Magnified

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photo at pixabay

Oh Barcelona! Beautiful city. Home and host to the Temple of Light, unsurpassed art, my nephew, and a host of international friends; beautiful, warm city where only months ago 160,000 compassionate and humane citizens marched in favour of opening wide gates of welcome to desperate refugees from Syria – how are we to retain optimism tonight?

How are we to avoid sounding cheap or trite when our hearts reach out to friends, some as close as family, in these days of bewilderment in the United States of America? Or Berlin, Brussels, Damascus, Homs, Jerusalem, London, Manchester, Nice, Paris, Stockholm …? I do not know.

I only know that I must reach out, holding fast to – and speaking frequently of – the kind of optimism that on the surface of things simply doesn’t make sense on evenings and in weeks like these. Holding fast to the kind of optimism (if that’s even the right word?) that insists every day on recognising the height and depth and breadth of goodness that does, truly, exist in the heart of humankind, though loud and shocking minorities work to have us believe otherwise.

Human love and tenderness, hospitality and welcome, compassion and forgiveness, holding fast to good – these things are not controlled by, nor in the gift of lawmakers, nor the ‘politically correct,’ nor presidents, princes, preachers or praters; not controlled by, nor in the gift of the demanding, the domineering, the fanatical, the leering, the violent, nor those who have difficulty hearing anything but the sound of their own tragic, woeful ignorance.

Optimism, the hope of the world, human love and tenderness, hospitality and welcome, compassion and forgiveness, holding fast to good, walking hand in hand, standing shoulder to shoulder – these things are in the gift of the majority of humankind – whose hearts lurch in horror as they think on events in Barcelona today, or in Charlottesville just days ago.

‘They tried to kill my child, shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her,’ said Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro  …

Height, depth and breadth! Love in the mothering heart of just one humane human that may leave us speechless for a while. Speechless but not hopeless. Our task, wherever we are in this wounded yet still beautiful old world, is to turn up the volume, not of rhetoric, but of Susan Bro-like optimism and magnifying love. Like a candle in the dark.

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Rania

Rania is not a name I will forget in a hurry. A friend’s tweet this morning pointed me in the direction of The Guardian.

Yesterday I wrote about ‘healing the world that touches you, that’s around you.’ That touching can and must include any and all means of communication that might open human hearts too quick to judge the intentions of millions of this world’s displaced people.

Made with immense courage, dignity and good humour by a twenty-year old young woman, necessarily fleeing the war zone she still calls ‘home’, may this film open hearts and minds; may a deeper compassion be shaped in the hearts and lives of humankind the world over.

Wall-construction needs to involve the rebuilding of shattered homes. All talk of ‘refugees’ needs to be set in the context, the possibility even, of how it might be for any of us were tables to be turned. Could I pack my life and loves into a small rucksack and head off, smiling and gutsy, to I know not where?

Rania. Ayman. Christopher Columbus. Let me not forget their names!

The Wind on the Downs

The Wind on the Downs

I like to think of you as brown and tall,
As strong and living as you used to be,
In khaki tunic, Sam Brown belt and all,
And standing there and laughing down at me.
Because they tell me, dear, that you are dead,
Because I can longer see your face,
You have not died, it is not true, instead
You seek adventure in some other place.
That you are round about me, I believe;
I hear you laughing as you used to do,
Yet loving all the things I think of you;
And knowing you are happy, should I grieve?
You follow and are watchful where I go;
How should you leave me; having loved me so?

We walked along the towpath, you and I,
Beside the sluggish-moving, still canal;
It seemed impossible that you should die;
I think of you the same and always shall.
We thought of many things and spoke of few,
And life lay all uncertainly before,
And now I walk alone and think of you,
And wonder what new kingdoms you explore.
Over the railway line, across the grass,
While up above the golden wings are spread,
Flying, ever flying overhead,
Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

Marian Allen
from The Wind on the Downs,
Humphreys, 1918

Friendships, peace, and freedom of movement in Europe and beyond are of profound importance to me.

I’ve always failed to understand the attraction of too-proud-nationalism – on the battlefield or the sports arena. I cannot begin to imagine the horror of being required to take up arms against another person.

I cannot be persuaded that my political, religious or social beliefs and opinions are the only ones worth having. I have virtually no inclination to set myself in competition with anyone. I’m frequently dumbstruck by the casual violence implicit in the way some people speak of others.

I smiled wryly when I recently read an earnest report about the (relatively benign) effects of light pollution, wishing dearly for higher concentration instead on the thumping noise pollution that blights town and countryside alike. I’m genuinely and generally horrified by the uninvited racket that accompanies such a great deal of cinematic and television output, and even just ordinary social engagement.

And I am frequently beleaguered by the impression that some in our society are absolutely obsessed with gratuitous violence as forms of filmed and televised “entertainment”.

I was touched to the core when I first read Marian Allen’s The Wind on the Downs. I felt I knew her. But more, more even than that, my heart was touched by the millions of other hearts who, for similar reasons, have written poems like this one throughout human history; and by those who are writing similar poetry today, and will be – perhaps with stubby pencil on scraps of paper whilst crammed on board a dangerously overloaded inflatable boat, or perched in the midst of bombed-out dusty concrete dereliction in Syria, tomorrow.

Here still I see your khaki figure pass,
And when I leave the meadow, almost wait
That you should open first the wooden gate.

I want to learn from Marian Allen’s humility, and from the sacrifice of her beloved. And I pray for a personal way of life, and for a humankind, whose first and last priority is – here-and-now – a generously humble, inclusive, quietly reflective and loving heart.

In the presence

Brussels

What a long week! More howls of horror. Winded, as though punched, forced exhalation causing words to spill uncontrolled from some mouths, whilst others can no longer articulate any response. Noise doesn’t help. It’s interesting and hopeful that solidarity gatherings in public squares are predominantly silent and contemplative.

I’m sitting in the presence of arum lilies, a generous Easter gift. Entirely silent, glossy, slowly unfolding to the light, they beckon me into precisely such wordless being, into reaching searchingly inwards, and hopefully thereby more graciously outwards. Silence changes and hopes in me, embracing our wondering, yearning world.

Hope

When you realize how perfect everything is you will
tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

Buddha

I loved coming across this quote attributed to the Buddha on Twitter today. I always smile when I see images of a laughing Buddha, rotund tum and joy-filled face. And from time to time a lovely line drawing of a laughing Jesus holding a child aloft does the rounds. I think too of the smilingly peace-filled face of the Benedictine David Steindl-Rast, and the joy that emanates from Thich Nhat Hanh. And images of my grandchildren laughing joyfully on a garden swing … and Syrian grandchildren smiling and laughing in the very heart of shattered cities.

They know something about hope that runs so deep it can and does change worlds – until more and more and more people realize …

Laughter

Children smiling, some of them cheerfully playing in the sunshine, and a young female soldier laughing with a friend, these are BBC images of second-day truce in Syria that brought to mind – one daydreamer to another – the great Hindu poet and seer Rabindranath Tagore. No matter that he was writing and speaking in another context and in another age: like Alpha and Omega, prophetic vision speaks and inspires in innumerable beginnings and endings – which we understand now are continuing expansions. Both endings and beginnings are new creations – like children playing and a young soldier’s laughter …

I suddenly felt as if some ancient mist had
in a moment lifted from my sight and the
ultimate significance of all things was laid
bare … Immediately I found the world bathed
in a wonderful radiance with waves of beauty
and joy swelling on every side, and no person
or thing in the world seemed to me trivial or
unpleasing.

Rabindranath Tagore
Quoted by Benjamin Walker
The Hindu World, volume 2, page 475

By the road

It catches up with all of us – and is perhaps the chief reason that we’re all apparently afraid, at different times, of sabbath, of the “sound of silence”.

Wendell Berry has written “If the Muse leaves me alone, I leave her alone.” He doesn’t try to manufacture poetry. But he does allow for the weekly “Sabbath” – intentional space into which “unintended thoughts” might find space for expression – contemplation, meditation, reflection – sometimes celebratory, sometimes consolatory, sometimes gratefully, sometimes intercessory, sometimes penitently, sometimes prayerful lament.

Yes: life, in and around us, catches up with all of us, and we wonder about our contributions, for good and for ill, towards our contemporary “mechanistic” whole. And with or without any specifically religious motivation we rediscover our human need to pray.

“That one is sometimes able”, Berry continues, “among the disturbances of the present world, to wander into some good and beautiful whereabouts of the woods, grow quiet, and come to rest is a gift, a wonder, and a kind of grace. Though associated with a particular day, this is a possibility that may present itself at any time.”

Life catches up with us – sometimes just a word or a name at a time:

Afghanistan, cancer, drowned, oil, Syria, carbon, child, gunman, Paris, fire …

And we wonder “how shall we pray?” though we know in our heart of hearts that we’ll only ever learn to pray, or know what to hope for, or what to do, or work at, or for, or how to change, or what to say, when we acknowledge our need of space for “unintended thoughts”: for silence, for sabbath day.

(Massachusetts Avenue at Rock Creek Park, Sunday morning)

Here by the road where people are carried, with
or against their will, as on a river of burning oil
through a time already half consumed, how
shall we pray to escape the catastrophe
that we have not the vision to oppose and have
therefore deserved, and that many have desired?

Yet here in our moment in the ages of ages
amid the icons of fire from the maddened center
whirling out, we pray to be delivered from the blaze
that we have earned, that many desire. We pray
that the continent of love may be shaped within
the continent of power, here by the river of fire.

We pray for vision, though we die, to see
in our small imperfect love the Love of the ages
of ages, whose green tree yet stands amid the flames. May we
be as a song sung within the tree, though beside us
the river of oil flows, burning, and the sky is filled
with the whine of desire to burn and be burned in the fire.

Wendell Berry
This Day: Sabbaths VII, p94

What’s going on in this, just one of Wendell Berry’s reflections? What’s the Muse here drawing his sabbath-rested attention to? And ours too?

By the road.