Variables

There’s a necessary provisionality about day to day life aboard a ship – plans and timetables are changed by seemingly innumerable variables.

A ship’s captain and an entire crew must be among the world’s most flexible people – always having eyes and ears for what happened yesterday, what is happening now, and what looks most likely to happen tomorrow – and all the hours, minutes and ‘watches’ in between. The effects of Covid-19 are just the latest arrivals to voyaging complexity.

And every day I notice their calm and grace. Captain and crew appear largely unruffled by pretty much whatever’s going on. Challenges are met with a high degree of equanimity. Ship life, it is recognised, can be decidedly unpredictable, and a ship’s company has no choice but to respect that.

After recent Canarian warmth we’re now ploughing through moderate to rough seas, rain, and thick, low, grey cloud. Most of the passengers onboard will disembark tomorrow amid a flurry of intense activity, to be replaced with an entirely new company of adventurers. And the processes of making new acquaintances, heading back towards blue skies, warmth and a host of new provisionalities will – hopefully – begin again for captain, crew, and lucky me.

And between sunrise and sunset I find myself reflecting on new clarity in the phrases ‘going with the flow,’ ‘weathering the storm,’ and ‘riding the waves.’ And my well-loved favourite stanza from Louis Macneice’s Mutations echoes in every fibre of my being:

For every static world that you or I impose
Upon the real one must crack at times and new
Patterns from new disorders open like a rose
And old assumptions yield to new sensation;
The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.

photo FOCL

Communion beyond words

Parker J Palmer, renowned author, Quaker elder and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a weekly columnist at On Being. He writes

I met Thomas Merton a year after he died. I met him through his writing and through the communion that lies “beyond words,” met him in the seamless way good friends meet again after a long time apart. Without Merton’s friendship and the hope it has given me over the past forty-five years, I’m not sure I could have kept faith with my vocation, even as imperfectly as I have.

That’s what poetry has been and is for me, both writing – words on breath or page: “Let there be light, and there was light” – and communion beyond words. A special “other” kind of encounter with an other – and the air between us, and the space between lines and stanzas, facilitating ongoing co-creation. Heart touches heart and consequent co-creation gives heart. This is, indeed, what Parker Palmer has called A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue This is a coming to us, an advent.

Quakers and poets alike value words so much that they’re used precisely, and with care, and sparingly – because something else they share is a profound appreciation for Creation continually evolving, brought forth from the contours, depths and shapes of silence, from the space between lines, from communion beyond words.

The poetic spirit puts all forms of fundamentalist literalism to flight, calling forth life in acts of co-creation and co-operation, here and unto all eternity. Poets invite us to take little or no notice of words unless we mean also to breathe and to think deeply in the deliberate spaces in-between, for, to quote from Louis MacNeice’s Mutations

… every static world that you or I impose
Upon the real one must crack at times and new
Patterns from new disorders open like a rose
And old assumptions yield to new sensation;
The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.