Friday, 29 October 2010

Riprap with the Derz in Cambridge last week . . .

Here's a video just posted by the poet K. M. Dersley with whom we (Riprap) played last week in the church where I am minister. I think it's kind of cool (if one is still allowed to say such things . . .)

Don't forget the gig this week at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Riprap Jazz and Poetry gig - Saturday 30 October

After the success of last week's gig with Gerry Nicosia one of the bands I'm in has another poetry and jazz gig as part of the University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas:

Riprap poetry and music featuring Grevel Lindop and Chuck Perkins

Kevin Flanagan's Riprap Collective is performing with the poet and writer Grevel Lindop and the New Orleans poet Chuck Perkins in a concert of original compositions accompanying their readings.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

An inevitable knowledge, required as a necessity requires

One thing that often happens to me in my role as a University and Police chaplain is that I meet many people who, generally after an extended conversation related to my role and a variety of questions of faith, self-describe as 'having no faith' and then immediately go on to say something along the lines of 'but I’d like to believe'. It seems not unlikely that a major reason this powerful desire to say this kind of thing exists is because Christianity has always, in one way or another, said "Now believe." But, today, many people can't. So what are we to do with this fact that doesn't simply drive bigger and bigger wedges between so-called 'believers' and 'non-believers'?

An obvious story to cite in this context is that found in the Gospel of Mark in which a father brings to Jesus his son who is suffering from seizures caused by (they believe) "a spirit", a stubborn spirit whom even the disciples could not cast out. The father asks Jesus if he is able to do anything about this to which Jesus replies, it seems with utter exasperation, “If you are able! - All things can be done for the one who believes”. The story suggests that the "spirit" finally comes out of the child at the climactic moment of the father’s cry, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:14-24), a cry which seems to be signaling to us a move from an inauthentic, shall we say merely lip-service belief to, an authentic, deeply felt and lived one. I think that authenticity is key in reading this story - an authentic response that leads to a wholeness in both the father and, of course in this story, also the son.

With this story in mind it is worth asking what might be going on when someone who doesn’t - genuinely can’t - believe says to me that they’d like to believe - that they'd like, in some way, some help with their unbelief?

Well, the first thing to note is that there is nearly always in play an assumption that belief (and by extension a life of faith) is something they don’t have and, secondly, they assume I do have it, which (as most of you know) I don’t - or at least I don't have it in the way the common assumption would have it. Thirdly, they feel that this belief (or life of faith) would offer them something that they feel is missing in their own life and so are separated from an opportunity to experience an ongoing sense of healing and wholeness. Generally, this missing 'something' is an identifiable, expressible grounding out of which they feel they would be able to act in the world with assurance and confidence. The general feeling I always pick up in these conversations is a nagging sense of rootlessness - not felt on most of the good days of their lives but certainly felt on the less than good days when they inevitably question whether the form of life which gives them their basic values is really secure and up to the mark; at that point it is perfectly natural that from time to time they begin to imagine what it would be like not to doubt their own form of life and silently to ask - or on rare occasions with someone like myself to ask out loud - a modified version of "help my unbelief". Theistic religions are, of course, very quick to jump in with their often unsubtle call "Now believe - just believe like the father and all will be well." But, for countless reasons none of which I will rehearse here, my disbelievers (and I count myself amongst them in an important way) cannot believe in the way Christianity - at least in its more orthodox doctrinal church forms - what it seems that Christian belief is asking from us. To repeat verbatim a point I made last week - we cannot but admit that we find basic elements of monotheism which we simply cannot render coherent any longer, and we cannot but earnestly wonder how other persons manage to. And there we are, yet again, left high and dry. The attraction and power of Christianity remains - and we feel a strong desire to go along to a service now and then (especially at Christmas and possibly Easter) to catch a frisson of what we think we are missing - but, in the end, no, we must admit, we can’t believe. Inevitably, this makes us feel we will always be excluded from Christianity and its promises of healing and wholeness and this pains us.

There are a million variations on this story and a vanishingly small number of people who play these variations in their own lives end up in a church like this - and some of them even become its ministers. But this forces me - us - to ask the question what’s going on here? What is it a church like this might be said, collectively, to "believe in"? - or better, what message (Gospel) are we taking from the Christian story which is still so much part of our own culture (even if so often negatively)?

Not surprisingly I get asked this a great deal (by both believers and unbelievers) and it has taken me to this very day even to get within a gnat’s whisker of figuring out how I might say something meaningful about it. A key text in helping me articulate what we (I) might be up to has been James C. Edwards' work and especially his "The Plain Sense of Things - Religion in an age of Normal Nihilsim". What I’m about to offer you hinges on knowing something about the concluding two lines from Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Plain Sense of Things in which he says that "all this" (i.e. all that we see around us now seen without our culture’s old certainties) "Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge, Required as a necessity requires."

Edwards' sees three incredibly helpful things in Stevens' fecund lines. The first is that our grasp of our own history (which includes how we have arrived at our unbelief) is present only in the story we tell of it. Part of that story includes for us the Christian narrative even as it also includes our journey to disbelief.

The second is that in this desire to tell our story truly we are no different from all those who preceded us. Our forebears could not make sense of who they were without also having some "sense of themselves and where they came from without some sense of storytelling about who they [were] and where they [came] from".

Thirdly, no-one is free to tell whatever stories about themselves that they wish. In so far as we are genuinely seeking real, grounded meaning to our life we remain a people set under the discipline of truth - we know we must tell our story truly in the sense that we know it must answer to something real historical truth independent of our imaginations. As we tell our story (as our forebears told their own) - for it to ring true we must at every step scrupulously assure ourselves that it can really does appear to us (which is also to say imagined because all true stories involve acts of imagination) as "an inevitable knowledge"; it has to be imagined by us as  "required as a necessity requires" (p. 229). Now here is how Edwards puts the matter under discussion in this address across:

"Dewey was right: in our time the problem with supernatural religion is belief. However lively and powerful the stories of the gods and their minions are, there’s just no way for us that they are "required, as a necessity requires." To say that we can’t really believe in them is just to say that we aren’t now forced to; they are not any more for us "an inevitable knowledge" [in the way they were for our forebears]. There are plausible - more plausible - alternative accounts of phenomena upon which the supernatural has based its claims upon us: in the public square, or at least the college quad, genes now compete with gods, and win. For us full Pathos, full belief, comes only with an intellectual or artistic inevitability" (p. 231).

Edwards concludes by saying "Having put myself to the question with all the scruple I can muster, it’s only what I cannot help saying that seems genuinely true, and therefore capable of being believed and acted on with a clean heart." I cannot but agree with Edwards - it is required of me as necessity requires. So where does that leave us?

Well, here we may return to the beginning of this address and those people who say to me 'I don't or can't believe but I'd like to.' If it can be shown that their disbelief is (or maybe) present 'as a necessity requires' then you can also  show that their disbelief is remarkably similar to the belief of the father in the Gospel story; he, like the disbeliever, is living 'as a necessity requires.'

However, there is a difference between the two for the father comes to know that he has no choice but to believe (he knows he is believing as a necessity requires) but many disbelievers (especially those who retain a certain sympathy towards Christianity) don't know that they have no choice but to disbelieve (he does not knows he is disbelieving as a necessity requires). It is the KNOWING of this that counts not belief or disbelief per se.

Knowing this the father can begin to live a life that is characterised by a certain wholeness; not knowing this the disbeliever cannot live a life that is characterised by a certain wholeness.

It seems to me, then, that a church such as this has a role in helping disbelievers (at least those sympathetic to Christianity) to see that their disbelief is, when they know it living as a necessity requires, their disbelief is just like the father's belief. In other words their disbelief does not exclude them from anything - least of all the opportunity for wholeness promised by living within the Christian tradition.

The second thing a church can offer is connected with the foregoing - it is to help people to read the Judaeo-Christian stories as authentically very much their own. We can do this by encouraging readings which avoid, like the plague, questions of doctrinal belief and which, instead, concentrate on how the stories reveal to us characters who are being challenged to lead authentic lives - lives lived only as a necessity requires whilst always bearing in mind the first-century Palestinian necessities are not twenty-first century necessities.

It seems to me that here we come close to being able to say what it is for us to say we belong to the Christian tradition, what it is we think the message of the Gospel is. For me it was tantalisingly expressed (though somewhat obscurely) by Wittgenstein and with his words I'll leave you:

"Christianity is not based on a historical truth, but presents us with a (historical) narrative & says: now believe! But not believe this report with the belief that is appropriate to a historical report, - but rather: believe through thick and thin and you can do this only as the outcome of a life. *Here you have a message! - don’t treat it as you would another historical message!* Make a *quite different* place for it in your life. - There is no paradox about that." (Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, p. 37e. MS 120 83 c: 8- 9.12.1937.)

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Two Jack Kerouac Events - 22 and 23 October 2010

Two events that some readers of this blog might be interested in. The second is one in which I'm taking part as a member of Riprap. Both should be a moderately interesting . . .

The Writer Kerouac, the Mythological Kerouac, the Popular Kerouac, and the Real Kerouac - A Lecture by Gerald Nicosia 5pm Friday 22nd October, GR-05, Faculty of English, 9 West Road Cambridge.
All welcome, free admission.

Poetry and Performance
A poetry reading and performance by Gerald Nicosia with members of The Riprap Quartet. With support from Kem Dersley and Malcolm Guite. 8pm, Saturday 23rd October, Memorial Church (Unitarian), Emmanuel Road CB1 1JW.
Tickets £5 on the door.

Gerald Nicosia is the internationally acclaimed author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac (1983). A recognized authority on the Beat Generation, Nicosia wrote and narrated the documentary West Coast: Beat and Beyond (1982). He is also the author of Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans' Movement (2001) and editor of Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory (2009).

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug

A line from that craggy, odd and compelling series of three ancient books collectively entitled "Isaiah" came back to me this week as, along with millions of other people, I watched the remarkable rescue of the trapped Chilean miners: “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isa 51:1).

Despite the fact that there are some very pressing questions to be asked and answered about the working conditions and general safety of miners in Chilean mines (and indeed elsewhere) - and I’ll end with some thoughts about that - it is clear that this event has been a wonderful and truly uplifting one and, here, I want to articulate a celebratory religious response to these events that is appropriate to those who simply no longer find a traditional understanding of the language of the gods/God persuasive.

The reason I feel I must do this is twofold. The first reason is simply to do with certain facts in Chile itself because, as anyone who has followed this story from the beginning will have realised, this amazing rescue quickly developed a strong religious aspect (see this Guardian article)

Of course, in a general way, it should come as no surprise that in a country still very Christian (primarily Roman Catholic) in outlook God has been invoked almost at every turn. But I first became aware of something ‘more’ than the ‘usual’ when, after the 33 (“los 33 - los treinta y tres”) had been discovered alive one of them, Franklin Lobos, told his brother that when the mine collapsed filling the chamber with dust and so plunging it into utter darkness there appeared to him a "white butterfly" which led him to safety. Franklin’s brother, Manuel, said  “Imagine, a little white thing flitting through all that, leading him to the others. It was a miracle. A pastor told us that this was an angel.” And so an angel it became and at Camp Hope, as the rescue attempt progressed, three rival groups of clerics (Evangelical, Adventist and Catholic) began in different ways to claim credit for the “miracle” not only of the butterfly but the entire discovery and ultimate rescue of the miners. To this we may add the fact that many of the miners’ first actions on reaching the surface included giving thanks to God in very moving and visible ways.

Given this invocation of God for me, and perhaps for you, alongside my visceral joy there rose up an inevitable set of questions - not only the ones about workers rights and safety issues - but also the old pernicious religious ones. I could pull my punch here, or at least be so nuanced in my comments that you are left not really sure of what I am saying, but I won’t - God, even in the way I try to use the word is, I find, a deeply problematic concept but the concept of an interventionist God who controls guides and judges everything, including whether a miner is trapped, killed or rescued (i.e. the God of traditional theisms) seems to me to be not only troubling but incomprehensible and morally abhorrent.

However, I don’t want to get too precious about this because in the heat of the moment - in the ecstatic joy of release - I think there is a high likelihood that I would myself get down on my knees and give thanks for my rescue - I would in all likelihood “Give thanks to God.” But, although some kind of visceral, immediate human response like this is, I think, absolutely necessary (after all you are not going to pop out of such a situation and expound a carefully thought out philosophical response) it is for me in the end far from sufficient because eventually someone like me will want to have some sense of whether the object of my ‘prayer’ can meaningfully be called ‘real’. For the myriad number of reasons I have explored with you over the past few years it is no longer possible for many of us in our Western European culture and North Atlantic culture to imagine such an interventionist God as being ‘real’ - or if not precisely ‘real’ then, to quote Wallace Stevens poem ‘The Plain Sense of Things’ such a God cannot be “imagined as an inevitable knowledge, Required, as necessity requires.”

So, although I hope I can appreciate the theistic religious response of the released miners and those around them I feel impelled to be clear about the fact, along with James W. Woefel (one of the Death of God theologians) that ‘. . . in my own ongoing struggle to make sense of the Christian context of life- and world-interpretation, I find basic elements of that context which I simply cannot render coherent any longer, and I earnestly wonder how other persons manage to.’

As I watched the miners I felt, really felt, I was sharing with them a basic human joy and thankfulness at release but, simultaneously I found it impossible to render coherent their religious response and Isaiah’s words stung me into thought. What was it, then, for me, who does still try to pursue righteousness and seek God, albeit in ways radically different to my forebears, to “look to the rock from which [I was] hewn, and to the quarry from which [I was] dug? What is my religious response to these amazing events in a time when the language of the gods/God has ceased to be for me persuasive?

Well, if you have come to understand religion as being not about belief and metaphysics but instead about practising a discipline which can make available to us two vital, sacramental energies – the first being that which can limit us in the face of hubris; the second one which can transform us in the face of complacency  (see this earlier post) – then it seems to me that there is a way of viewing these events that can, without invoking a transcendent God, help us tap into these energies.

In this story of the Chilean miners the first energy is most obviously released to someone who is no longer persuaded by the language of the gods/God through a fairly straightforward contemplation of the weight and density of rock. Once nature is moving in the way nature does any sense of being all powerful and the master of her wholly disappears and one’s utter vulnerability and softness becomes instantly apparent to you. Importantly, as anyone who has faced what seems like impending death will know well, this is not simply an abstract mental knowing but a visceral whole-body experience.

Once the dust had literally settled this hubris-destroying experience continued as everyone contemplated 2,300 feet of solid rock either above or below them. Though it is impossible to know what this actually felt like to those involved as we onlookers “looked to the rock”  and “to the quarry” in our imaginations and we could (and still can) begin to enter into this story in a very direct, visceral way. This is so because we have some real sense of what it might be like to be trapped or to have someone we loved so trapped. It is why, of course, the story so gripped so many people around the world.

One might say much more about the first energy as it has individually been released in each of us in our contemplation of the Chilean rock but I’ll leave you to do your own work on this and turn now to the second energy - that which can transform us in the face of complacency. Clearly one way we used to have access to this energy was via the language of the gods/God - but what I am concerned about today is how we might still access it when this language has ceased to be for us persuasive?

In this particular story I would suggest this energy was released to us in the first instance via the skills, knowledge, vision and action of the engineers who could see that our present technology might, just might, be able - not to ignore or diminish the power and weight of the natural world (in this case 2,300 ft of solid-rock) - but to work with the physics of the world so as to find any surviving miners and, possibly, save them. Because he or she had to hand the transforming energy in the form of their knowledge, some engineer took the decision to send a tiny drill down into the rock just to see. The drilling of this small hole went, of course, largely unreported by the world’s media and it was only when that tiny drill came back up one day with a tiny message tied to it that the complacency of mining culture in Chile and our own media and consumerist driven complacency was suddenly challenged. 

Yes, thousands of tons of rock had fallen, yes, we could see how powerless we were in the face of this movement of Nature, but now we were all about to be challenged to be undergo a transfiguration for there then there followed, as we now know, the extraordinary rescue affected by the engineers. In a very literal sense all those directly involved began to answer the transformational and salvational question of what it means to contemplate the rock from which they were (about to be) hewn, and to the quarry from which they were (about to be) dug.

The amazing salvific, almost resurrection-like energy the engineers released has had the additional benefit of focusing everyone’s attention on the many dreadful practices that go on in mines, not only in Chile, but around the world.

So, for me, my religious response to the events we have been privileged to witness in Chile last week is found simply in an acknowledgment of hubris-destroying power of nature and in the transformational energy which challenged our complacency which was released by the technical and human achievements of the engineers. It is a religious response which does not require the use of the language of the gods/God.

None of what I have said is to deny the fact that for many of those directly involved in these amazing events the language of the gods/God seems to be the appropriate, even the only one, to use. But for those of us who simply cannot render a traditional theistic religious response coherent any longer and who earnestly wonder how other persons manage to do it, it seems vitally important to be able to share in such a wonderful event as we have witnessed in a way that is religiously honest and appropriate to us so that we may join in giving the deepest and most appropriate religious thanks for the rescue of the miners.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Mingling of colours at a festival

One of the limits of reality
Presents itself in Oley where the hay,
Baked through long days, is piled in mows. It is
A land too ripe for enigmas, too serene.
There the distant fails the clairvoyant eye

And the secondary senses of the ear
Swarm, not with secondary sounds, but choirs,
Not evocations but last choirs, last sounds
With nothing else compounded, carried full,
Pure rhetoric of a language without words.

Things stop in that direction and since they stop
The direction stops and we accept what is
As good. The utmost must be good and is
And is our fortune and honey hived in the trees
And mingling of colours at a festival.

From 'Credences of Summer' (Section IV) by Wallace Stevens


Last week I had two things very much in my mind and body - that is to say in my whole being - the first was our Harvest Festival and the second was the death of my friend Ronald (the picture here is of him dancing in Malta in 1970) in Avignon. The service you can read here and my brief address here. As most of you know I missed the former to conduct the latter. Harvest and death may fit together in many ways but this week the commingling of themes was co-ordinated around the reading I had in mind for our Harvest Festival, section IV of Wallace Stevens' poem 'Credences of Summer' (reproduced above)

My feelings about both subjects spun around the pole of what Stevens called the 'limits of reality'. This limit he saw at Oley in Pennsylvania at Harvest time. I don't make any claims to know what HE meant by this but, as Stevens himself said, he felt that the poet fulfills himself 'as he sees his imagination become the light in the minds of others' (cited in Serio, Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens p. 3). Last week it became a light, a pure shining in my imagination that helped light my way to a profound sense of meaning during this difficult time.

Most religious funerals try, of course, to side step in some way the 'limits of reality'. After all, for the most part, they are concerned to say with, as the prayer-book says 'sure and certain hope' things about an invisible really-real world beyond our own. But, as most of you know, for me this really-real other world has simply ceased to be a persuasive idea - I cannot imagine it as at all inevitable. Of course such a fading away of this other-world as a grounding reality for our own can easily lead to either agnosticism or full-blown atheism. But this response has never seemed to me to be either a sufficient or appropriate response to what it is to be a human-being standing at the slowly fading end of the Greco-Judaeo-Christian religion.

What follows is merely an attempt to pass on to you what, for me at least, this different way of being religious after religion feels like. It is, inevitably, a very personal story but at least it is not couched in technical terms. I do not claim that everyone felt what I felt but I was the service-leader and that may be said to count for something though never everything. All I can hope for is that, like Stevens, what I felt in my imagination may become a 'light in the minds of others'. Importantly I use the word 'imagination' here not to mean just a disembodied mind but the whole embodied-self in this world. In this attempt to light a light I still might fail but, as Samuel Beckett said ('Worstward Ho'), 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

In a very obvious way I first ran into the 'limit of reality' the moment we all walked into the Chambre Funeraire in Avignon to see Ronald for the last time, a limit that was emphasised all the more when the coffin lid was brought across the room and firmly screwed down. Here I could have sidestepped this detail by using the verb 'secured' but 'screwed' is the right word and for me the screws and screwdriver carried with them an earthy, grounded, reassuring and settling normality that I later realised had gently restrained me from trying to peer over the horizon into some imagined other-world.

As I stood there, with Stevens' poem vividly present in my imagination, I felt strongly that we, his wife, son, brother and friends were standing around him like hay 'piled in mows', we were the collected harvest of his life and that room, and later the crematorium itself, began to be transformed for me into 'a land too ripe for enigmas, too serene'; a present-land so ripe with fruits of life and love that, not only was there simply was no *need* to peer into the distance with 'the clairvoyant eye' but that, had I been tempted to use it to peer into the distance, I feel  I would have failed to find anything richer, more serene and more graced with 'sudden rightness' than this moment here and now. 

Leaving the Chambre Funeraire slowly we made our way to the Crematorium itself - a beautiful, modern, white, neutral space - and, as quietly we sat down together around Ronald's coffin my 'secondary senses of the ear' began to 'swarm, not with secondary sounds, but choirs' as Faure's Requiem began to fill the room. As it felt as if my imagination caught light from Stevens' light. It is a commonplace to say 'one listens to music' as we feel ourselves to be the listening subject with the music coming to us from outside, from beyond us. But here, still deeply commingled in 'the sudden rightness' of this ripe-harvest-landscape, the choirs were not 'outside', not secondary, but internal to the occasion which was embracing me - the music came from the whole commingled of which I was a part, a line of movement. In this commingling, Faure's music was not an 'evocation' of anything external, anything beyond, but a present music that was, therefore, also an expression of the 'limits of reality'. Because of this the voices I heard might meaningfully be called 'last choirs, last sounds'. In that moment the music carried with it nothing more than the presence of being and life itself - there was 'nothing else compounded' and because I could not make out the words themselves as the music was so quiet as such it 'carried full,/Pure rhetoric of a language without words.' It was, in the sense I tried to pass over to you two weeks ago, 'a song beyond me, yet myself.'

As we drew to close I lit a candle to represent life itself and, as light begets light, from it I lit a candle that stood for Ronald's life. From Ronald's candle his son, Stephen then lit four more standing for the love and compassion Ronald shared and gave to his wife, his family, his friends and colleagues; for his healing work as a doctor with children and with adults; for his creativity as an artist, a writer, teacher and academic; for his generous spirit of adventure which encouraged all of us to live life to the full. And then, in the spirit of love and at this limit of reality I extinguished Ronald’s candle saying that as we did this we could see that the Candle of Life still burnt as did the candles of love, healing, creativity and adventure that had been lit from Ronald’s flame.

In such ripe and rich land I felt was inhabiting inevitably things stopped moving in the 'direction' of the future and since they were stopped (quite naturally stopped for I did not stop them, they were stopped-in-themselves) I strongly felt it was possible to 'accept what is/As good'.

In my imagination I took another light from Stevens' conclusion of this section of the poem where he wrote: 'The utmost must be good and is/And is our fortune and honey hived in the trees/And mingling of colours at a festival.' It seemed to me that the fortune and the honey hived in trees was here our strength, love and companionship which we were here bringing out of hidden places to sustain and nourish each other - another harvest made possible by the life we shared with Ronald and were here, still sharing with each other.

At this point we were graced with a moment of sudden rightness that spoke of continuing life, of a kind of resurrection even, that was wholly present and required no other transcendent world to be deeply meaningful. The very kind lady who ran the crematorium had no English and she clearly hadn't, herself, been following the service. At the moment Ronald was to be taken to furnace door she noticed Ronald's candle was no longer burning. She very carefully took a taper and re-lit it leaving all our candles burning as Ronald left. An always present life, being itself would not be extinguished - or so this moment seemed to say.

And finally I experienced two minglings of colours at our festival. The first was the moment Ronald was finally committed to be burnt, something in France you are, thankfully, allowed to witness though from one side. As this happened in the light of my imagination (and I'm sure in fact) there followed a sun-like brightness which spoke so eloquently of the dynamic life of the universe which is always in constant formation and re-formation. It seemed doubly fitting to me that Ronald's brother Alan was there not only as a brother but as a scientist whose life's work has been in solar research laterly at the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Universite Paris XI, France.

The second mingling of colours was at our quiet gathering outside in the memorial garden with the warm Mediterranean morning sun highlighting the slowly turning autumn leaves blowing gently in the wind. I felt I was truly at a festival of life.

Now, what you might make of and/or do with of this very personal experience is not for me to say. But what I will say is that leading Ronald's funeral I felt for the first time in any liturgy I have conducted what I have been struggling to express by using the phrase 'transcending with out transcendence'.

One way of putting this negatively - which I will do simply so you can, by contrast, grasp the positive - is to say that I feel there is no 'other world' and that is to say, obviously, that reality has its limits. But when one succeeds (or feels one succeeds) in 'transcending without transcendence' there does appear 'another world', namely, THIS world perceived differently. This world seems to me to be a 'land too ripe for enigmas, too serene' whose limits are not a prison wall or a darkened veil stopping us from seeing heaven but rather a limit which definines, enabled and comforts, a limit which is nothing less than the embracing arms of Nature which in turn, and endlessly, gifts us 'honey', which allows us to 'hive' it, which lets the hay ripen and be cut down at Harvest ready to be milled, commingled with water and yeast, baked and eaten around tables of love. And all this is done in the bright clearing that appears in the mysterious darkness of we know not what and, in which, it is possible to celebrate life as the mingling of colours at a joyous festival of life.