Results, relegation and relationships

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.

Merton on sanity

We can no longer assume that because a man is “sane” he is therefore in his “right mind.” The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless…

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own? Evidently this is not necessary for “sanity” at all.

The worst error is to imagine that a Christian must try to be “sane” like everybody else, that we belong in our kind of society.

A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann by Thomas Merton in Raids on the Unspeakable.


To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralises his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

Thomas Merton in Confessions of a Guilty Bystander

Gimme a man after midnight

Gimme a man after midnight. Today we are given such a man as our liturgical calendar encourages us to celebrate and embrace the life of Saint John of the Cross. Through his writings he speaks to us of things we often deny and of which we are so frightened that we don’t even go there. For Thomas Merton, St John of the Cross is the Father of all those whose prayer is an undefined isolation outside the boundary of “spirituality”. His poem Dark Night of the Soul describes the purification of the senses and the spirit on the journey to union with God. The phrase dark night of the soul is used to describe the experience which many know by the name of Depression, in which all that has supported our lives loses its value and meaning, in which we aren’t so much as letting go of things, as things have let go of us and we are left with barely so much as a thread to hold on to. His example is encouragement for us to not be frightened of chaos and the abyss.

Strange attractor from Michael Wassmer

Western culture has been frightened of chaos, and anything which isn’t predictable and stable. We have preferred to think that people, information and change should all be managed and controlled. Even the dark night has been no dark night to us as we have controlled even that with our artificial light. I have been joining others in looking at chaos, and with them have been astounded by its order and beauty. Computers have helped us to model chaos’s behaviour, which in real time is, of course, unpredictable and chaotic. But the computer models help us to see that its behaviour is orderly and within boundaries. 
Gimme a man after midnight. The voice that speaks from the other side of chaos is a powerful voice. That is the voice of leadership, the future beckoning us. St John of the Cross lived through his dark night, and the voice of his experience of that night is a powerful voice. So is the voice of the likes of Nelson Mandela. So is the Word of God which only shines in darkness.
Gimme a man after midnight – one who has had the courage to embrace chaos, to hear its voices and not be afraid of its ambiguities and uncertainty, one who is able to speak from his experience of darkness. With him there is the promise of a new day with its possibilities and potential. Otherwise there is just the tiredness of the old day and our refusals to put our old certainties to bed.
Gimme a man after midnight. The voice of St John of the Cross is a companionable voice to all those who have lost themselves in that awful place of darkness which we call the Abyss or Chaos, and from which there seems no way out. 

Let people be

> “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
~ Thomas Merton
The biggest temptation comes with our children. Their birth becomes even more miraculous when we realise how different they are from us. When we respond to questions about which parent they got this that or the other quality or characteristic from with “they didn’t get it from either of us” we are admitting our wonder at creation.
The myth of Narcissus illustrates the tragedy of self-love. Waterhouse’s painting (from the Walker Gallery) shows Narcissus helplessly in love with himself and totally oblivious of Echo’s desire.