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Can the center hold?

Unsplash/ Joshua Fuller
Unsplash/ Joshua Fuller

Fifty-two percent of Americans think they are “in imminent danger every day” according to a recently released poll.[1]

This national phenomenon may have broader implications. Perhaps we have come to be sharers of the angst expressed by W.B. Yeats in his poem, “the Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

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The nagging rhetorical question posed by Yeats, the twentieth-century Irish poet, is this:  Can the center hold, or are our collective and personal psyches being ripped to pieces by paranoid fretting?

In our times it seems the “falcon’” of societies and their cultures spins downward, out of control, while the wild lawlessness outshouts the voice of the “falconer” who would save us from total collapse.

This seems to be a historic period when innocence is passionately ridiculed and pulled down into the mud of scornful powers. They are without conviction about anything but themselves and are dominant and energized in the assertion of their political correctness. They propagate derision and marginalization of those who don’t buy into their delusions.

In light of those insanities and the intellectual and psychological chaos of our era, some observers are wondering if we are headed for a national (even civilizational) nervous breakdown.

Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times years ago, was also describing our era when he penned these words: It was the time of unraveling … Long afterwards, in the ruins, people asked: How could it happen?

And the answer will be: The center did not hold.

James Madison, in the 18th century, gave an alert to the importance of centering, when he declared of himself and his fellow American founders:

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

Daniel Webster also understood the importance of centering when he said that “if we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and continue to prosper, but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.”

Sadly, many of the most celebrated people in our culture are those who disdain the core worldview and values. Would Madison and Webster be allowed to speak at an Ivy league commencement, or on one of the Hollywood platforms, like the Academy Awards? Would they survive the ridiculing tongue-lashing of a modern mainstream media talk show?

Worse, would they be welcome to preach at a church seeking relevancy through compromising with the contemporary popular worldview, its values, and lifestyles?

The “falcon” is “gyring,” whirling downward because of the inability to hear the call of the Falconer.

The center is not holding.

When a human being falls into psychic and emotional chaos it is important to help him or her to find and link themselves and their thoughts and emotions to a coherent center. This is what will save us now.

This means we must anchor ourselves and our world to a coherent worldview. It must be transcendent, coming from beyond our own sanity-shaking minds, and thus outside ourselves.

Our worldviews form our values, and values lead us to soar upward, or, if they are corrupt, send us “gyring” downward with such furor we no longer hear the voice of the Holy Spirit Who gives us the truth that sets us free from delusion and its distortions.

The primary worldview-forming institutions are church and family. In another time, public education would be among those important entities, but not now, because so many academic institutions have become the framers and promoters of the propaganda of popular culture.

Though I am not a Roman Catholic and do not align with some of its theology, I sometimes attend a weekday morning Mass. As a non-Catholic I don’t take communion, but here’s why I often start my day by going to Mass: there is a Christ-centering and a focus and reverence for the union of the Transcendent and immanent in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

There are also extended moments of silence as the priest arranges the elements of the Lord’s Supper, a precious quietness when one can center on and contemplate the awesomeness of God as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, In the whirl of cultural insanity all around us, churches of all kinds need to commit themselves to help us center on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the revelation through the written Word and the incarnate ministry of Jesus Christ.

And families should recover morning or evening devotions, presided over by the leader of the home — whether a spouse or a single mom or dad. This conveys to all in the family that the center of that home and those who share it is God and His Word.

We must not let the center be lost or the future will suffer even worse destructive craziness than our contemporary moment.


Wallace B. Henley is a former pastor, daily newspaper editor, White House and Congressional aide. He served 18 years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Henley is author or co-author of more than 25 books, including God and Churchill, co-authored with Sir Winston Churchill's great grandson, Jonathan Sandys. Henley's latest  book is Who will rule the coming 'gods'? The looming  spiritual crisis of artificial intelligence.

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