Thursday, 24 July 2008

Celtic Imagination No 15: Out of the Depths

coppermines copy This digitally reworked image shows some of the old mineworkings adjacent to Levers Water in the Coppermines Valley of the English Lake District. To the left the black gash in the rock is where the ore has been worked out deep down into the mountain. To the right a small adit burrows horizontally underneath a covering of debris and rubble into another worked out passage. For the unwary and ill-prepared this is a dangerous place to venture and the surrounding fence, just out of shot, is there for good reason.  Exploration of the mine is best left to the expert cavers who know the workings well and are familiar with their particular hazards.

Keep out of the depths.

Of course we can all bring to mind people whose personalities might also require a fence around them because of the inherent risk of getting hurt if you get too close or involved. Let me put it this way: how many churches or groups do you know where the relational dynamics are skewed because everyone has to work around and cope with the one or two individuals whose demeanours are spiky or just plain awkward? No one knows how to break out of the repetitive cycle of hurt and offence which so often ensues. No one really wants to resort to just telling the person that they are a malicious sod and should **** off - however tempting that might be. Everyone can see that this would be a failure of nerve, courtesy and of gospel. If the situation is to be resolved in a truly Christian way it requires that we ask why they are the way they are. We have to deconstruct the accepted narrative and look beneath the surface. This means speaking the truth lovingly, committing to the individual and lovingly holding the pain that results. It means enabling them to explore lovingly the dark depths within themselves which make them what they superficially appear to be. And we engage in all of this with the loving self-honesty that recognises the hazards and dangers within ourselves too.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord

So as I reflect like this I am drawn to some lines from RS Thomas's poem Inside:

To the crowd

I am all outside.

To the pot-holing few there is a way

in along passages that become

narrower and narrower,

that lead to the chamber

too low to stand up in,

where the breath condenses

to the cold and locationless

cloud we call truth. It

is where I think.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

With this in mind I look at the picture and I think about the miners and their families; what were their stories I wonder? I try to hear the cadences of their long lost cries and supplications. It matters somehow, that I make this effort to pause and 'listen' for these sounds from so long ago, like an astrophysicist picking up the microwave radiation signature from the birth of the universe. What long forgotten hardship, toil and misery does this picture represent? And who enjoyed the profits? These days I find that I often approach industrial archaeology with this hermeneutic of suspicion: who was exploited, what was the human cost, who reaped the rewards?  The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs reminds me of the close link between Methodism and the birth of the Trades Union movement. Such pictures as the one above recall why rights for workers were so important; why each and every human life cannot be reduced to an insignificant figure on a balance sheet. The words of Jesus are good news for the poor and the oppressed. This is the truth his followers are called to embody and proclaim.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope

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