The Danger of Congealing

“There are two kinds of people,” she once decreed to me emphatically. “One kind, you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keep moving, changing. With these people, you can never say, ‘X stops here,’ or, ‘Now I know all there is to know about Y.’ That doesn’t mean they’re unstable. Ah, no, far from it. They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You must be constantly on your guard, Justin, against congealing. Don’t be lulled by your youth. Though middle age is the traditional danger point, I suspect that many a fourteen-year-old has congealed during the long history of this world. If you ever feel it coming, you must do something quickly. . . .”

Gail Goodwin, The Finishing School

I ran across this quote today from a commentary on 1 Samuel, of all places. Walter Bruegemann used it to warn against the danger of thinking our interpretation of a text is ever complete, so that it can no longer surprise us.  But the quote hit me on a foundation level, about my own life.

“You must be constantly on your guard against congealing…If you ever feel it coming, you must do something quickly.”

Hmmm. This gives me a LOT to think about. Have I congealed? Am I no longer evolving or really changing? Do I even want to anymore? And what it the world would it mean to “do something quickly”?

Do you have the same questions?

I don’t have answers, only the willingness to open the door for discussion.

Let’s talk.

23 thoughts on “The Danger of Congealing

  1. Well speaking as a believer, we are never ever to congeal. In fact, to be born again of the Spirit actually means the opposite of congealing:

    John 3:8  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

    We are supposed to be fluid, able to go wherever the Spirit wishes to take us.


  2. Because they don’t like questions? Questioning things can lead to questioning religion, and that would be bad news for a lot of preachers. Creativity and originality require ambiguity, and that’s anathema to people who want ANSWERS.


  3. when I was young, ‘congealing’ would have been something I thought I wanted

    being a military brat (Navy), we moved around a LOT . . . . even from coast to coast, from the Northwest city of Seattle to Staten Island to San Diego to Norfolk VA and back to California and on and on . . . .

    but occasionally, we visited in the little North Carolina town of my mother’s people: Plymouth, a sweet little world of people who knew who they were and they knew each other and could quote their ancestries back to forever . . . and I visited with my cousins who never traveled but had the deep roots and the confidence that came with those roots, the Ausbons, the Jacksons, the Spruills, the Normans, the Batemans, the Anges, the whole town was related to one another it seemed.

    I wondered even as a young girl if I envied my cousins for their ‘perfect’ summer dresses and hair in the midst of a steamy North Carolina summer, where I melted and wilted as my genetics longed for the far northern cooler climates of my father’s people;
    and maybe for a time, I did admire their ‘coolness’ and calm demeanors and how the front rooms of family homes were perfectly turned out at all times for that was their way and that is how they lived.

    But I would have missed so much.

    They didn’t have the image of Mt. Rainier in their memories, always visible wherever we were in Seattle, and they didn’t know the Staten Island ferry ride to NYC and the class visits to the great museums with the dinosaur skeletons and the glass-enclosed dioramas filled with dead stuffed animals that had once lived in other lands . . . . and those long drives across the continental USA . . . which should not be missed by any American during their life time . . .

    if we are in some way the sum of our experiences, I am the better for mine in some ways, and my content cousins are better off in some ways . . . in their own world in that sweet little town on a North Carolina river . . . . but I wonder at their composure and their calm in those lovely old houses that remind me so of the ‘dioramas’ of a museum where time has stopped and all is still and calmed. . . . . did I, the vagabond cousin have the better way with all its wonders along my own journeys?

    ? I am content with my lot. And, yes, grateful for it all in retrospect.


  4. So why are so many Christians so hell-bent on stifling any creativity or originality in their people?


  5. My useless skill is recognizing WW2 Japanese warships at a glance.

    Only time I was able to talk shop was at a Pacific Origins wargamer’s con, with an officer from the USN’s historical office.


  6. >The point is to keep moving, lest one forget how to move

    We are in agreement.

    It’s this around issues like Theology that I feel the dissipation; the things which are “supposed” to be important.


  7. Yep. And it comes from a God who is ever creating. Why does anyone think God doesn’t like to be surprised? Why does anyone think God doesn’t like to keep creating, keep moving, keep changing? Or maybe He’s just up there, bored with knowing how everything is going to turn out…?


  8. People in their 60s who still talk about their childhood issues with their parents… that might qualify, right? I mean, go ahead and seek counseling for it, but don’t keep bringing it up.


  9. The thing is, I am talking about essentially useless knowledge. If I had never gotten interested in 19th century baseball, who would have been the worse off for it? In my earlier years, I was quite expert at medieval heraldry–a scope of human activity that makes 19th century baseball seem relevant in comparison. The point is to keep moving, lest one forget how to move.


  10. Strongly agreed. And from experience- Gurus just ain’t. No one arrives at complete knowledge.

    And this is one of the things that makes life interesting and worthwhile.


  11. > Once I have reached the point where I don’t see potential to keep learning
    > new things, I move on to something else.

    I feel this.

    Yet, as I’ve grown older I’ve become ever more disaffected of the belief that Knowledge has self-inherent value, I am increasingly nagged by the question: “And?” So I have a deep cut of knowledge pie X …

    I may be more Dissipating than Congealing. My own understanding, interpretation, etc… is itself less interesting with less confidence that it is relevant to anything at all.


  12. My hobby interests tend to be very research-intensive. That is why they interest me. Sometimes, when new to the field, the research consists of catching up to those who have been doing this longer. The goal is to then keep going, with original research. Once I have reached the point where I don’t see potential to keep learning new things, I move on to something else.

    I have noticed in several different areas that some people have reached an advanced state of knowledge and are perfectly happy to stay there forever. They enjoy being the guru, but don’t want to put any more effort into learning. Or, to put it another way, they woke up morning and were delighted to realize that they have learned everything they will ever learn, and their role now is to speechify to the students at their feet. They tend not to be happy when someone like me comes along. Waking up and realizing I have learned everything I ever will learn is my personal nightmare.


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