I’m fascinated with athletes who talk about the speed of the game. NFL rookies always say that the biggest adjustment they have to make is in relation to the speed. Consequently, when they’re at the top of their game or in “the zone,” they talk about the game slowing down. They’re not moving any slower, nor are the athletes around them. They’re also not mentally processing where they should be or what they’re assignments are. They are in the flow of the game, in sync with their environment.
And this couldn’t happen just by watching tape or standing of the sidelines observing. It takes actually being in games, moving your body around, becoming accustomed to the movements and motions and surfaces of the game, and knowing what their teammates and opponents are likely to do.
From this description, three observations.
1. We perceive our environments bodily, through motion and movement. Put another way, we don’t just “think” reality, but our perceptions are formed through bodily action in the world. This is more than a hunch. Crawford, in The World Beyond Your Head, reports that the findings of cognitive psychology are increasingly moving beyond notions of perception as being a “mental computational” function. Put simply, “the world is known to us, because we live and act in it, and accumulate experience.”
2. Perception is communal. As Crawford suggests, “the world we act in is one that is inhabited by other people.” Obvious enough, but the point runs deep and against the modern myth of the autonomous self. We are born into a social world already “saturated with social meaning.” It’s not just that there are other people around, but that a world of meaning has already been constructed and everything we perceive is conditioned by the shared meaning and rituals and rules passed along to us. And we learn to make meaning in the same ways. In fact, brilliance, innovation, genius, and for Crawford, even individuality come precisely through the mastery of a shared way of life.
Crawford makes this point in relation to the scientific community where discovery happens best within established scientific (social) communities with mentors and collaborators and traditions. These communities were strong in European univiersities in the 20th century and were far more productive than US scientists who had more money and resources. Simiarly, the US has now developed the kind of scientific communities Europe was known for, but China lacking this social scientific culture lags behind in discovery and application, though they give it more focus and attention.
Think again about the athlete who trains with others, who receives coaching, who learns a collaborative way of life. Again, the recent US experience in soccer demonstrates that our way forward doesn’t come simply through finding better athletes and studying film and learning strategy, but by sending our players to play in European leagues and hiring European coaches and by utilizing naturalized citizens who grew up in other parts of the world who inherited a distinct way of life.
3. The speed of an accomplished way of life is slow. This is not often how we experience it, especially when we are novices. There’s so much to know and so many shared skills and habits to develop. But a change happens eventually where its less that you’re viewing information and skills and habits, but more viewing through them, engaging the world through a cultivated way of life. And here things get slow, the moment enlarged, the world crisper and sharper.
Again, athletes know this feeling. But I also know it as a preacher. Because of the years of honing my craft, it feels less like I write the sermons and more that they write me. And in the moment of delivery, I’m less overwhelmed by the moment. The sermon is not external to me, demanding my attention, which makes everything feel rushed and fast. But I am in the sermon and more aware of my audience and also more open to improvisation. It’s a slow space.
Now, what does any of this have to do with ecologies of the Holy Spirit? Good question. And I have a lot of answers to this question. Let me just give one at this point. The modern myth of the autonomous self has led us to think of being a Christian in highly individualistic ways. In fact, being a Christian has come to be more related to beliefs we have than to cultivating a particular way of life in the world and with others.
I am convinced, however, that the coming new age, an age empowered by the Holy Spirit, is a way that transforms our ways of belonging to each other and to the world. The kingdom of God is a spiritual reality, precisely because it is social and even ecological. If we attend to our life in the world as a life with others, then our stories of the Holy Spirit will not be limited to private experiences and will be less obsessed specific gifts. Instead, there will be more stories of reconciliation and flourishing human communities in real life neighborhoods.