A Teaching on Impermanence For the Young and Old

Father James Farris
We often think of impermanence as a Buddhist term.
Yet, Jesus often taught about impermanence.
If even the smallest things are beyond
your control, why are you anxious
about the rest? Notice how the
flowers grow…not even Solomon in
all his splendor was dressed like one
of them. If God so clothes the grass
in the field that grows today and is
thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he
not much more provide for you, O you
of little faith? As for you, do not seek
what you are to eat and what you are
to drink, and do not worry anymore
…For where your treasure is, there
also will your heart be.
- From Luke 12
Some may say that
young people cannot
relate to the notion of
“impermanence.” It may
turn out that this is one
of their most useful
words – as our nation
faces economic woes for
the next few years.
The most important
thing about the word is
the idea that people are
not “fixed” identities.
The Buddhists would say that there is no “self.” A
useful interpretation of this teaching is that each
person is a process – like waves arising in the sea.
As each wave crashes on the beach, it is helpful to
remember that it always remained part of the
ocean. Where did that energy go? What is a wave?
Jesus lived in impermanence
 As they were proceeding
on their journey
someone said to him, “I
will follow you wherever
you go.” Jesus answered
him, “Foxes have dens
and birds of the sky
have nests, but the
Son of Man has
nowhere to rest his
head” (Luke 9:57-58).
In the West, we have been plagued by
the “body-soul” perspective, contrary to
the “body-soul-spirit” concept of Saint
Paul. This three-part understanding of
Saint Paul reflects other great religious
traditions of the world. We can use
body-soul-spirit to better imagine the
relationship between God and self –
between the change of the moment and
the changeless that we call “God.”
In Yoga philosophy, the soul is
comprised of jiva and atman. Jiva is the
last remaining segment of individual
personality, and atman is a pure
reflection of Brahman – existence itself
(what Christians might describe as “the
all in all”)
While jiva-atman is not Christian
doctrine, it is a useful image for
Christians because many yogis believe
that we retain something of individual
consciousness after death – a belief that
Christians share.
Two points about identity that
relate to impermanence:
 1Corinthians 15:28 says: When
everything is subjected to him,
then the Son himself will (also)
be subjected to the one who
subjected everything to him, so
that God may be all in all.
As Christians, we believe that we are on a journey into
God – when we shall be one with God. This was the
teaching of Saint Bonaventure – a great Catholic saint.
 We are like the drop of water
added to the wine during the
Eucharist – becoming so
imbued with Christ that we
are no longer two. “No
longer two” retains the
mystery of identity –
somehow one with God, but
beyond our understanding
of that oneness.
By the mingling of this water and wine may we come to
share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to
share in our humanity.
- From the Eucharistic liturgy
People young and old and old can avoid a lot of pain in
their lives by adopting an approach of impermanence.
Life is full of both success and disappointment.
To become adept at “adaptation,” we need to
realize that neither pain nor pleasure lasts.
This is the teaching of Saint
Teresa of Avila
– the great Catholic mystic.
neither one is permanent.
This is the impermanence of the surfer
–responsive to the changes of the sea.
The mystics compare this
“impermanence” to the
responsiveness of lovers.
It is not something fixed
and unmoving, but is fluid,
reacting to the moment
– to changes all around.
It is “interdependent” with
all else.
As a virtue, the ability to flow
with of impermanence can be
described as “skillfulness.”
Jesus taught his followers to
live in this sense of
He said to all who seek his
path of peace:
The hour is coming, and is now
here, when true worshipers will
worship the Father in Spirit
and truth… (John 4:23)
We who follow Jesus are called to
live like the guests at a wedding
who await the arrival of the bride
and groom – ready to respond to
the next moment – not simply
living by rules and regulations,
but “by the Spirit” who calls us in
each present moment.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their
lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom…Since the bridegroom was
long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. ..At midnight,
there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!
- From Matthew 25
Then “impermanence” is not
a shadow or a threat, but the
promise of “now,” renewed
with every breath we take.
This is one meaning of our prayer, taught by Jesus:
“…Thy kingdom come...” and “Give us this day our daily bread…”
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