In the mid-1950s, a particular carnival was a summer attraction in my hometown, Kellogg. Its most fascinating ride was The Round Up. Customers would climb onto a circular floor surrounded by a tall wall. As the engine moved the ride around and around faster and faster, the floor would suddenly drop away. And we were suspended against the wall by what I later learned was “centrifugal force.” What a great ride!
“Centrifugal” means “center-fearing.” Its opposite reaction is called “centripetal” (“center-seeking”). Physics has described what I also see as a spiritual metaphor.
I’ve been thinking about that carnival ride as an appropriate metaphor for what I see happening in our country and in individuals’ lives. I call it “centrifugal pain.” It’s like so many people are feeling such intense pain deep in their centers, their souls.
But as their lives seem to be spinning out of control, all they can do is project that pain outward toward whatever target they can find. The center of their lives is deeply wounded, for whatever myriad reasons, but they want that wound, that pain, to go away. So they shoot it outward in vain.
I’m very aware that much of people’s pain and fear is propelled by our current political climate, from local to national issues. But I’ve seen this centrifugal pain for many years. Some fears and pains transcend particular circumstances beyond our control at any specific time.
Some of our deepest pains and fears seem imbedded from our earliest memories. And for some of us, our religious training has been part of the problem. We are conditioned to avoid our wounds, our suffering. For Christians, that often means we quickly skip past Jesus’ challenge to die to our selves in order to find life. That “self” really points to Ego, and we are so stubbornly affixed to our egos. Plus we aren’t often taught that suffering has a very positive place in our lives.
Whatever form suffering takes for you, it’s often the strongest force in our lives that can make us confront our own arrogance and ignorance. When we don’t realize the center, the soul, of our life yearns for healing, for wholeness, our suffering is simply a pain to get rid of. If we can’t trust our center to change the pain, we push it away.
That “push away” often means someone else is the target for our verbal abuse, our rudeness, our over-reaction, our projected fear. Or we cannot take any healthy responsibility for our own feelings or actions or both, so we release the pain centrifugally to anywhere and everywhere.
The good news is that our woundedness, our pain, our fear, can be changed in our souls when we slowly understand our souls are the source of unconditional love and healing. This last week, I received an email from a reader who thanked me for a column I wrote in late 2005. The column was about my mother who had died in August. What I’d written reminded this woman of a source of healing and hope that is seeing her through life-turmoil that never seems to end. I was stunned by her hopefulness and faith.
She has chosen to live with a centrifugal hope rather than a centrifugal pain. My faith affirms we all have the same center. Pain and fear may blind us to the loving power of that center. But that pain and fear can also open our hearts so our God-center can heal the pain, can dilute the fear. Slowly we see love is stronger than both pain and fear.
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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