As I write this, I find myself, to my surprise, in hospital. I had been having seizures, along my left arm, which became progressively worse.
Now I discover, they are symptoms of a brain cancer, for which I am having investigations, prior to the doctors deciding on a course of treatment.
This all happened unexpectedly, out of the blue. It shows how life has the habit of interrupting all our plans.
As it happened, I had just bought a book, on the morning of the day I checked into A&E (Accident and Emergency).
This was “The uncontrollability of the world”, by the German sociologist, Hartmut Rosa. His thesis is that in the West, we have tried to reduce life to a carefully controlled, and safe, experience.
This is the product of our rationalist modernism, and operates both at the personal and political levels.
Individually, we plan sea cruises, to provide curated encounters with foreign culture, but without the risk of actual transformation; for genuine encounter with the Other entails the possibility of change.
Socially, government policies try to reduce the unpredictable eruption of chaos, in favour of a bland culture of anaesthetised satiation.
We try, Rosa suggests to find “resonance”through meaningful experiences. But, by over-determining these events, we prevent meaning from emerging.
While safety is important, however, over-officious imposition of health-and-safety precautions, removes the joy from life.
Moreover, the trouble is, Rosa asserts, that the world, life, is fundamentally uncontrollable; and has the tendency to erupt out of our modulated expectations. Thus, paradoxically, we enter a reality which is simultaneously both over-controlled, and out-of-control.
Clearly, I have just travelled through the looking glass, into the territory of the uncontrolled; elucidated by the serendipity of this conjuncture of book and hospitalisation.
Of course, in some situations, we want things to be very controlled (in hospitals, for instance!).
However, we also need to sit loose to our experience.
Rosa therefore advocates also learning to interpret our experiences, and ask: What are they saying to us? What is their meaning?
In an article, he suggests, without proselytising for any particular religion, a spiritual, contemplative approach to contemporary existence.
Nevertheless, he does draw on Christian theological themes, in particular the pre-Lutheran, negative theology of the Theologia Gerrmanica.
Interestingly, Rosa’s promotion of contemplation, as a response to the complexity of modernity, echoes the perspective of Korean-German philosopher, Byung-Chul Han.
Together, they form a kind of mittel-european, romantische reaktion, to the emptiness of present-day anomie.
Ironically, being in hospital provides a splendid opportunity to pursue the contemplative life, because not much happens.
You have to go with the flow of events; with plenty of time, to sit, rest, think, and pray. It is not, perhaps, the most expected setting for spiritual renewal.
But certainly, for me, this is not an inappropriate occasion to meditate monastically on the meaning of my mortality.
Perhaps, we all ought to be more aware of, and pay attention, attend to, our everyday chances to think deeply and open up to the Spirit.