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Changing the Pattern of the Past
Albert Einstein famously stated that we should make everything as simple as possible but no simpler. Typically, he was— and wasn’t—joking. Simplicity has always been greatly prized, particularly in science, where the Law of Parsimony dictates that, given competing explanations of a phenomenon, one should prefer the simplest. The catch is, as Einstein understood, that some things are inherently complex. Not complicated; complications mean that somebody doesn’t know what he’s doing. However, one must have attained a certain amount of intellectual maturity in order to comprehend certain concepts. Not oversimplification; oversimplification is little better than complication. We need a Goldilocks amount of simplicity.
Many times the human race has needed to evolve and mature intellectually before it could even begin to understand certain phenomena. One good example is the Shroud of Turin, widely believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus. The Shroud is a photographic negative. Its whereabouts have been known and documented since the mid-fourteenth century, but photography was not—er—developed until the nineteenth.
Similarly, our views of God have evolved over the centuries. God’s basic character/nature has not changed; we have. Theologians are fond of saying that God is simple, by which they mean single in character or indivisible. A complex creation must have a Creator who is at least as complex. New Thought along with all other Christian denominations runs into this difficulty. This marvelous world we live in, which some have called the best of all possible worlds because of the potential for creativity that it offers, is undeniably complex. Theories about its building blocks—its underlying metaphysics—must also necessarily be complex. Our understanding of God must be sufficiently complex to account for the universe without sliding off into the philosophical inadequacies of pantheism on one hand and anthropomorphism on the other. To its rescue comes Alan Anderson’s Process New Thought, a.k.a. Alan and Deb’s Pretty Good Religion.
Process thought (which includes quantum physics and other cutting edge ideas) supplies a solid metaphysical foundation for the magnificent principles of New Thought. At the risk of oversimplification, I’ll say that it replaces the concept of the world as a still photograph with the concept of a series of bursts (quanta) of energy like frames of a motion picture. Many ongoing streams of these bursts constitute a human being (or carrot or rock). God (as Alpha) supplies the initial aim, or proposed plan, for each of these bursts of energy/experience, and God (as Omega) lovingly preserves each experience after its momentary life is over. We are literally new every moment, and in that moment, that developing experience, we choose to combine some amount of the past with God’s initial aim/perfect possibility for us in that moment. In this fashion, moment by moment, we build up the pattern of the past. Here’s how I explained this process in our book, Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes:
The good news from process thought, and especially Process New Thought, is that we can change our lives, one experience at a time. These increasingly positive experiences pile up and form a new pattern of the past as a background behind us. As we gradually create closer and closer approximations of what we want our lives to be like, the difference between the pattern of the past and where we would like to be grows less and less. The trick to changing the pattern of the past is to work in the present, which immediately becomes the past. Hence, it becomes easier and easier to choose God’s perfect plan, as the contrast between it and the past decreases.
Have you ever been to a fast food place where there are huge nets filled with styrofoam balls of different bright colors, for children to climb into and play with? Imagine that you are standing in front of a huge pile of those balls, each one representing an experience. You decide that you would like your background to be red, so you begin to choose red balls, one at a time, and throw them back over your shoulder. Gradually, your background gets redder and redder, unless you suddenly switch to selecting blue balls, or a sign descends from heaven reading "Green is a popular color this year," and you change your mind. And all the time, God is helping you, holding out perfect possibilities ("There’s a red ball right over there"; "Look over to your left"). And if you sin and grab the wrong color, or your aim is off, God does not judge or condemn. The sign descending from heaven never reads, "YOU IDIOT!" But you are still subject to the laws of the universe: God can’t just turn off the law of gravity so that your balls/experiences will pile up faster, or pour red or green paint from heaven to color all your balls at once. So we have this exquisite balance of love and law. Law, an abstraction, cannot act. Laws merely describe the way that experiences habitually act. (Pages 87-88)
Now here’s where process thought helps us in our daily lives: the next step will be easier or harder to take depending on the pattern of the past that we have built up. The more that we have built moment by moment, by thought and action, a pattern of what we want, the easier it gets to achieve it. The more our bad habits lead us to continue an undesirable pattern, the harder it is to achieve it. Through it all, God continues to offer us all the good we can possibly hold, tailored just for us in each moment. God’s loving, dependable character never changes, but we as parts of the universe (God’s body) change and grow. God, in preserving all those past experiences, grows accordingly.
Our challenge is to feel the powerful, wise, loving presence of God leading and guiding us moment by moment, helping us to create a pattern of the past that will further our ability to achieve all we could ever desire. We have only to align our minds with the Divine Mind.