Change, the Love of God, and the Shape that Remains

It’s been said that “The only constant in life is change.” But is that true? Everything does seem to be in a process of change, but is change really the only constant? Isn’t there something even more constant than change?

Another question: Why is change so hard? I think one of the main reasons is we fear we will lose our identity if things change. We typically identify ourselves by what we have, what we do, and what others say about us. I am what I have: my achievements, my possessions, my family, etc. I am what I do: my talents, my work, or my independence. I am what others say about me: my attractiveness to others, my reputation, or my popularity.

The problem is that we try to derive a stable sense of ourselves with things that are constantly changing, and when those things change, our sense of self becomes unstable. If there’s a theft or accident or death, I lose what I have. If I get sick or age or retire, I lose what I can do. If I make an enemy or disappoint others, I can lose the good things people say about me. All of these changes in the things on which we base our identity can make us wonder who we are.

There’s a Greek legend involving a ship that belonged to the hero Theseus. In honor of his heroic exploits, his ship was displayed and preserved in the harbor. The years passed and the decaying planks of the ship were replaced one by one until all of the original pieces of wood were replaced with new ones. Is the ship with all new wood still the ship of Theseus or is it a different ship altogether? I think the ship of all new wood is still the ship of Theseus. Even though all of the original pieces change there’s an identity that remains.

You and I are like that ship. The very particles that make up who we are constantly changing. Those particles make up molecules that make up cells and these change as well. We age. We travel through time and are changed as we do, but it’s still us. There’s an identity that remains throughout all of the constant change.

I’ve heard our identity described as the shape of a waterfall. The water is constantly flowing with different water, but as it rushes over the rocks, there’s a shape that remains. As you and I change through life, death, and beyond, there remains a fundamental shape, an identity that is known and loved by God.

There are changes in our parish as we await a new season of ministry with our rector John Leach and his family. The parish continues to change as members come in and others move away or die. Our common life together has been changed for a time due to the need for social distancing. But the shape of our identities as individuals and collectively as the community of St John’s are known to God and they endure and remain—we are those who are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

You and I are God’s beloved children who are loved with an everlasting love. That’s true no matter what we have, what we do, or what others say about us. That’s true no matter what changes we undergo.

Change is constant, but so is the love the God who carries and accompanies us through it all, who loves the shape that remains. Change, rather than being a difficulty to be fought or avoided, is the place where God and our lives meet, a constant invitation to trust that we are carried and accompanied by love, an invitation to remember who we are.

Yours faithfully,

Jamie Osborne