort to examine the twilight zone of contentious arguments.
Now, dealing with fear and anxious individuals in an uncontrollably changing world is and should be one of the key issues for spiritual and pastoral care – and even Rosa addresses the tasks religions have to fulfill here, because religions are very familiar with the idea of reso-nating relationships. Why is that, and how can they help?
Religions, Rosa continues, provide the most sophisticated and elaborated conceptions of resonat-ing relationships, since they have a lot of experience in dealing with an inaccessible counterpart. You can easily judge that from scripture: many stories of the Bible address the Eternal as the inaccessible counterpart whose present is believed even if it is not felt and experienced. Never-theless, at the cross even Jesus Christ beseeches the Father although he could not tell – in that particular and crucial moment – whether the Father was with him or not.
However, what we can learn from the pleading, begging and the return to the inaccessible Eternal is, that this peculiar and even precarious inaccessibility does not hinder the believer from assum-ing that the resonating relationship is still intact. On the contrary, the Eternal who remains silent and misunderstood in silence seems to be an essential part of this resonating relationship.
This sound a bit odd, because it raises the question why the world staying silent provokes fear, while a silent God seems to be acceptable.
b. The promise of God listening
Rosa has an answer to this question, and I would like to propose that this answer should become one of the key answers to the spiritual and pastoral needs in changing times. Religious people, Rosa emphasizes, heavily rely on the promise, that the Eternal does listen to them although they do not realize it – and although He does not seem to answer. However, what carries them trough is the promise of everlasting resonance, given by God who is so much into the relation-ship with his creation that he desires to save it as Jesus has stated: Anyone who relies on the Father should be saved, nobody should get lost. – Here, the promise of everlasting reso-nance comes forward, and this is also a promise of a life being lived in the safest hands possible. This promise, Rosa underlines, outlives the experience of a silent God, in fact, prayers and ritu-als enforce believing in this promise given once, but lasting forever. By stating this, Rosa marks one of the greatest tasks for religious people meeting the spiritual and pastoral needs in changing times, because they are always called to underline and live up to this promise. In fact, they are called to make sure that this promise is not forgotten but rather clearly visible in a confusing world.
Furthermore, the value of the promise needs to be addressed directly to the individual, since the individual person needs to understand that the ″pro nobis″ of Christ′s ministry at the cross actually comes down to a ″pro me″, that speaks right into the fear of being lost in a world that lapses into silence. Understanding the power of ″pro me″ and thereby understanding how enduring the promise is God has given, will not cast away the experience of a silent God or a silent world, but it will help to live up to the promise instead of being overpowered by awkward silence.
To put it in a nutshell, Rosa has addressed a very crucial issue by stating that God′s promise establishes and nurses an eternal relationship of resonating. By doing this, he puts the individual at the heart of interest, but not in a postmodern sense, that highlights the individual due to its assumed capacities and strength. In Rosa′s sense, the individual appears to be dependent on the promise given by the ″extra nos″, meaning: by God. Therefore, the postmodern individual might be surprised due to the fact, that it is this particular dependence (and not the postmodern understanding of freedom) that provides access to the sources, which can fulfill the individual′s spiritual and pastoral needs. This might sound paradoxical or even ironic, but the vital difference in quality is that in religion the promise of an everlasting resonating relationship exists and endures, because it does not rely on the individual and its capacities.
Having said this, the question arises whether the individual is capable of holding on to this promise despite the changing times and values the world provides. This questions underlines that prayer and rituals which help to keep the door crack open in order to let the eternal promise in, cannot be considered as solitary action, but rather need their setting within a communio of believers who long for this promise, too.
However, there is more to the aspect of communio, since its necessity also derives from the social situation given. What does that mean? In changing times people are highly interested in stick-ing to groups they are familiar with and which do not harm them. In fact, if the world becomes more complex than anyone could cope with, withdrawing into a familiar peer group is one of the common answers. When we talked about echo chamber and filter bubbles earlier, we have ad-dressed this procedure already. Technically speaking, these are the spaces of self–insurance although it is clear that they reinforce the fear of the individual who feels to be overpowered by complex circumstances of life.
Consequently, we can assume that there is a strong desire to be part of a communio which – to state the best possible case– helps to cope with the fear and the idea of being at the world′s mercy.
This addresses the idea of communio in today′s world. I would like to put it into words by asking two questions: Could it be that a new or perhaps quite old understanding of communio might offer an answer to living in a secular context and in changing times while the desire to live up to a certain vision is being maintained? In other words: Could it be that these incompatible aspects only can be reconciled with each other in a communio, that lives up to the promise of reconciliation and a resonating relationship and therefore attracts committed and noncommittal people alike? If the answer is ″yes″ then the spiritual and pastoral need of communio calls orders, communities and religious movements into action, because they should be regarded as experts on this field – no matter how large the numbers is they consist of.
If you like to follow these questions and the path they open up, it could be helpful to take a close look at recent studies of the Lutheran World Federation about its self–understanding and its idea of communio. Here, the LWF states that communio appears to be the most crucial aspect in contemporary times. In communio people not only gather and encourage one another to trust the promise Rosa has addressed. Furthermore, communio that relies on this particular and ever-lasting promise has to be regarded as a counterpoint to the chambers and bubbles which aim for destruction and self–centered attitudes without even entertaining the thought that there could be another world beyond one′s own nose.
Due to this desire to conquer the complex and changing world from a safe harbor of a specific and shielding communio, in Germany a discussion came up. Here, orders and communities de-bate how this ″new We″ – as they call it – might look like; and how communio may get a new coat of whitewash today while heavily relying on the eternal promise given. There is a strong need to entertain these thoughts further in order to suggest a specific kind of communio that serves life and does not rely on destruction, hate speech and fear.
d. ′The present will later be the past′
Now, speaking of fear, the promise and the role of communio which helps to live up to this promise another aspect has to be mentioned which marks a specific spiritual need in changing times: the right and even spiritual way of dying. How does a spiritual way of dying fits into these thoughts?
Let us briefly return to Bob Dylan. In his song he sings about fading orders and new forms of communio. Sure enough, Dylan states, ″the present will later be the past″, in other words: It will be gone forever. Moreover, the new order will completely suspend former values and forms of communio. In fact, what used to be first will be last now, and the sons and daughters will take over command – so parents should clear the road and should not even dare to criticize what was happening.
Dylan draws a picture of a rapid change, and flavors it with fear of the generation being lost and outdistanced. This induces helplessness, and surely, this helplessness leads to frustration, anger or even indifference towards the circumstances given. Consequently, ″me first″ becomes the slogan to induce action, and this is very close to denouncing the consensus within a democratic society, which relies on the engagement of everybody.
Here, the question of identity arises since being suspended in that manner could also mean to have failed completely. Moreover, the experience of failure has the power to devaluate anything that had made sense before – it can even devaluate identities. That means, there is no dignity while failing to come to terms with the new situation given, there is just devaluation of a his-tory that once has been regarded as successful and important.
I guess, it is one of the crucial spiritual and pastoral issues to address this relationship between alleged failure and dignity. This goes along with severe questions addressing the identity of people, because here the question comes up, what is left of a person, who feels lost in changing times and, therefore, cannot rely on anything that has served as a stabilizing factor before. Where does dignity come from if the self–concept is disrupted and even dying?
These questions not only arose and still do arise in Germany, where we still struggle with the alleged difference between East and West and the question whether re–unification rather has to be regarded as a quick takeover leaving out the questions of identity and dignity. You also find these questions in other contexts, since the rapid change on the employment market, for example, confronts people with similar questions. What is the dignity of a person whose work nowadays needs revisiting or is abolished since times and techniques are changing?
I am convinced that religious orders, communities and religious movements which are in similar situations – due to their restructure or oncoming death – could give an answer to this need to be dignified again. What does this mean? I propose that today′s religious institutions address this need by sharing a testimony of life, which finds its own way between new encounters and realistic ways of assessing death. That means that they can address this need by transparently taking all the practical measures needed to die in a responsible way, while they also live up to the task not lose sight of the new awakenings and questions that arise today and that may need them to be answered or forwarded. Of course, dying in a spiritual and reconciled way is a strong testimony of faith and the presence of God in our midst. Nevertheless, I believe that religious institutions today – and even in a remarkable secular context – in the first place are called to trust and not to block the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they should at least entertain the question that God might need them today for very special issues – despite the fact that they feel like dying. That means, that discernment and attention have to be sharpen and a new communio has to be set up that figures out how to live in that particular and precarious transit era changing times provide. I guess, this is one of the most crucial issue of religious institutions today, if they want to address today′s spiritual needs. So their question would be: What measures do religious institutions take to encode the signs of the time they are living in – and what conclusions are they drawing from this, and how does that shape the processes they are involved in and the spirituality and charisma they are grounded on?
Now, coming back to the issue of dignity of people being lost in today′s confusing world: Due to the promise and the hope spiritual groups and institutions should and do nurture they can set an example of realizing their own fragility and even disorientation without discarding their hope. This means that they can address the spiritual needs given by grounding dignity in the promise of life God is granting – and not in work, political attitudes and success. In fact, the German theologian Fulbert Steffensky encourages orders, communities and religious movements to bravely and hopefully embrace their finitude and brokenness and, thereby, testify that this does not have any effect on their dignity. This would help to accept death in a society of winners; and this would also help to stop linking dignity to success.