ellenfby Ellen Finnigan

I’ve been thinking about the differences between motion and action and inertia.

Things of or in motion: water moving through the Yucatan Straight, a barge carrying oil down the Mississippi to a refinery in Texas, a squid migrating across the Gulf of Mexico, logs being driven down a river like a herd of cattle, a trucker driving his goods across the country on I-90, a dead body in Damascus swinging from a rope, an asteroid hurtling through space a mere 4.2 million miles away from Earth, and they say it will come back again in 2032, and they say it could destroy us.

Inertia is defined as inertness, especially with regard to effort, motion, and action; or, thing in motion will tend to stay in motion and a thing at rest will tend to stay at rest so long as no external force acts on it. That asteroid will crash into Earth unless we send Bruce Willis. Somebody call Bruce Willis. He would perform an act that would destroy the asteroid or change its course, thwarting death and destruction for all.

So, what is an act? What is action? Action is not motion, exactly. Granted, action can involve motion: Willis must perform some kind of action in response to the motion of the asteroid, else the world ends. But action, unlike motion, has a definitive starting point and is oriented toward a particular end (i.e., blowing up a rock). Action is not necessarily physical (prayer is action) and it has something like determination, or a purpose. If this were math, motion might look something like a wave, whereas action might look something like a vector. Thomas Merton once wrote: contemplation is the spring and action is the stream. To mix metaphors, contemplation would be the first point on the vector and the ray (that which extends from it) would be the stream.

Perhaps ritual is a repeated series of actions that fosters contemplation. Unfortunately, a repeated series of actions can also lull, like a lullaby, making one sleepy, numb, unthinking, passive.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about war and about our prayers and conversations about war in the Christian churches…

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