Friend Lewis asked me about “druids”. They are much maligned (is it, I wonder, mainly by the English?). They don’t understand their honourable history in ancient Celtic cultures where they were members of the professional class including religious leaders, legal authorities, lorekeepers, medical professionals and political advisors.
The modern word druid comes from the Latin druides, but behind that Latin word is Old Irish, Old Cornish and Middle Welsh words which hypothetically might be based on a proto-Celtic word reconstructed as druwids (plural is druwides). Druid is thought to come from the Celtic word for the oak tree, duir. A drewid is a “knower of oak trees”.
What led me to this clearance of understanding was a look at one of Joseph Beuys’s works (1982) which consisted of the planting of 7000 oak trees in Kassel in Germany. in conversation with Richard Demarco, Beuys said:
I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heart wood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet ever since the Druids, who are called after the oak. Druid means oak. They used their oaks to define their holy places. I can see such a use for the future … The tree planting enterprise provides a very simple but radical possibility for this when we start with the seven thousand oaks.
Other words derived from this root (excuse pun) include the Old English treow from which we have tree, truce, truth, troth, tryst – what a vast array of fruit those words represent! And that leads me to the moment Jesus was hung from the remains of a felled tree and, with true love, excruciatingly transformed the Tree of Death to the Tree of Life.
I share Simon Marsh’s reservations about those who insist on the authority of truth. I am not sure that the question of “what is truth?” is on many people’s minds (contrary to what some think). Pontius Pilate is an exception: he couldn’t see truth when he was staring him in the face (John 18:38). We are all too preoccupied for such philosophical discussion that the question of truth is left as a luxury for a small elite. The rest of us know when our interactions ring true.
I have been playing round with my new ArtSet app. Collapsing truth, as some people suggest is happening, I came up with a very different picture of truth. It is a picture which asks the question of whether my truth hurts – funny how we have that expression “truth hurts”. It’s a picture which raises the question about the quality of shelter, about whether there is hospitable space and about whether u r cared for.
It’s a picture which presents us with Ruth as well as truth. The book of Ruth is a story of loving-kindness. Ruth shows herself to be full of loving kindness to Naomi, her grief-stricken mother in law, and Ruth receives the loving kindness of Boaz who becomes her kinsman-redeemer. Ruth means compassion and pity. (Ruthlessness describes the absence of those qualities.) Boaz and Ruth are counted as sowing the seed of Jesus. Even though she was a Moabitess, and therefore foreigner, she is Jesus’ great (times many) grandmother – according to Matthew. It’s Ruth’s story which is often chosen by couples getting married. Ruth “plights her troth” to her mother in law:
Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die …
Truth is questionable. Just like Saint Paul, “we now see, only dimly in a mirror. As yet, we only partially know.” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We have only one pair of eyes and limited perspective. That is something that is factually true. But the truth that ignores the perspective of others, that hurts, that welcomes no stranger, that cares for no-one, is blatantly false. Truth is measured by what we do.