Several years ago, when I attended an orientation for students who were beginning their doctoral studies, the director of graduate studies recommended a book written by William Bridges called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes(Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Reading, MA: 1980). Because everyone at the orientation was transitioning from lives committed to God, family, work, and community to lives committed to God, family, work, community, and graduate studies, the recommendation was appropriate and certainly appreciated. One particular passage in the book caught my attention then and continues to do so now whenever I am asked to begin something new.
Throughout nature, growth involves periodic accelerations and transformations: Things go slowly for a time and nothing seems to change—until suddenly the eggshell cracks, the branch blossoms, the tadpole’s tail shrinks away, the leaf falls, the bird molts, the hibernation begins. With us it is the same (5).
The crucial point of this passage is developed by William Bridges in the pages of his book. In summary, transitions are not the various changes we experience in life but the personal development we undergo because of the changes we experience. Transitions are the readjustments we make to our own spiritual self-identities to coincide with what is happening around us.
People know when changes are taking place in their lives because of the uneasiness and pain that are caused by changes. People only know when transitions are taking place when they take the uneasiness and pain and contemplate the personal and perhaps communal adjustments that must be made to accommodate and live with the changes. Like the hatching of a chick, the blossoming of a flower, and the development of a frog, transitions require time and effort. Spiritual growth requires leaving behind the old and being open to the possibilities of the new.
A familiar example of transition in our Christian tradition takes place on Pentecost when the followers of Jesus Christ are dealing with the changes in their lives caused by the death, resurrection, and departure of Jesus. Encouraged by the Spirit of God and certainly by each other, Jesus’ followers undergo several transitions that lead to what we know as our Catholic Church and Christian heritage. If the followers of Jesus had not transitioned from their experience with Jesus and their reflections on that experience, would there be a Christian community today?
As I reflect on all the changes that are taking place and that must take place at the Church of St. Matthew through the hands of volunteers, the following words of William Bridges are challenging:
Transition is a kind of street-crossing procedure. One would be a fool to stay out there in the middle of the street any longer than was necessary, so once you step off the curb, move on to the other side as fast as you can. And whatever you do, don’t sit down on the center line to think things over (112).
Fr. Bob Kelly