Sunday, 28 March 2010

Palm Sunday - "ein wirklicher Ausverkauf", a real clearance sale or there's no such thing as a free smorgasbord . . .

Palm Sunday is a time when communities in the Christian tradition remember Jesus' entry into the city of Jerusalem and his welcome by cheering and, apparently, supportive crowds. As we are aware this welcome and support lasted only a week and, when the time for real support was needed, the members of that same crowd were nowhere to be found. A week later even Jesus' closest supporters did a runner. Consequently, reflections on this subject generally concentrate upon this betrayal of Jesus and relate that betrayal in some way to our own present day actions - the idea being to encourage folk, naturally enough for a Christian community, to maintain their own loyalty to Jesus.  This, for many years, seemed to me a worthwhile thing to do and it certainly sits well with the general idea that we look at history to help us learn how to proceed in the present.

But I'm increasingly realising that it is not a simple as that because what strikes us today with the "force of inevitable knowledge" is not the same as that which struck our forebears. The simplest example of this which relates to our story is that we inherit the basic idea that Jesus was a good man and worthy of support because of, on the island of Britain at least, some fourteen hundred years of Christian culture which has bequeathed us this background. But in first-century Jerusalem, remember, Jesus was simply a Johnny-come-lately thirty-something political or religious radical who seemed to have claimed - or someone else claimed on his behalf - that he was the promised Messiah. The apparently "certain knowledge" of later Christian ages that Jesus was worthy of supporting and making the ultimate sacrifice for was simply not available to anyone in first-century Jerusalem.

But, of course, the latter two hundred of those fourteen-hundred years has seen a loosening of the hold of this story upon our culture - what seemed "certain knowledge" even to our Presbyterian forebears of two centuries ago now seems vanishingly far from certain. Today in a church like this we still have the Biblical stories to hand and we are minded to use them but none of us accept the story as absolutely authoritative and one which definitively trumps all others.

On offer on the smorgasbord of contemporary theologies, spiritualities and philosophies available in contemporary Western Europe, Christianity - of whatever stripe - is to us but one possible 'flavour', but one possible lifestyle we may chose. Very few, if any, of us here today, will be able to say - and truly mean at the deepest metaphysical level - that Christianity is the only good and decent way of being religious in the world. We openly acknowledge - that we are not in metaphysical danger if we choose to be, or are born, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Sikh, a Jain or an atheist. Even if we adopt a way of living that we might be minded to call Christian most of us would live that way knowing that we could easily change it for another should we ever feel the need or inclination. We know nothing bad would happen to us as a simple result of that - no thunderbolt nor irate messenger of God is going to come from heaven to punish us for our change of course.

At an important level this is something to be celebrated - after all we are all aware of the unimaginable horrors that have been perpetrated in the name of blind and absolute commitment to one religion or another. So I want to celebrate this attitude of ours. But, as the old adage goes, "there is no such thing as a free lunch" - or perhaps today this should be "there is no such thing as a free smorgasbord".

No, there is a very high cost to pay - which, in a darkly ironic way, is expressed by a collapse in the price of every component of the smorgasbord. Here's how James C. Edwards succinctly puts it:

"we have left ourselves no intellectually respectable way to dismiss the disconcerting thought that other, and radically different, forms of life have just the same claim on some sacred ground as does ours; namely no such claim at all. Our 'highest values' compete with the 'highest values' of others on what is looked at philosophically, a perfectly level field of battle" (James C. Edwards, Plain Sense of Things p. 47).

To think like this, Edwards goes on, is "just to acknowledge that, however fervent and essential one's commitment to a particular set of values, that's all one ever has: a commitment to some particular set of values" (James C. Edwards, Plain Sense of Things p. 47).

Kierkegaard saw this coming and imagined all these different sets of values on sale together. A modern version of this image would be to imagine a shopping mall thronged with Saturday shoppers and bargain hunters. He felt that our culture has been busily putting on a "ein wirklicher Ausverkauf" - a real clearance sale.

Edwards comments on this by saying:

"Prices have been cut to the bone. Crowds move through the market hall of European intellectual history, fingering the bargains displayed there. Yet the goods - [that is to say] the 'highest values' of European civilisation - are strangely slow to move. 'Everything can be had at such a bargain price that it becomes a question of whether there is anyone who will make a bid' (Fear & Trembling). Why should anyone live or (more sharply) die for something that is, after all, only a value, only a structure of interpretation posited by some passing form of life?" (James C. Edwards, Plain Sense of Things p. 59-60).

Our present age is one of this kind of devaluation and "of all the items currently selling at a discount is faith" (James C. Edwards, Plain Sense of Things p. 60). Given this, I think it is clear that we delude ourselves if we believe we can in any meaningful way put ourselves imaginatively back into first-century Jerusalem. The culture in Jerusalem of that day did not have on such a clearance sale. Consequently it seems vanishingly unlikely to me that they held beliefs and got involved in the support of religious and/or political figures in the way we do, or rather cannot do, today. Commitment and belief of the type that was possible for a first-century inhabitant of Jerusalem is simply not possible for us today.

Today we could only stand by the roadside supporting - or abandoning him - as one possible form of life of the many we could choose from the shopping-mall, or smorgasbord, of faith.

The question of whether the older kind of belief (or something like it) is possible for people who have grown up or inherited another cultural mindset is, of course, a wholly different question and it is one to which we may be forced to "Yes". But that disturbing thought is for consideration another day.

But today, as we reflect upon the Palm Sunday story at the end of two millennia, I think we have to be courageous in a different way to how most Christian preachers will be speaking about in pulpits around Europe. I think that the courage we need today is not that which encourages us to follow Jesus (or anyone else) to the very end (unlike the fickle crowd of the story) but, instead, simply finding the courage to face up to the fact that our inherited contemporary culture cannot - i.e. we cannot - commit to anything in the *way* our forebears did. Their world and ours is unimaginably different.

If you share my feelings here then this realisation will require us to reflect deeply on how we create our values as a civic society and a religious or philosophic community and then how we might instantiate them deeply, creatively, poetically in our lives without loosing what now seems to strike us with the force of inevitable knowledge, that who and what we are is utterly conditional and contingent. 

It may well require at least as much courage to do this as that which was asked of the crowd and Jesus' disciples. They all ran away and so might we and who would blame us because what I point to is undoubtedly disturbing. The message of hope that lies in the way the Easter story plays out is that the disciples, at least, eventually regained their courage and set to once again in their task. If, understandably, we run away from facing up to the problem I have placed before you today then there is hope, too, that some of us may regain their courage and set to once again in our task which is nothing less than figuring out what a contemporary religious or philosophical society might look like.

That we don't know what that looks like at present should not worry us unduly - after all Jesus and his disciples had absolutely no idea how things would develop after their own experiences. (As we know some forms it took have been wonderful and others, well, a lot less than wonderful . . .) No, the real worry is whether we can find a way to sing contemporary liberal "Hosannas" without them instantly becoming just another much reduced item in the on-going clearance sale of our age.

-o0o-

Postscript Monday 29th March 2010.

Relevant to my words above here is how the chapter entitled Religion in Britain and the United States by David Voas and Rodney Ling found in the new British Social Attitudes Survey 2010 begins:


Religion is a cause of perplexity to the British. On the one hand it is associated with Christian virtue, traditional values, the Dalai Lama and all things bright and beautiful. On the other hand it brings to mind violent fanaticism, reactionary morality, Osama bin Laden, abuse and oppression. After a long history of religious turmoil and mistrust we no longer mind whether our leaders are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or agnostic, but strong commitment makes us worried. Tolerance is the great commandment of the modern age - and hence we find it hard to tolerate exacting belief.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Boats, symphonies, children, double dahlias, dinosaur eggs, silver coins and jugs . . .

What I want to do in this address is to introduce to you just one important and I think beautiful idea that was offered to us by the philosopher Heidegger. I also bring it to your attention because I think it can be of practical help in our attempt to gain genuine happiness in, and enjoyment of, the world.

But I'll start with a well known parable of Jesus' from Luke chapter 15:

". . . what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.'"

Now, if the story stopped just there we might be able to make use of it to speak about the role of money in people's lives, and maybe makes some connections with issues of social justice. But, in the context of Luke the passage is tied in closely with God and it concludes as follows:

"Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." – Luke 15:8–10

Now I've always been rather puzzled and somewhat unhappy about this parable whether it is used as an illustration of something good or ideal in the religious or spiritual life or as saying something true about the fundamental nature of reality. I really don't like, nor do I believe in the truth of the idea that human-beings are things, like coins, that are lost and/or found by divine beings (becoming, quite literally, coins in the divine economy).

This parable and my ongoing concerns about it came back into mind this week because, as I was leafing idly through a book of quotations entitled "A Celebration of Humanism and Freethought", I came across the following extract written by W. Beran Wolfe (1900-1935) from his book entitled "How to be happy, though human":

"If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as if it were a goal in itself, nor will he be seeking it among the nebulous wastes of metaphysics.
    To find happiness we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves."


Whatever we think the word 'god' and 'the angels' means, and however we individually might use them (if we are minded to use them at all), Wolfe's examples seem to me to be more creative and positive poetic images to play with than the thought that in heaven there are divine beings who worry about us in a similar fashion to the woman of the parable which, in turn, leads them to a desperate and unseemly scrabbling to find us poor lost things under the cosmic equivalent of a radiator.

I think most of us would agree with Wolfe that happiness (human or divine)  is found, not in things but, instead, in free, focussed creative activity that the things we call things to be present to us in this world as things. The key move to observe here is from things to activity. But can things also be understood as activities?

Let's think a little more about Wolfe's examples. Wolfe's point is that the happiness we seek is not found in the boat - a thing which can imagine could be lost and found (and I'll return to this in a moment) - but rather in the activities that are gathered by it. Hold on to the thought of 'gathering' for it's going to be very important.  We may, of course, likewise say similar things about a symphony, an educated child, double dahlias, and the success that is a found dinosaur egg.
   
But we would be deluding ourselves if we were to think that the thing made - let's stick with the boat for now -  means nothing. It is clearly important. So let's ask, a la Heidegger "what does it mean to say that this boat is a thing?"  In his original example Heidegger uses the example of a jug - which is why a jug appears in the title of today's address. Heidegger employs some etymology here which, though questionable in some respects, does allow him to articulate the basic idea and it is that which concerns us today. He points out that the Old High German word for "thing" (dinc) means a "gathering." From this he draws the conclusion that a "thing" is something that gathers.
   
This boat - its significance, its meaning, its sense - is always given to us in the context of a complicated set of social practices alongside other "things" such as river, sea, wind, sailing clubs, charts, navigation, tides, buoys, etc., etc.. The first point being that the boat doesn't, and cannot, have an independent existence - it is always there with other things. In the second instance Heidegger believes that "things" such as this boat also bring together what he poetically calls "the fourfold" - namely, earth, sky, divinities and mortals. (Think here of a cross, with the vertical axis having "earth" at the bottom and "sky" at the top and the horizontal axis having "divinities" on the left and "mortals" on the right - all four gathering together at the centre point of the cross). A "thing" for Heidegger is the "point" where these four are gathered together and all "things" - sometimes clearly sometimes obliquely - speak somehow of the fourfold.

In brief "earth" stands for the dark and ultimately mysterious material out of which everything is made - here, in the boat, it is the wood, steel, canvas, varnish etc.; "sky" stands for the light, space or clearing in the world in allows these things to become present to us as they emerge from the dark materials that form them to be built, seen, named and used by us; "divinities" stands for the fact that these things can be for us messengers of a "place" of haleness and wholeness that seems to transcend this world and which gives us hope for the future - a feeling every sailor feels as they head for open water; and "mortals" stands for the fact that the existence of this "boat" - as with all things, including us - is contingent upon a vast constellation of circumstances that, one day, will no longer hold together - the boat will rot, be shipwrecked.

It seems to me that Heidegger's picture encourages us to consider whether what we commonly call a thing is not so much a "thing" but rather an astonishingly gifted set of temporary co-ordinates at which point there is an active gathering of the fourfold, a gathering that, under certain circumstances, is seen by us as a boat, under other circumstances as a symphony, a double-dahlia, a person at school or hunting for dinosaur eggs or even a humble jug. It's all about gathering and so it's all about activity and in this endless activity no-thing can ever be lost because there really never were such things only gatherings.

So, when we say something is lost we may really be saying something like that "a particular gathering is no more". We may deeply regret the demise of some of these gatherings - I do not deny that and that feels like a loss - but, if you follow Heidegger, one can also say that no-thing has ever been lost anywhere in the universe. That, surely, can bring us some genuine comfort. God-or-Nature never needs to scrabble around under cosmic radiators to find you and save you because we are all already saved in our many creative gatherings - in the building of communities, the building of boats, the writing of music, the education of our children and each other, the nurturing of a garden, or in the pursuit of new knowledge whether it concerns dinosaurs or the most distant galaxy and its innermost workings.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands - Mother love all the way down

"Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the child of her womb? Yea they may forget, yet I will not forget thee.  Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands"  (Isaiah 49:15-16).

These two verses are found in the book of Isaiah and they speak of the way in which he thinks God loves his people.  If you are able to maintain a genuine belief that God exists and intervenes in the world in the way Isaiah believed then these words will suffice and you won't need me to say anything further one way or the other - God will not, it is promised, forget the faithful. However, if you do not so inclined to believe - and the new British Social Attitudes survey reveals the vast majority of people in the UK are not - then these words can bring you no hope - except, perhaps, the false hope that wells up when whenever one elegaically recall the days of yore when our culture was Christian and faith in a such providential god struck us all with the force of inevitable knowledge.

However, something in these words does seem to me to speak of something genuinely real, substantial and ultimately trustworthy - something that does strike many of us in our skeptical age with the force of inevitable knowledge - and that something is mothering. As an illustration of what I mean I turn to a story you may remember I told a couple of years ago. It was  told to me by my friend, the philosopher, Victor Nuovo:

"Some weeks ago, I was loading a cart to carry my recycling down the driveway. It looked like rain, so I though it advisable to cover it with a tarpaulin, to keep the paper from becoming rain-soaked and hard to handle. The tarpaulin lay rolled up beside the cart, where it had been for some weeks. When I unraveled it, I discovered that a mother mouse had made her nest in it; there she was nursing her brood. She was terrified as were her nurslings, whose eyes had yet to open. They clung to her teats not, in this instance, to suckle, but because they found security there. She tried to cover them with her body. They were as one being. It was a beautiful sight, and yet heartbreaking. I had absolute power over them. I could have killed them, and perhaps I should have. But I could not. Instead, I set them gently on a flat shovel, and carried them to the edge of the yard and set them down in some undergrowth. Once there, the faithful mother mouse moved away, her nurslings still clinging to her breasts, and found shelter. Oh how I wished that I might make all beings in the world safe! But I am not the king of love, or a faithful shepherd. And there is no such power. There is only mother love all the way down."

In the face of this sight Victor cries, as perhaps most of us would, "Oh how I wished that I might make all beings in the world safe!" But we know we cannot do this and many of us also can no longer accept as inevitable knowledge that an external power we used to call the "king of love" or the "faithful shepherd" - and who bore the name of God or Jesus - is going to intervene to save all the world whether in the form of a mother mouse, you and me, the people of Haiti and Chile, or those people who will be struck down by the next major disaster whether caused by the stupidity of humanity itself or as a result of other natural forces.

BUT - and it is a 'but' of monumental size - BUT, as we look at the mother mouse her behaviour does strike us with the force of "inevitable knowledge" - we intuit that it is simply in the "nature of things" to love in the way the mother mouse does.  As we see this sight it seems reasonable - we may even feel "forced" to say that mothering seems truly "graven on the hands" of Nature itself (remember lying in the background of this thought is my predisposition towards Spinoza's naturalistic philosophy and his use of the evocative term Deus-sive-Natura, that is to say God-or-Nature - where the 'sive', the 'or', is one of equivalence). Anyway, mothering presents itself to us, thanks in part to the insights we have gained through our scientific endeavours, as a natural, emergent quality of the universe.

That we as human-beings can sometimes abuse each other in terrible ways which distorts this natural, emergent instinct is secondary to my point today but it, perhaps, explains the horror we all feel when we see or read about the behaviour of an abusive mother (or father) towards her (his) children. Such behaviour strikes us with the force of "inevitable knowledge" as aberrant. To be sure, if we take the time to understand that this behaviour is nearly always rooted in a person's own suffering and experience of abuse and, therefore, their own lack of good mothering, then we can see they deserves our sympathy and support but we also know - as definitively as anything we can ever know - that this behaviour *is* dysfunctional and wrong (as was, of course, the behaviour that formed her).

But aside from this important caveat whenever we see good mothering we understand, as Victor reminds us that, although we cannot all be mothers "we can all learn to love like this, tenderly, faithfully, steadfastly, in a way that nourishes, that gives life, that comforts, that seeks to set free, as though we were all mothers to each other." Mothering - in the widest sense - is something we all engage in.

Now Victor's story has the benefit of being one that has its centre creatures we find naturally cute and lovable - they have an undoubted "Ahhh" factor about them. But life is not always about fuzzy cute animals. Often it's about us (who are very complex beings) and our many limitations and  dysfunctionalities which I have already pointed with the example of the abusive mother (or parent), but it is also about our simple natural physical and mental limitations. Continuing my recent close reading of Mary Oliver's work I came across this  powerful poem about her own grandmother entitled"In Praise of Crazyness, of a Certain Kind":

On cold evenings
my grandmother,
with ownership of half her mind -
the other half having flown back to Bohemia -

spread newspapers over the porch floor
so, she said, the garden ants could crawl beneath,
as under a blanket, and keep warm,

and what shall I wish for, for myself,
but, being so struck by the lightning of years,
to be like her with what is left, that loving.


To be sure one can imagine - in fact I have seen - people in their degeneration (whether through age, drink, drugs or complex forms of social deprivation) exhibit forms of behaviour that are not at all close to mothering. But time and time again, even in these contexts, I see a mothering instinct come out in simple cares and concerns shown by friends and carers (professional and lay) for one another. No matter how bad things get it appears that mothering in one form or another appears. It is, surely, a reasonable and well-founded hope that, even if almost nothing else is left, there is this loving.

When we are in poetic mode - always ensuring that we don't allow our poetic expressions to degenerate into forms of naive theological realism - we might be inclined to use the image of God-or-Nature as mother. If we are attracted to the idea that God-is-love then, since 'mother-love' is a truer (or at least better) image of love, might we consider using the poetic personification of God-or-Nature as mother more often?

What I present here today is not intended to be some knockdown argument for a non-theistic attitude but I have to be honest (one of the most difficult duties of a minister in the religious tradition to which I belong) - I have to be honest and say that I truly feel I can trust the natural instinct of that mother mouse to protect her children and also, despite her dementia, Mary Oliver's grandmother's desire to show mother-love to the ants in a way I simply cannot trust the god in whom Isaiah trusted. Isaiah's faith was admirable, it was clearly sustaining for him and is still for many, but to me it feels illusory - nothing about it strikes me with the force of inevitable knowledge. But when I turn to the mother-mouse and Oliver's grandmother I feel something with the force of inevitable knowledge that strikes me as real and trustworthy. I'm struck forcibly with the comforting thought that mother-love is something graven on the hands of nature and, in seeing that, do I not see that it is mother-love all the way down?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Children, It's Spring - a case for 'de-ligio'

Today's address picks up on a number of themes and authors that I mentioned last week when I briefly explored how we as a contemporary religious community might, following Karl Marx's advice in his 1844 essay "A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" that we must pluck imaginary flowers from the chains which bind us, not in order that we shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that we shall "throw off those chains and pluck the living flower." I, following Marx and the Roman poet Lucretius, strongly suggested that a significant chain which has historically bound us to what I called supernatural religion.

With this image of flowers in mind (as you know the teaching of Jesus' to which I return again and again is his call to consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air - though I'm increasingly aware my conclusions are radically different from those he reached) I pointed to David R. Slavitt's wonderful translation of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura and the passage found at the beginning of Book IV:

"The air is thin up here and it's hard to breathe as I pick
my way along the heights of the Muses'
mountain, putting
one foot after another as carefully as I can.
No one has walked this vertiginous path before, and I feel
both fear and exhilaration, as I look round at flowers
no man has ever seen, let alone gathered to make
a chaplet for his brow. My purpose, as well, is lofty -
to free the minds of men from the bonds of their
    superstitions."


I concluded by citing some words of my friend and teacher Victor Nuovo to the effect that, in Lucretius' hands, the "the gods are reborn by means of [his] poetic discourse, not to tyranny over us, but to awaken us to the sacred precincts of nature where we may gather and sing hymns of praise, and they allow the spirit to soar as it seeks poetic expression to fundamental truth, which is free of religion."

You will know, I am sure, that the etymology of the word 'religion' is 're-ligio', which means a binding back. In my mind this is - at root - a binding back to a supernatural god. My call (and the call of the authors and friends I cite) is instead an unbinding - a 'de-ligio' if you like - which encourages us to awaken to "the sacred precincts of nature" and so come to see that what we call the divine, and which were once associated with the supernatural gods of old, is always all around us in Nature and, therefore, definitively unsupernatural. I am saying here - lest there be any doubt - that it seems highly unlikely that there is another world - or, rather more precisely, I am saying (following Mark Johnston) that there is *another* world but that it is *THIS* world properly received.

In doing this I'm hoping to encourage us to continue to defend and uphold, not so much religion, but to begin to develop a certain kind of un-binding, a de-ligio, and so begin to practise something we could call (if it didn't sound so silly) "deligion"! (Of course, re-ligio can also point to something we might feel more positive about, namely the binding of people together in community but, within the liberal tradition it is vaital to realise that this has been about voluntary association - i.e. it is a free association only achievable by those who are truly aware of a certain kind of unboundedness. I could say more on this but won't today . . .)

But any such "deligion" needs to find hymns of praise (a language) appropriate to its contemporary knowledge, needs and concerns which, in a quite unforced and natural way can help encourage our spirits to soar as they seek to give poetic expression to fundamental truth. We need "hymns" which seem to us to have the quality of what over the past few months I have been calling "inevitable knowledge; hymns which, for good, sound scientific and poetic reasons, seem to us to be right and which (thank goodness) don't require us, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, to believe in "as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

To this end I rounded off last week's address by offering you a poem written by the poet Mary Oliver called "Moccasin Flowers" which, I suggested, was just such an example of a hymn that spoke to us with just this kind of "inevitable knowledge."

Well I've carried on thinking about this (it couldn't be helped) and this week I have, again and again been drawn back to Mary Oliver's inspiring work. There are, of course, other writers whose work I think has this quality but I'll stay with her today. I strongly encourage you at least to get hold of her two volumes of "New and Selected Poems".

Because today stands at the start of spring and we also have children's activities arranged the poem that struck me a particularly relevant for consideration in this morning's service is the fairly  recent "Children, It's Spring":

And this is the lady
whom everyone loves,
Ms Violet
in her purple gown

or, on special occasions,
a dress the color
of sunlight. She sits
in the mossy weeds and waits

to be noticed.
She loves dampness.
She loves attention.
She loves especially

to be picked by careful fingers,
young fingers, entranced
by what has happened
to the world.

We, the older ones,
call it Spring,
and we have been through it
many times.

But there is still nothing
like the children bringing home
such happiness
in their small hands.


I hope you can see what I mean when I say this poem comes as a kind of "inevitable knowledge"- after all what is there in it that requires we believe even one impossible thing before breakfast let alone six?! (It doesn't contradict any of our hard won contemporary knowledge - especially in the field of the natural sciences). Oliver doesn't turn the violets or the children into metaphors for anything - such as heaven, god or goodness - but instead lets them be what they are, which is what we know they are, namely violets and children. Oliver simply draws our attention to them and never once points to anything above the natural.

But here is the paradox of the poem which is, perhaps, only clearly visible to those who, like us, have inherited the idea that religion must point to some other transcendent, other world; in clearly not pointing to such a world she does point to another world in the way I mentioned earlier, namely, *THIS* world properly received. We catch a glimpse of this "other", properly received world, in the moment we notice both that there is still nothing like the children bringing home such happiness in their small hands and also when, thanks to her poems, we notice that we notice this.

It is a poem which seeks to help us see that this world *is* truly our home and our only dwelling-place, a clearing in the vastness of the universe in which we can begin both to see clearly the sufficiency of Nature and to fall in love with it. The result of this, to take the concluding few lines from another of Oliver's poems called "When Death Comes", is that we can begin honestly to say:

". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms."


And then to be able to articulate the following thought and act to ensure it does not come to pass:

"When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."


Our children bringing us those violets in their small hands help us pluck the living flower ourselves and our noticing that we notice this is one of those pivotal moments when we realise we are not visitors in this world but inhabitants; suddenly we begin truly to dwell, truly to commingle in Nature, our only and sufficient home.