Far from the City

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… those worlds grand in their complexity
Known by their lesser names of you and me,
For all their flair and depth and hankerings
Hold less dimension in the scheme of things

Vikram Seth
from the poem (click the link) Far from the City Tonight
Summer Requiem
– a book of poems

It is now almost a commonplace that

‘there are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand upon earth, and more atoms in a grain of sand than there are stars in the Universe’.

With a click of a computer mouse one can begin to have a sense of dimensions. Earth, with its diameter of 8000 miles; Betelgeuse, inspiring the poet, the second star in the constellation of Orion, with its diameter of 850 million miles. And there’s more. Infinitely more – whether we’re looking out, or in.

There’s tenderness in Vikram Seth’s Far from the City Tonight. Recognised need for proper perspective. And tenderness and perspective too in the heart of one Jesus of Nazareth, both within the walls of Jerusalem (which name, ironically, describes a vision of wholeness, completeness and unbrokenness) and – crucified – without.

They don’t know what they are doing …

We don’t. But through all the ages nonetheless, humankind has cried ‘Hosanna!’ – ‘Save us’. Always on the lookout for Messiah, Christos, Caesar, King, Lord, powerful one, magician. 

Someone – anyone, even – save us from living death.

Someone lead us to a new life, a better life, a resurrection already! – If it’s even possible. Though we’ve had so many ‘messiahs’ through the ages we’ve become both sceptical and fickle. Wall building everywhere – because we’re desperate to hang on to what we’ve got, while simultaneously grumbling ‘Where’s the good life? Is there good life? Where’s the – is there – resurrection?’

Resurrection? Yes: of course, in the vast and alive depths of a grain of sand, of a star, of a person, of many persons, of an immeasurably infinite universe.

Resurrection? Yes: of course, in out of the ordinary Silence.

Resurrection? Yes: of course, where there’s no desire for lordship, or kingship, or national boundaries, or magic, or allowed and ignored starvation, thirst or war, or human aggrandisement and greed, or prioritised religious or secular traditions and sophistries taking precedence over prioritised loving.

Resurrection? Yes: of course, just so, said the Nazarene, for any and all who will enter into their chamber, little space, room, or tomb – setting aside (or crucifying) their too easy literalisms, their flair and depth and hankerings – reaching inwards, and outwards, to a fuller perspective, to the Heartbeat, to the Energy of the heavens, of the heights and in the depths.

Far from the City Tonight. Yes: yet in such a room, or tomb, unknowing humanity may yet encounter Jerusalem here and near – and thereby the quiet dawn, height, breadth, delight and depth of a universal resurrection.

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on :
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed ; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back ; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.

R S Thomas
The Kingdom

Collected Poems
, 1945-1990
, page 233

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Holding on

The Kingdom

It’s a long way off but inside it there are
quite different things going on: Festivals at
which the poor man is king and the
consumptive is healed: mirrors in which the
blind look at themselves and love looks at
them back: and industry is for mending the
bent bones and the minds fractured by life.
It’s a long way off, but to get there takes no
time and admission is free, if you will purge
yourself of desire, and present yourself with
your need only and the simple offering of
your faith, green as a leaf.

R S Thomas
Collected Poems, 1945-1990, p233

Paris in the Spring. The excitement of the colourful markets in Jerusalem’s Old City on a sunshine filled morning. Strolling through the park in Madrid. RomCom set in New York’s Central Park. Italian ice cream – in Africa. Roman Holiday.

Astonishing art in soaring mosques. Ancient praise daily ascending the heights of Westminster Abbey. Family. Fishing boats on Galilee. The taxi driver’s peaceful kindness as he spoke of his practice of the Ramadan fast.

Friends. The compassion in the face of the young surgeon saving the life of a child. The overwhelmed returning soldier holding his 9 month old baby daughter for the first time. Thich Nhat Hanh.

The young violinist wedded to channeling unspeakable joy to the ears of her listeners. The lined face of the grouchy old poet who penned visions of glory. The little girl who’s over the moon with a hand knitted jumper made specially for her.

Desmond Tutu’s giggle. The Dalai Lama’s smile. Her Majesty the Queen’s personal faith and steadfastness. A little gathering in the rain – helping to stack sand bags to redirect floodwater. Pope Francis offering a ride and a smile in the Pope-mobile and – beaming – bearing a lamb upon his shoulders.

Parisian café life. Blue skies. Snowy Alps. Venice. Persian poetry. Bedtime stories. Cherry blossom. Hot chocolate. The hand in hand. The lifeboat crew. Home. #porteouverte. The gentle border guard.

Birdsong. Jesus teaching on a hillside. Those who will willingly sit through night and day and months and years with the bewildered and the disorientated and those who have lost all hope and weep and grieve and mourn.

River running. Books. Freedom of Speech. Rolling lavender fields. Shepherds. The birth of a calf, a foal or a baby giraffe. The stars in the bright sky. Space on earth and space in the heavens. The grin on the face of a border terrier. Some folks offering – and others queuing for – “free hugs” in the Place de la République in Paris.

Ice Skating outside the Natural History Museum. Nicola Sturgeon’s warmth and openness on Desert Island Discs. Cycling with a warm wind at my back – especially near the coast. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

These are just a few of my favourite things – and people.

And when, ashen-faced, as it seems we so often are, before what can feel like world-overwhelming heartbreak, we must bring these favourite things to mind – with and for the heartbroken, for the refugee, for the sick, the terrified, the dying and the dead, as much as for we ourselves. We must bring these favourite things to mind and be thankful for them. And for the (healed and Ultimate) Kingdom.