Trying to find words to express what many of us may experience during these troubled times, I keep coming back to the idea of “disorientation.” When things seem especially out-of-whack—right now?—that descriptor feels useful. These few thoughts….
Our 1 sense of place and direction is an essential part of our neurobiology. Most of us possess adequate proprioception skills—awareness of the location of our bodies in space and time. We can 2 navigate our way through life—physically and metaphorically—because our brains orient our senses and movements to known and trusted markers in our surroundings, experiences and memories.
When we lose our bearings—3 physically, socially, emotionally and perhaps spiritually—we become confused about where we are. At best, that unsettled state perplexes us; at worst, we realize that we are lost. If we lose the sense that there’s a way out, we either wander unsuccessfully or freeze in place. Our self-awareness may deteriorate.
Disorientation might also rob us of our individual and collective vision or purpose. Planning might seem futile and motivation hard to find. Without reliable markers of place and time—routines, relationships, agency—we can get trapped into narrow, here-and-now thinking.
The fog of disorientation doesn’t lift by itself. Somehow we have to rediscover what’s true and trustworthy. Perhaps overlooked in the haze of being lost, reliable elements of life are still there, still beckoning and reassuring us. Many of them are spiritual—God’s love, the power of faith, forgiveness, hope/courage or gratitude. These are the life-bearings that make every assemblage of God’s people into an oasis in the muddled middle of disorientation. We can search the Scriptures for the wisdom that comes only from our faithful God. We can proclaim our faith to be 4 “most certainly true.”
It’s even possible that each of us might be a trusted beacon for those around us who remain disoriented. We could be Spirit-commissioned rescuers or guides to the way home.
To the 5 “way, the truth and the life….”
1 I am indebted here to the fascinating work of science writer Christopher Kemp, author of Dark and Magical Places: The Neuroscience of Navigation, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ©2022 Christopher Kemp. (ISBN 978-1-324-00538-4) Dark and Magical Places | Christopher Kemp (christopherjkemp.com)
2 Navigation is a whole-brain matter, most likely centered in the hippocampus, the key brain structure that also regulates memory. Orientation occurs when the place cells in our brains fire together like remembered locater beacons.
3In reading Kemp’s highly personal investigation, I realized that physical disorientation might be similar to the emotional and social bewilderment we might be facing in times of high anxiety. Like right now…?
4Luther uses that phrase to end his explanation of each of the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed. Perhaps it’s a good mantra for disoriented days?
5See Jesus’ comments in John 14:6.
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