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‘Welcome To The Age of Uncertainty’

‘Good Morning… and welcome to the age of uncertainty.

I had to look the phrase up after I noticed it on the faces of my children.

The age when all bets are off. When your country has voted to head out of the European Union and both those who are elated about it – and those who are bereft – are not really sure about how or when or what it will mean.

An age when technological innovation transforms working patterns and disrupts career paths – and, for many, money’s too tight to mention.

‘I’m one pay check away from disaster,’ as a twenty-something friend told me this week. If her contract ends, she has no spare cash, and eviction beckons. She’s a member of the JAM – the newly coined class of ‘Just. About. Managing’. That’s the definition of an uncertain life.

Our anxiety can be heightened by social media, that clanging echo chamber of love and hate and cats. In a wistful letter to the Financial Times, a writer sums up his existential political crisis, by concluding, ‘We are reduced to posting on Facebook because we haven’t worked out what to do yet.’

On both sides of the Atlantic, even those who are delighted that change is coming, agree the world is entering unchartered territory.

‘This is not the Apocalypse,’ says President Obama. Ok… that’s good, thanks for that. ‘History zigs and zags,’ he says. ‘Sometimes goes forward, sometimes moves back.’

Asked how he reassures his daughters, Malia and Sacha, about growing up in this uncertain age, he says to them, ‘Your job as a decent human being is to constantly… treat people with kindness and respect and understanding.’

When the international edition of history seems unpredictable, when disruption is the new normal, we’re still responsible for our local edition.

‘They don’t publish the good news,’ says the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hann. ‘The good news is published by us.’

Unavoidable as it is and alarming though it can appear, the 24-hour news cycle, is not the only cycle of time.

In the orbit of the Christian calendar a new year begins tomorrow, with the season of Advent.

It’s a waiting season, reminding people of the hope for a new kind of world. The words of the ancient prophet Isaiah will ring out in churches. ‘A voice cries out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord…’

Make it straight … even when it zig zags.

In a have-it-now culture where everything is on-demand, a season of waiting is a counter-intuitive notion. Waiting is not something technology will speed up. And, like sleep, it cannot be rushed.

The season of Advent tells us that not all waiting times need to be reduced.

But the virtue in waiting may be to discover who we are, to gain a new perspective. In an age of uncertainty… pausing, reflecting, wondering… can show us how to act.

Wait-and-see is what the season of Advent reminds us, and one day, as the poet Seamus Heaney put it, hope and history will rhyme.

(Thought For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Saturday November 26th, 2016)