Monday 17 November 2008

Wild thoughts: musings on Celtic Imagination 18-20

translucent living and dead leaves Holy Wholly Holy. In this shot the contrast between the vibrant colour and translucent texture of the new leaves and the solitary dead, dry, twisted and shrunken leaf  makes a statement about our experience of the way things are. Look at the church you know, politics, business or your own life and relationships and sooner or later this is what you will see: evidence of once vivid and life-giving ways of thinking, acting and organising ourselves which are now dead relicts. Clearly the life of the plant now flourishes elsewhere in fresh, vivid growth. The dead leaf is disconnected biochemically and has long since become photosynthetically redundant. As such it is no longer capable of being a vital life-giving biological interface between the plant and its environment. All that remains is for the physical connection to be severed.

Used in this way the image encourages an honest mental audit of how things are for us. Simply to recognise and appreciate those aspects of our life that are life-giving and re-vitalising is a good spiritual practice. Through it we get in touch with that which is Holy and sacred in our everyday experience. We become mindful of beauty, simplicity and connectedness. And, as we contemplate the dead leaf, we become aware of that which is dead and life-diminishing within and around us. We begin to see clearly how some of our attitudes and perceptions are  warped or unhealthy; how some aspects of our relating to others diminishes them and us. Done well and gently this awareness enables us to accept ourselves wholly and to be non-judgemental. We become complete as we accept the truth of the living and dead aspects of ourselves. Holy, Wholly, Holy. All that we are is held and loved by God, not just the vibrant, life-giving bits we like. The dead, twisted, dried-up aspects of who we are do not block out our experience of grace; they make it all the more precious and wonderful. The picture would be incomplete and far less powerful without that single dead, shrivelled leaf, for it speaks of real lives and of painful memories, of guilt and shame and regret. But it is an empty, lifeless thing which cannot stop the photosynthetic flow of energy in the fresh leaves nor inhibit the flourishing of the plant. Its energy and connection is in the past, not in the present. Maybe the time has come for it to drop away for good. If we are to  celebrate meaningfully the festival of Christ the King then we can justifiably be encouraged to trust that resurrection is a promise of wholeness for us too, and that God intends that each of us should feel the reality of God's promise: “See, I am making all things new.” Even you and me. Even the Church. Especially the world.

river dove contrastTranquil and Turbulent. A photo which captures what is for me an essential truth of my experience. Tranquil times, which offer a measure of stillness and calm allow for seeing and reflecting in depth. In this spiritual Adagio there is colour, insight and the mirroring of enfolding truths. Reality is a gentle multi-dimensional flow of being and becoming. And then this calm surface is disrupted utterly as the flow plunges over the irregular edge into that chaotic, turbulent state where suddenly everything is at Vivacissimo, fast-paced and unpredictable. Water, air and light combine in a sparkling crescendo.

As a young adult I recall being perplexed by all of this, as I had in my head the notion that life should be like the former state, all calm-flowing and OK, and that if it wasn't, something was wrong. The concise epistemological truth that 'Shit Happens' had yet to dawn on me, as had the realisation that turbulence is actually much nearer the norm than is tranquility. Furthermore I have come to see that turbulence and tranquility are the warp and weft through which the patterns of meaning in my life are woven. As such both have value, as does the sure knowledge that one follows the other as certainly as night follows day. "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God" (Romans 8.28)

cog wheels in themachine Cog Wheels in the Machine. In our culture to be a mere 'cog in the machine' implies a certain degree of insignificance, even powerlessness, in the face of forces and structures beyond our control and direction. The phrase points to a possibly unpleasant and deeply uncomfortable truth about the degree to which any of us can determine our future and to our dependency on the decisions and interactions of others. And yet the image also suggests interdependence and mutuality, and therefore trust and respect. If one cog seizes up or fails the whole machine may grind to a halt. What really fascinates me about this picture are the teeth on the cogs. As they engage with each other that is the point at which energy is transferred - or not as the case may be. Any flaws here will seriously impair efficiency and increase wear and tear, hence the need for lubricating oil. So what does this say about the way in which we have a care for the organisations and networks of which we are a part? Surely we need to be mindful of the dynamics of power / powerlessness in our relationships and structures and be careful to give good attention to trust, respect and mutuality. We can reflect on the mechanisms by which energy, imagination and commitment are enabled to flow freely and well. We can be alert to those places where friction is in danger of seizing up the machine. And we can value each and every cog. "Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6.31)


  1. Tranquil and turbulent: ...all things work together for good....

    ...indeed, but although we know this sometimes they are the harshest words we can speak....

    sometimes they are best left unsaid, one day they may be embraced by one who is strong enough....

    sometimes the acknowledgement of the fact that shit happens and a willingness to be alongside people in it is more eloquent than any words we can offer!

  2. Absolutely right Sally. Wise words indeed. Tranquil and Turbulent reflects my own hard won personal experience and theological reflection. In terms of pastoral practice I am exactly where you are in your last paragraph. Thanks for such a helpful comment.

  3. . :-) and yet the challenge comes to hold on to hope- or we will all sink...