Fountainhead

Two Kinds of Intelligence

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks

The practice of Mindfulness now has a literary genre and a worldwide following of its own. So there’s hope for our fearful, fractious world, a hope, indeed, that is “already completed and preserved inside you” (Alpha and Omega, beginning and end), a hope that dates back not just to the thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi, nor to the gradual emergence of the world’s great faith traditions, but to the very Author, the Creating Power of life itself.

Hope is to be found in this mindfulness, because – wherever we are in the world, and however deeply covered over or entangled by acquired influences – “this other intelligence” remains eternal and unsullied, it “does not turn yellow or stagnate”, it can neither be poisoned nor poison. This “fountainhead” is immortal.

Mindful awareness of this life source, this “other intelligence”, renders human persons capable of reassessing, reordering and making ever-new sense of all forms of externally acquired influence. Wisdom’s primary truth is to be found in the fountainhead within. What great and life-giving, life-saving wisdom is this fountainhead whispering into the man-made noise and too often murderous divisions of our time?

Mindfulness – variously called awareness, confession, contemplation, eucharist, examination, meditation, penitence, prayer, reflection, thanksgiving, waiting, watching or wonder.

Whatever it’s called, this fountainhead is bubbling up in the hearts and minds of world leaders gathered in conference about climate change in Paris today, and this same intelligence is heard in the voice of Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi from Bangui, in the Central African Republic, who, in thanking the Pope for his visit this morning, said it was “a symbol we all understand.”

Pope and Imam alike are drawing upon the same fountainhead, in company with millions of others. “Muslims and Christians are brothers and sisters” the pope has said, “and we should act like it.” His is a mindful heart that believes the same of all humankind. And this “other intelligence” is being recognised across national, religious and philosophical boundaries everywhere. The world is having a rethink, or, more accurately perhaps, a deeper searching within, so we can dare to be hopeful.

Yes:

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

Beckoning

Sleepers wake! – is Advent Sunday’s call – and we’ve certainly been held enthralled this year by worldwide cinema screening of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale – from London’s Garrick Theatre. Dame Judi Dench with Sir Kenneth Branagh and his Company were heart-stoppingly good. We shed tears over both folly and redemption.

Wind in my wheels, and gale-force gusting all around us too. We’ve lost a couple of roof slates and the stove chimney’s howling. Scudding grey clouds have occasionally been parted by sunshine. We’re certainly wide awake.

Advent – a coming – beckons, and I’m reminded of poet C Joy Bell C’s

Before the End

The sunlight has reopened
Many a door for me
Look at it emerging
Pushing the doors open
Asking us to come in (or step out)
Telling us there is something more!
We think something is over
But then the sun opens doors
The light calls us beyond
Shows us something more
Before you say “the end”
Consider the sunshine first
Illuminating
Calling
Beckoning
Creating
There is something more

C Joy Bell C
All Things Dance Like Dragonflies

Murmuring

I’ve been “murmuring” to myself all day about a photograph. Thousands of Africans, dressed in their “Sunday best” have walked for many hours and miles to celebrate the coming of Pope Francis. It’s pouring with rain and the crowd is seated on a hillside of moving mud – in a land of sunshine. It seems so unfair!

And then I catch myself – and doubtless in company with millions of other much-too-certain keepers of traditions, disquieted by life’s upending so much we think of as “what should be” – ecological, meteorological, philosophical or spiritual, I catch sight of my ridiculous, protesting little self in a mirror and, for a while at least, am humbled and silenced.

From the margins, in Africa, the call of the twenty-first century prophet Francis urges two new ecological turning points in history: humankind must stop destroying one another and must stop destroying the earth upon which it depends.

Peaceful coexistence. Wider perspectives. Higher generosity. Deeper humility. Broad hospitality. Common wealth. Quiet speech. Attentive listening – especially, in this noisy world, to the all-illuminating, all-pervasive silent music of God.

From the margins, in North Wales, the twentieth century poet R S Thomas provided a vision of prophetic listening, an antidote to fear or pride, the possibility, having seen oneself in a mirror, of praise:

Praise

I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off your scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

R S Thomas (link)
Laboratories of the Spirit, 1975

Let me not be so quick to presume!

I Am Not I

I am not I.
I am this one
Walking beside me whom I do not see,
Whom at times I manage to visit,
And at other times I forget.
The one who remains silent when I talk,
The one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
The one who takes a walk when I am indoors,
The one who will remain standing when I die.

Juan Ramón Jiménez
Lorca and Jiménez: Selected Poems

Who am I when silence and stillness lead me deeper than the shallows of ego’s ever-chattering preoccupations? Who is the observer, the listener, the silent, steadying governor? Who is, literally, the life and the (eternal) soul of me?

This is what poetry’s for. Sustenance throughout our earthly sojourn. The life-giving, soul-rescuing luminance and creativity of the perpetually asked question between the lines. No quick sugar spike. No certain answer. (God forbid). But better, deeper. A beckoning. A mystery.

If, when all is
said and done,

I Am Not I

then perhaps,
mercy of mercies,
the Life at the silent
centre and the soul
of me is

I Am That I Am.

Analogies

The mind cannot do without analogies in its attempts to represent God – so the door is wide open to risks.

Henri de Lubac
Jesuit priest and cardinal
1896–1991

If the key to world peace proves to require a deeper humility in the heart of worldwide humankind we’ll do well to remind each other that any and all of us can only ever make “attempts to represent God”.

The biggest and most threatening risk we’ll ever open the door to is the self-assured voice that tells us that our own analogies, and only our own analogies, have any degree of truth in them.

We must allow for some new analogies. We must dare, in this twenty-first century, to seek a universal way, beyond our current preconceptions, and that might involve letting go of some or all of the nomenclature of past analogies, in order to risk our way into a new poetry – of a blessed and universal new Life.

Star Wars (wherever they’re being observed) might very usefully be preceded by an encouragement to “everyperson” to reach out beyond themselves, in heart and soul and mind and body, and then perhaps to “pray”, howsoever they may.

Flow

Commentary

Nuestras vidas son los rios,
que van a dar a la mar,
que es el morir. ¡Gran cantar!

“Our lives are rivers
and rivers flow and move to the sea,
which is our dying.” Marvellous lines!

Among the poets I admire
I love Manrique the most.

A sweet voluptuousness of living:
tough knowledge of leaving,
blind flight to the sea.

After the fright of dying.
the joy of having arrived.

Great joy!
But – the terror of returning?
Great grief!

Antonio Machado
translated by Robert Bly

Castilian poet Jorge Manrique was meditating upon metaphors in the 1460’s when he penned Coplas a la muerte de su padre (Verses on the death of Don Rodrigo Manrique, his Father).

Life – like rivers that flow and move to the sea.

I’ve been watching rivers do that this week – keeping company with a poet of the 1400’s, and with another, Antonio Machado, who was born in 1875 and who died in 1939, and with another, Robert Bly, who translated him, and with my wife, and with friends and acquaintances, and with a host of unknown persons, flowing in their hundreds and thousands.

Flowing rivers, all of us, making intricate but temporary little artworks in the constantly washed, and shifting, and warmed white sand. All of us flowing towards the great sea from whence we came. And sometimes in the watching the heart aches for the beauty of it all, and for the poignancy of the departing. But there is to be a joy in arriving, and then, keeping empathetic company with Lazarus, we shall doubt that we want to return.

Poets across the ages unite ages unto eternity.

New news

Thirty-something years ago a fine old fashioned family doctor uncapped his fountain pen to write a prescription for an insomniac elderly friend of mine. 

“No tv news after 7pm. At all other times pay attention to one piece of news only once. After the first hearing it’s no longer news”.

Edie’s natural sleep patterns were quickly restored and years later I find myself still impressed and grateful for that doctor’s wise counsel. 

Cosmopolitan silence

Many years ago I shared a long silent retreat, in the Ignatian tradition, with a group of twenty or so people I’d never met before or seen since. I remember many of them well, and with affection, though we never spoke to each other. In silence we were shaped into a little community by language other than the spoken word we more usually rely on.

Gentle, slow moving, silent gestures gave one to understand perfectly a request for salt and pepper, or bread, or one of the beautiful fluted white china coffee pots. A slight smile, wave or bowing of the head communicated pleasure, or prayer, or recognition, or thanksgiving or tiredness. Silence affords opportunities for shared recognition of cosmopolitan human individuality, preference, respect for others’ space.

This week we’ve kept company with many others with whom, once we’ve managed to pass the customary greetings in (more or less!) each other’s own language, everyone comes to rely on similar, non-verbal forms of communication. What fascinates me is the warmth that can be thereby conveyed. Nothing short of a quiet friendship has ensued between ourselves and a neighbour with whom the only spoken word we share in common is “snow”.

Daydreaming, I’ve been wondering how a (hypothetical) day’s silence, one day a week perhaps, might change the way we twenty-first century humans relate to one another – in continents and nations, in factories, government buildings, homes, hospitals, hotels, libraries, offices, places of learning or worship, public parks and transport?

Useful and uniquely human as they undoubtedly are, could it be that sometimes our verbal communications, the million and one things we say every day, just get in our way? What kind of world-uniting future might be shaped and formed in the (even very occasional) sound of a generously attentive and cosmopolitan silence?

Advert or address?

The BBC reports today that British cinemas have declined to show an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer, and that the Church of England (well, its director of communications, actually) is “bewildered and disappointed”, speaking of the decision as “plain silly” and likely to have a “chilling effect upon free speech”.

Now, I’m a lifelong Christian and an advocate of prayer but I wonder whether I’m alone in feeling neither disappointment nor bewilderment? There has never been a moment in my life when I’ve thought of prayer as advertising material. A form of address to God, yes. Forms of celebration, contemplation, intercession, lamentation, meditation, reflection and thanksgiving, yes. But didn’t Jesus of Nazareth have something to say about standing on street corners as though parading one’s piety?

Better a cinema “advert” that celebrated people of every race and nation, and of all creeds and none, living together in peace and harmony. This week of all weeks there’d be nothing disappointing, or bewildering, or plain silly, or chilling about that.

Movements?

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner

World news is unrelentingly grim and speaks again and again of “the movement” favouring this, that, or the other. Information “comes at us” thick and fast, and wound up hearts and minds respond instantaneously with knee jerk reactions – political and religious.

And action is, of course, sometimes, required immediately. But David Wagoner’s on to something here isn’t he? We must treat wherever we are as “a powerful stranger”, resisting the urge to panic and run, to keep moving at all costs, or worse, to try to force the arm of others. Stand still. Listen. Be here, be present, says the poet. It – life in the “forest” – answers.

Take a few moments to ask yourself what the bush or the tree is doing. Really. What are they doing? How long do you need to think about these things before noticing that your heartbeat has slowed down? You’re less agitated?

Movements? OK. Sometimes. But “If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, / You are surely lost”.

Widening circles

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.

I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Rainer Maria Rilke
Book of Hours
translation by Joanna Macy
and Anita Barrows

The beautiful face and gentle voice of the Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast always comes to my mind when I read Rilke’s ‘circles’. With unfailing generosity of spirit Brother David’s heart is big enough to encircle humankind, with all its various faith traditions, and the wider creation too, as one.

Today’s world news tells of further terrorist atrocities, deaths and hostage-taking – this time in Mali. And of growing calls to “close down borders” in France and elsewhere. I’m thankful for the voice of one young Frenchman who told a news reporter “that is not a solution. We must think together as a continent and not just as a country”. I’d want to say something very similar of the world’s philosophical and religious traditions: we must learn to think together as one …

“… life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.”

All of us “circle around the primordial tower.” It ill-behoves any or all of us to insist, to pretend, that there’s one straight path and that, surprise, surprise, it just happens to be the one that we’re on. “A great song” must eventually embrace and include everyone. The sooner, the better.

Grains of sand

If life were a single soul Who set about penning an autobiography, I imagine there must be a chapter about life once lived in the sea shells that, having fallen one on top of another, have now become the grains of fine white sand, endlessly shifting between this morning’s glorious sunrise and this evening’s tranquil sunset. And another chapter about life lived in the wind that filled the white sails of a white yacht gliding slowly and exquisitely across a deep blue horizon, steered by a white haired skipper. Life lived in innumerable places. Autobiographical eternity, contemplatively. 

First to see

We usually have a little competition: who’ll be the first to spot the goats? Camouflaged well, the colour of the volcanic rocks and scrub they’re seeking sustenance amongst. Where will they find water? Hundreds of them, bleating quietly. They’ll never know the satisfaction of a square meal. 

And it’s brought home to me keenly that I’m pampered, for in days past and present I know it’s not only these goats that must nose and scrape amongst unforgiving rocks for the simple privilege of staying alive. What appear to me to be intolerably dangerous and inhospitable territories are just ordinary, everyday life for millions. 

I pray that present need to improve the security of the nations does not turn privileged human hearts and minds against the legitimate needs of those who hunger and thirst on oceans and amongst dust and rocks. 

Art in silence

TV’s The Great Pottery Throw Down has caught my enthusiastic attention in more ways than one. Usually turning up late to TV series, it wasn’t until the inspirational sixth series of The Great British Bake Off that I learned of its existence – and became hooked.

Potters and bakers alike have shown themselves to be marvellous and extraordinary people. Creators. I’d be delighted to meet any one of them, and each has taught me more, much more than they would ever have known or intended.

One of the potters tonight spoke of his deep preference, need even, for silence when throwing pots, resonating with my own deep need for silence in a host of ordinary daily activities. 

And I’ve been asking myself since, just how much great art and culture and peace and security is born and brought forth in the depths of a sought after silence? What might humankind learn from that?

A propensity to unite

On 4th November 1979 I was reading Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man when news of a hostage crisis was breaking: a group of Iranian students had stormed the US Embassy in Tehran.

Thirty-six years later, on 13th November 2015, I was reading the same book when news of terrorist attack on Paris was just breaking. And I’m thankful for the reading on both occasions – hope for all of us, then and now:

A universal love is not only psychologically possible; it is the only complete and final way in which we are able to love …

If there were no internal propensity to unite, even at a prodigiously rudimentary level — indeed in the molecule itself — it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, with us, in hominid form … Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Le Phénomène Humain, 1955

So we keep seeking. And along the way “free hugs” are offered, and gladly received, in the Place de la RĂ©publique and elsewhere, all around the globe. Hope is not dead wheresoever within le phĂ©nomène humain there exists a “propensity to unite”. The impossibly heavy burdens and responsibilities carried by governments, presidents and prime ministers will forever need to be supplemented by the equally vital and necessary leadership that exists in the heart of ordinary humankind, never too cowed to risk reaching out, offering comfort in public space to any and all in need of it.