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Life is Like a Rollercoaster

by Linda Buck, CSJ

I recently went on a rollercoaster, and I quickly remembered why I tend to avoid them. I also remembered that, in general, everything that goes up will come down. I ascended to the highest part of the roller coaster, as we slowly inched our way up. Then at the apex, there was a moment of anticipation, like hanging in midair. Then, to my dismay, we plunged toward the earth. I knew this was going to happen, and yet, it didn’t seem to matter. While others threw their arms into the air in sheer delight, I closed my eyes and held on for dear life. This experience offered me a moment to pause and (1) remind myself to sit out the next ride and (2) that life is like a rollercoaster.

I could see every twist and turn of the rollercoaster as I approached it. I saw other riders going through the course. Yet, until I did it, I could not understand the full force of the experience. We often glimpse at the next plunge, yet we do not fully know how it will be experienced.

In life today, there are many ups and downs, twists and turns – it may feel like all we can do is hang on for the ride. Yet, as transformational leaders, we are also called to see the bigger picture – to see the whole of the rollercoaster, if you will. The rollercoaster is basically a system, designed with many parts and components, the human element of participant and operator, and the possibility of running smoothly or having some technical difficulties.

What I see today is that many are trying to control the systems that are trying to change. Systems change, sometimes declining and disappearing, other times they transform and respond to new needs, and sometimes they emerge, holding space for something new that is coming into view. Any of these system changes create unknowns and the rollercoaster experience. We can try to control it or move components around. The fact is that the rollercoaster will continue to have dramatic plunges because that is what it is designed to do.

Let’s look at religious life. Our systems were designed to do something. What do you think they were designed to do? What do they hold in place? In some ways, the system of religious life has created amazing outcomes at the service for the world. I wonder though, how do these systems maintain a dominant cultural ideal of how we define what “amazing outcomes” are? Religious life is imbued with a euro-centric perspective, given its connection with authority coming from the Vatican. How does this reality overlay how we see the big picture? To change the system of a rollercoaster, we need to deconstruct its very structure. Does religious life need to be deconstructed? I believe it already is being undone, yet the dominant systems that have been in existence for over a century (or more), are resisting the plunge. Of course, this is a normal event – resistance while something new emerges.

I leave you with a question for reflection: How do we hold this tension while continuing to allow an authentic emergence of what needs to be brought into reality?

We are getting glimpses of what religious life will be like in the future. The Hope-Esperanza 2024 gathering is one place where I experienced this. We are consciously living through the transformation of a system. Come Holy Spirit!


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