The old trope about “the best of times, the worst of times” doesn’t adequately name the current moment for me. There are indeed “best of times," moments like Ketanji Brown Jackson’s celebratory but humble remarks at her recognition ceremony this past week. Then, sadly, there are those "worst of times" moments when KBJ was subjected to such vulgar harassment during the confirmation hearings. But all together, I am left feeling these are just “times,” even if history is in one of its epochal eras when, yet again, it is simply trying to sort things out.
There are a number of metaphors over the years that attempt to name the swirl of these days, but the one that comes to mind for me this evening is the spectacular “sky dance” murmurations of a huge flock of birds, usually starlings, as they both impulsively shift and sway radically to and fro while also maintaining amazing cohesion and continuity. But although bird murmurations are soulfully satisfying, they also represent a reality that our lives often never seem to settle.
What are we to make of this flowing, swaying, chaotic, yet somehow also exciting time in our lives? Like bird murmurations that maintain a sense of flow but never coalesce, Covid advisories give us a set of guidelines that are soon amended - and amended again- all for the good, to be sure, but we are not as skilled as our starling models at shifting that quickly. The world of shifting but unsettled murmurations of political news is similar: What are we to expect from all the various posturing and ineffective elected officials while we also yearn for compassionate, visionary established leadership to hold us all to civility and accountability in the service of the common good. The ominous shifting and heartbreaking unsettled murmurations of war in the Ukraine go from monstrous tragedy to compassion and heroism and we just want it all to end. Unsettled murmurations about the lack of earnest efforts to address climate change and to deal with institutional racism, among others, could be added to the list. (But on a much more positive side, what is springtime if not a grand murmuration of shifting clouds and colors and mesmerizing beauty that we want to continue to savor forever!)
From a prophetic and spiritual perspective life is a murmuration, a “sky dance” of hope being played out against a backdrop of ominous clouds and yet held within an ocean of light. So this is truly neither the best nor worst of times. Certainly it is a time that tests our faith in future, but the promise of a future is also part of the equation. Fascinating time, yes; dangerous, yes; yet beneath all the anxiety about how ungrounded we seem to be, I have this curious sense that, like the amazing capacity of the starlings to maintain some mysterious cosmic order among themselves, maybe, just maybe, humanity and the planet is subject to a transcendent ordering we cannot even imagine.