In my own life, as winters turn into spring, I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility; for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.
Richard Beck, in Experimental Theology, quotes William James:
“I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, and yet rending the hardest monuments of man’s pride, if you give them time. The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, under-dogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top.” William James
Richard Beck’s blog is well worth following. He has helpfully organised his blog into series of posts. One of them is A Walk with William James. Richard regards James as one who anticipated the leading ideas of the emergent church movement as well as the “greatest American psychologist”.
I am increasingly struck by the big significance of the small, and the tiny significance of the big. The large institutions are increasingly seen as disappointing. It is the tiniest interactions which constitute nature and these are becoming our trusted teachers. This subversion was already realised in Jesus. His subjects included a mustard seed, a small child, a raven. His relationships were in the margins of the alienating big society.
We celebrated our wedding anniversary by going to watch the film Hope springs … It is a touching story about a couple who have been married nearly as long as we have. Their relationship has become stale. The couple have lost touch with each other. There is no contact apart from the mindless peck on the cheek. They sleep in separate rooms. The film follows Kay’s (played by Meryl Streep) attempt to reconnect with her husband (played by Tommy Lee Jones).
It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination – (74% on the tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes) but this (non) touching story reminds me that there needs to be routines and structures for us to keep in touch with each other. This is true of marriage and any community. There comes a time when we can no longer say that we are in touch if our relationships are starved of physical expression.
Christ’s is the world in which we move.
Christ’s are the folk we’re summoned to love,
Christ’s is the voice which calls us to care,
and Christ is the One who meets us here.
To the lost Christ shows his face;
to the unloved He gives His embrace;
to those who cry in pain or disgrace,
Christ, makes, with His friends, a touching place.
Feel for the people we most avoid.
Strange or bereaved or never employed;
Feel for the women, and feel for the men
who hear that their living is all in vain.
Feel for the parents who lost their child,
feel for the woman whom men have defiled.
Feel for the baby for whom there’s no breast,
and feel for the weary who find no rest.
Feel for the lives by life confused.
Riddled with doubt, in loving abused;
Feel for the lonely heart, conscious of sin,
which longs to be pure but fears to begin.
Without physical expression feelings become empty. Our feelings get blown away with the wind without physical routines and structures. Community is made of touching places.
I have posted a reflection on the importance of touch by John Hull from his account of the onset of his blindness.
The football season is virtually over, relegation issues are settled and just a few teams have any further stake in the rest of the season as they fight for promotion through the play-offs. This wool gathering of a northern dean has some useful insights into the mind of the footballing world, particularly exploring the feelings of players who have failed to perform to expectation and feel the responsibility for relegation.
At the same time, our Year 6 children are sitting their tests and are expected to produce the results that, as they say, won’t let themselves down , their parents down, their teachers down, their schools down and everything else down. Are “results” an obsession of our age? Is the fascination for measurement and standardisation something that has grown through the industrial revolution and our increasing capacity for measurement?
Results measure success and failure. Kenny Dalglish has discovered that not getting enough of them (wins) while managing Liverpool FC is fatal. Results are the stuff of competition, with the result that they set team against team and performer against performer. In battle there is only one winner and many losers, and, therefore, it is best to avoid that result by finding peace. Some are driven by results, but most of us, most of the time work without seeing results for our effort. How do we keep going?
Thanks to Meg Wheatley (Finding our Way: leadership for an Uncertain Time) I have these thoughts to challenge our results culture: the first is from Vaclav Havel, and the other is from a letter written by Thomas Merton to peace activist Jim Forest.
Hope is a dimension of the soul … an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons … It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.
Do not depend on the hope of results … You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness,the truth of the work itself … You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people … In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.
Wheatley’s own comment is that hope and fear are inescapable partners. “Any time we hope for a certain outcome, and work hard to make it happen, then we also introduce fear – fear of failing, fear of loss.” She says that we can live beyond hope and fear, and that all we need is each other.
I couldn’t resist including the photo I found here. I have asked for permission to use it.
For lovers of Leonard Cohen, a “thousand kisses deep” is an amazing poem/song (song is here) measuring the relationship between lovers. What if it was used as a different sort of measure? Our knowledge of one another is superficially assessed within twenty seconds. Apparently – and worryingly – we are only right 70% of the time. 70% may sound first class but for the 30% misjudged, denied jobs, shut out that statistic can be disastrous.
Us clergy, ministers, community developers and planners come and go. Sensibly we audit our place before forming opinions – but the data is skewed by preconceptions and historic artefacts of superficial excavation. What if we went a thousand kisses deep?
Down into the passions, convictions, emotions of successive generation and regeneration we would go. On our cheeks the hot breath of passion and the tears of betrayal. Lips caressing disconsolate children, the embrace of neighbours in the face of disaster, the kiss for a bereaved friend for whom there are no words. Seamly and unseemly: love denied and love made – our findings from a thousand kisses deep. Mining, owning, knowing.
Ricky Yates helpfully reminds us of the great store we set by outward appearance, and our use of image consultants. We remember Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet) in long-running TV comedy Keeping up Appearances. For her, attraction was but a surface veneer – with relationships barely a peck deep. But, as Ricky says, the Lord doesn’t look on the outside, but on the inside (Mark 7:15) – a thousand kisses deep, at least!