By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Life is "Plastic"

Common vineyard (ca. 1910)Image via Wikipedia
No, I do not mean that life is somehow cheap or artificial. I mean, to borrow from the neurological sense of the term, that life is quite malleable, changeable, and "improvable" (I am not sure that is a word). What brings the thought to mind is the advice of well-regarded British neurologist Oliver Sacks that we should aim for cognitive fitness because our brains, regardless of our ages, can grow, change, and improve:

While some areas of the brain are hard-wired from birth or early childhood, other areas — especially in the cerebral cortex, which is central to higher cognitive powers like language and thought, as well as sensory and motor functions — can be, to a remarkable extent, rewired as we grow older. In fact, the brain has an astonishing ability to rebound from damage — even from something as devastating as the loss of sight or hearing. As a physician who treats patients with neurological conditions, I see this happen all the time.

Source link.

Let's extend the thought to areas other than cognitive ability. Life itself is plastic and subject to astonishing change at any age. It is possible. Christian wisdom confirms it and, long ago, foreshadowed this insight. Consider the big turnaround ("metanoia") of Zacchaeus from grasping defrauder of his own people (say, an ancient version of Detroit's infamous Kwame Kilpatrick) into a generous and magnanimous sharer of his goods.

But I like this scandalous and subversive story even better as foreshadowing the plasticity of life itself:
10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour [in the vineyard], and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ [2] 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Source link (emphasis added).

A lifetime of meditating on this parable will not come even close to exhausting its various meanings. That is the nature of the inspired. Yet, I can, at least, draw this out: it is never to late to make big changes.  Do not let a false calculus projecting little or no gain keep you from making a big change or turnaround, regardless of your past trail of tears.

Christian wisdom (sophia) points to this reality. You can go from thief to benefactor, from harlot to a woman of dignity, from addiction to freedom, from pessimism to hopefulness. 

Now, I do not believe in fairy tales--so do not get me wrong, I do not mean that you will escape all of the consequences of serious wrongdoing. Even Zacchaeus knew he had to make generous restitution and probably also knew that he would not ever regain the trust or affection of all in his village. In the same way, a converted porn star will likely not be an attractive marriage prospect to every man or, maybe, to no man. A reconverted priest who formerly molested children will just have to give up the idea of ever working with children again. The hard reality of  such unavoidable consequences is why many of us Christians tend to get "preachy" about certain lifestyles. Yet, each one who truly changes will be living a magnificently better life with other goods that will, in some way, compensate for the unavoidable and forseeable social consequences of past debacles.

Christian wisdom holds the invitation to great change at any stage. Neurological science reminds us of that deeper and more comprehensive wisdom of hope. Just as the brain can rebound from devastating trauma, so can our lives recover from traumas suffered and inflicted.