‘Should I cultivate my elasticity or my plasticity?’

Thought for the week: Helen Drewery stretches a point

'Should I cultivate my elasticity or my plasticity?' | Photo: Michael Walter on Unsplash.

Some substances are prized for their ability to stretch and twist, returning to their original shape when the forces that distort them have gone. They are pliant and responsive under pressure. Afterwards they relax. Elastic bands, for instance, work because they are trying to get back to their unstretched shape. They can grip all sorts of things, always ready for a new challenge.

Are we like that? Able to respond in a crisis – cope with lockdown, change our behaviour, learn new tricks – but, when the pressure is off, desperate to get back to our ingrained habits? Like Piglet, rolling in the mud to get back to his own ‘comfortable colour’ after being cajoled into taking a bath?

Or are we plastic? Not as we usually use the word, but in its original meaning of being capable of taking on a new shape without springing back to the previous one. Like plasticine, or a red-hot iron. Or clay, which can become a bowl, a vase, or a sculpture. A shapeshifter.

I find myself wondering which is more useful for building a better future. Should I cultivate my elasticity or my plasticity? Which old ways will need to be returned to, and which should be let go? What new possibilities are opening up as we experiment?

Many of us are trying to discern how to get back to in-person Meetings for Worship. But for the foreseeable future that means social-distancing, mask-wearing and hand-sanitising. And we are exploring how to incorporate our new digital skills into what happens at the Meeting house, to link up with those who cannot get there.

We wonder whether we are designing a temporary fix or an improved way of doing things long term. We may want to go back to how things were. But we might have discovered new arrangements that we will want to keep.

A member of our Meeting who is, in her own words, ‘101 and a bit’ was exploring recently whether she might try joining our Zoom Meeting for Worship. As she told me, she’s being ‘quite adventurous for her age’. Elizabeth lives in a care home and hadn’t been able to worship with the rest of us for quite some time, but suddenly it looked feasible as the home now has the equipment. In theory she could have joined us online before Covid but none of us would have thought of it and, if we had, we would have dismissed the idea as difficult and disruptive. When someone went in to link everyone up it felt very special.

Doing things differently encourages us to be open to change. But will there come a point beyond which our rubber bands refuse to stretch? Will the new shapes we take train us for the radical shapeshifting needed to counter climate change? Or will we, by the time we’re all vaccinated, be worn out and have no ‘give’ left, so that we end up clinging to old harmful habits?

One thing I feel sure of is that taking deeply worshipful decisions as a community can increase our willingness to live adventurously. We can step out into the darkness so long as we do it together.

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