Loosed upon the world.

In a conversation with friends last week, and while talking with people over the last few months, I kept hearing the same question, an unsettled sadness and tired waiting… Is the world turning over on end?  The future seems so hazy, the meaning of familiar things so foreign, things we’ve known and relied upon and taken for granted no longer hold.  William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” retains its prophetic, desperate edge: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/ Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”  Who among us doesn’t feel this resonate deep in our chests this week, this month, always?  Between the shrill tones of our American political machine, volcanic rumblings crumbling the economy, the immediacy of human-made destruction of this lovely planet we call our home, increase in violence in our schools, prisons, homes, and communities, our personal relationships fraught with violence and misunderstanding, I do wonder whether we’ve finally brought ourselves to the edge and are looking into the abyss.  I wonder what to think, let alone how to bring light into what seems a very dark time. 

That line, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” it sticks in my brain, rattles around.  I’ve been saying it to myself for 3 days.  Think about it for a moment.  The falcon cannot hear the falconer.  I feel like I can’t hear the voice of whatever it is that is supposed to be in charge of the world.  The Hebrew Scriptures describe the Voice of God, the Bat qol, coming out of the fire and smoke on the mountain.  When I think of this voice, I wonder that I’ve never heard it.  Not in my head, for sure.  Maybe in my heart?  In the voices of others?  In reading?  I don’t know.  But then it strikes me that I may be hearing it all the time but choose to tune it out… it’s like radio.  The waves are always out there, waiting for someone to tune in, to listen, to get oriented to the right channel.  Then I read that first line again, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre…” Perhaps the reason I can’t hear it is because I’ve wandered so far afield.  I remember one day last year I took my dog Ruby to the park to swim.  Now, I know this dog hears my voice, because if I say “cheese,” “lunch,” or “walk,” her ears perk up, even from down the street.  But this day, she took off on her own agenda into the pond.  I wanted her to swim, to tire herself out, but within the limits of what I knew was safe for her.  She took off, happy as, well, a dog chasing ducks on a pond in mid-August.  And just kept swimming, despite the fact that I had gotten increasingly desperate, calling for her to come back.  At first, I knew she heard me (her ears perked up), but then, out in the middle of this enormous pond, I realized that no matter how loudly I called, she was too far away  – she could no longer hear me.  I just had to wait – either for her to come to her senses and turn around, or for the moment when her legs couldn’t tread water anymore and she started to sink.  I readied myself to dive into the lake, just in case.  Okay, so I’ll admit – I was scared she would drown, but I was also a bit pissed.  After all, she knew the rules, she knew her limits, and she also knew that I would let her swim as long as she wanted.  But she disobeyed, blatantly. 

Maybe we, I, are like Ruby in that pond.  We’ve heard the voice calling us.  We’ve simply decided to disregard it.  And in so doing, we’ve put ourselves beyond range of hearing.  And so we’ve unleashed anarchy on the world.  I have trouble blaming God for this mess we’re in, in the middle of dark water with nowhere to go but forward or back, both terrifying options.  The anarchy doesn’t come randomly, and it doesn’t come from outside.  We’ve done it to ourselves, with our irresponsibility.  The difference, it seems to me, is that (unlike Ruby), we’ve done it together, as a community.  The human family has messed up, choice after choice.  And now the world seems upside down.  Each of us has wandered in widening gyres in different ways, at different moments, and these wandering choices have caused not only harm to ourselves on an individual level, but also to all of those “others” with whom we’ve come into contact.  I don’t know how we’ll turn around, but I think it has to be through closer, more careful listening.  We have to want to hear.  I hope we can.  I hope I can.  I wonder, like Yeats, if the center can hold long enough for us to figure it out and turn our faces toward the things that really matter.



  1. Helen Said:


    As easy as it is to allow ourselves to be pessimistic, don’t forget to look for the signs that people ARE listening, ARE tuning in, ARE being a community aware of and in relationship with God.

    All around us I see people reaching out to help others vote for the first time, doing charity drives for food banks when they know supplies are low, giving hugs and human touch when it is really needed, and all those things.

    Our corporate systems may be in disarray, and there is certainly plenty of blame and angst to share, but all is not lost, and never will be as long as there is a God who lovingly waits for us to return to shore.

    Keep paddling!

  2. Ed Said:

    Hi Julia,

    Nice piece of writing. I think we all have times when we feel we are “Drifting Too Far from the Shore.” It’s an uneasy feeling and I sure can relate to it. Let us try to keep the faith. Keep listening. Keep calling out.

    Sometime I should tell you about the time my dog was lost in the Kentucky wilderness for four days and four nights. We spent days calling for him, nearly getting lost ourselves at times. Then he just showed up; ‘thin as a rail and covered in ticks. Must not have been easy, but he found his own way back. I’ve often wished he could tell me about it. He’s never said a word about it though.

  3. Jim Said:

    Isn’t is amazing at how we do wander around, aimlessly, only making the decisions that affect us, right now? I just read your blog after reading an article about Alan Greenspan and how he had to defend himself for the current financial crisis. Two years ago he was the financial god (little g) in our nation. Now, they are ready to baste him and ask for seconds. Now here is a guy who spent his life making decisions soley with the future and the rippling impacts in mind, and he still didn’t make the right choices. (Although today he was made out to have never made the right choice and purposely destroy the economy, even though he is one man who made reccomendations to an entire legislative body.) So what does that say about the rest of us, who don’t really think about long term impact and unforeseen consequences?

  4. honeywasp Said:

    It does sort of put things into perspective when you think about decision-making that way. I mean, after all, the thickness of Greenspan’s briefcase could (and did) change thousands of people’s decisions from day to day. Sometimes the choices we make aren’t even ones we think will have any effect at all, but they end up changing the people around us enormously. Like him, none of us can be held responsible for predicting every thing that will come from our choices. But I’m not arguing that, I think. Greenspan listened to the people (and circumstances) around him – he is an expert in reading the signs of the times. I just don’t think that we listen in that way. And we (I) tend to get farther and farther from the basics. There’s a book, “Sway,” about psychology and decision-making that talks about entrapment theory – we get into situations, and rather than make rational decisions, tend to invest farther and farther into the bad choices, unable to step away, because we forget the source of the problem and instead manage the crisis. I think that’s the widening gyre Yeats described.

  5. Deb Said:

    There is also a point in the Hebrew Scriptures when Elijah (or is it Elisha?) cannot hear God. Finally, it is in the silence that God comes. I wonder if sometimes we don’t get entrapped in our own rationalizations and explanations and words and, as you say, crisis managment.

    When you’re lost in the woods, one of the things you are supposed to do is stop, stand still, and figure out your bearings. I think there is wisdom in that – if we would stop and listen, we might become better able both to read the signs that tell us where we are, and to hear the still, small voice that is always, persistently, seeking to orient us toward hope and transformation.

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