UCAN Spirituality Catholic Church News

The New Normal

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Sandra Schneiders ihm

Certain developments in our culture … are calling us to recognize and appropriate what has been called by some psychologists and sociologists “a new normal.” This cultural development has implications for our theology, our ministry, our community life, our finances, our personal well-being, and our viability into the future….

Before getting to the heart of what I want to say about the “new normal” let me clarify what this term refers to. It is dependent on what we mean by “normal.” Our “normal” is the reality context that we assume, take for granted, live in, and according to which we proceed through our daily lives. It is what we do not have to re-negotiate every morning when we get up. It is precisely what a family fleeing into exile, for example, does not have.

A “new normal” refers to the situation of a person or group that has faced and successfully integrated the radical reconfiguration of their life that results when, because of some event or experience which is not entirely or sometimes even partially under their control, their life has been profoundly and irreversibly altered. The ‘new normal’ is the situation of the exile who arrives in a new country, with no home, no job, no relatives, no money, little knowledge of the language or customs, and somehow has to make a go of it. The event or experience which challenges a person to face a “new normal” can be positive or negative or a mixture of both. It can be partly or even wholly due to the person’s own initiative, for example, when one chooses to emigrate, but very often it is not, for example, when one has to flee a revolution.

The event or experience that precipitates a “new normal” is qualitatively unlike the “bumps in the road” that we experience from day to day that cause us to momentarily lose our balance before we get our feet back under us…. No matter how cataclysmic these things seem at the time, they are do not permanently and qualitatively change our life. The event or experience that precipitates a “new normal” not only de-stabilizes but qualitatively and irreversibly modifies our life-construction and we have to find a new way not just of coping with the event but of being and living. Our self-concept changes; our relationships change; we have to develop new coping skills; our values may have to be renegotiated and perhaps modified. We no longer live in the same world we lived in before the event or experience occurred that de-constructed our “normal” and now requires us to adjust to and find a way to flourish in a “new normal.” And the new situation is permanent. There is no turning back, not because we do not want to but because we can’t. There is no “back” to return to….

These ruptures of our “normal,” whether perceived as negative or positive, have two common features. 1) They are not minor or temporary upsets after which life goes back, more or less, to what it was before. They are major, permanent, irreversible disruptions which bring a certain way of being to a definitive end. 2) They affect our whole life, not just some dimension of it.  The “normal” which was our reality context prior to these events or experiences no longer exists. You cannot go home again because there is no “home” there….

Jesus, who founded this venture, died on a cross, disgraced and condemned, his faithless disciples in hiding, his project in shambles. And in this he was following in the footsteps of Israel, which God chose not because they were a numerous and powerful people but precisely because they were weak, small in number, and without power or influence among their neighbors.

From “The Ongoing Challenge of Renewal in Contemporary Religious Life” (2014)