Monday, 23 May 2011

Forgeries and truth.

Lunch with a dear old friend: theatre chaplain, Shakespeare lover, retired Anglican priest. We share stories of the consummate skill of good actors reading a Bible passage aloud: their economy of expression producing the maximum expressiveness and meaning, shedding light on familiar words. We bemoan the scant attention paid in most local churches to the task of reading the text appointed for the Sunday service or, indeed, the training of lesson readers. Musicians practice, actors rehearse, only lesson readers step up to the lectern in church with the minimum of voice preparation or any rehearsal of the passage to be read. My friend reveals that he spends about 90 minutes preparing a reading, including writing the passage out by hand, however familiar it may be. Sometimes, he tells me, a choice of words leaps up and really hits you, as for instance, the line from A Misdummer Night’s Dream when Titania says, “These are the forgeries of jealousy”.

It so happens that I have been returning this week to one of the most familiar passages of the Bible in the English language: chapter 13 of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. For once the incomparable English of the King James Version obscures the impact for me of verses 5 and 6. “[Love] is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;” becomes in a modern translation: “Love keeps no score of wrongs, takes no pleasure in the sins of others, but delights in the truth.”

Hmmm: what is this truth to be rejoiced in rather than keeping censorious scores to give myself some so-called satisfaction? I am reminded of the simple statement in Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’: “Create no more pain in the present.” What can feel like the pleasure of score keeping is in fact a dysfunctional reaction which simply prolongs the pain of the encounter I am recalling. Worse, I may be saving up the unpleasant memory in the hope of getting my own back sometime; cradling present pain to create more pain in the future. How balmy can I get?!

But still I hadn’t got at the truth I can rejoice in: until now, that is. Suddenly this familiar passage reads, not like a series of impossible standards to be aimed at, but as a fundamental truth about myself and therefore about every human being on the planet. It is our nature to love. Whatever the appearances to the contrary, (and yes, I know there are plenty) our brains are wired for love (love, that is, in the sense of the rest of this famous chapter). That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is remembering the easy bit when it really matters.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Sheer plod

Next month I will be 80. The last five years have been a wondrous time of discovery and growth; a miracle of rebirth for which I am profoundly thankful. George Herbert, towards the end of his life, wrote:

“Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greenness? ....
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain, ....”

There is a sense, now, in which ‘I know it all’. Yes I realise that sounds – well – ‘know-it-all’, but more facts, more knowledge won’t help me practice what I call the Now Show, that ‘recover’d greenness’ Herbert speaks of. I know how to do it, how to react to circumstances. Reading more books or going to more lectures won’t add anything to my understanding. They might help to confirm the direction I am taking in these last years of living; they might remind me of insights I lose sight of from time to time. Essentially, however, my task, the meaning and purpose of my life is to live what I know. Accepting the isness of each present moment, including feelings of boredom, or thoughts of meaninglessness, is as always the way forward.

It takes about twenty five trips from the kitchen sink through the living room on to our little patio here in central London to water the forty six flower pots there. We’ve had at least six weeks drought now so I have to do it more often. Today I begin the task in one of those moods of, ‘what’s the point of it all’. Then the line from Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, The Windhover, springs up:
“Sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine.”

Life goes on being green even when the exultant soaring flight of inspiration departs.

“No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.”