Tuesday, 20 August 2013

In Light and Darkness

“In every human being there is an inner life, where light and shadows, joys and fear, trust and doubt mingle. Amazing breakthroughs can take place there” 

Brother Alois; Uncovering the Wellsprings of Trust in God; Taizé 2013.

A sun that rises
Through blossomed trees
The dappled light
That shines
Through shifting shadows

Where deepest doubts
And heart-felt trust
As brightness
Through fading gloom

And fed by light
Life dares to creep
Over calloused bark
As joy that smiles
Through tight, gnarled fears

And beauty
But then
Takes flight
On fragile wings
The canopy
The tree of Life.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Where we might be, where we are

If all had gone according to plan, this would have been our final week in Corrymeela. As I write, the other one year volunteers, with whom we arrived full of anticipation on the North coast of Antrim almost a year ago, are now winding up their year and preparing to say goodbye to the place, and the people, who have been home for the last twelve months.

My thoughts are in Ballycastle this week, perhaps more so than at any point in the last few months. They are there with friends. Friends who are facing transition and change. Friends who are sharing memories and who are dreaming of new adventures. Friends who are about to step out into a future with excitement or with apprehension. Friends who are crying, probably, but hopefully friends who are laughing too. Oh, and friends who are drinking tea. I am sure there will be a lot of tea.

My thoughts are in Ballycastle this week. I however, am not there. I am in the city centre of Birmingham which is just a tiny, little bit different from the dramatic and beautiful coast of Northern Ireland. The fact that my thoughts have, for understandable reasons I think, drifted so often across the Irish Sea these last few days has left me reflecting once again on my experience of the past year.

Today, it is right that my thoughts are with those who shared the joys and challenges of my six and a half months in Corrymeela. But, today, it is also right that I am not in Ballycastle. Today, I am certain of this.

It is right that I am here. Here, with most of the boxes unpacked in a place which is beginning to feel like home. Here, looking back a little bit, but mostly looking forward. Here, excited about beginning a community life even if we have yet to find others to share it with. Here, reflecting on the vision and routines which might help make this new life a reality. Here, wondering if at some point someone might want to offer me a job. Here, with a million questions which don't yet have any answers.

It is right that I am here.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Reality of Fiction

As anyone who has been reading this for any length of time has probably figured that out by now; I like words a lot. I like books too. I know this, because I have just moved house and carried what feels like half a library up two flights of stairs. I'm definitely with Roald Dahl when he writes:

"so please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
go throw your TV set away,
and in its place you can install,
a lovely bookcase on the wall."

Given a choice, the bookshelf wins hands down, every time... Actually, make that bookshelves: it's definitely plural!

Over the last few months I have had the luxury of being able to spend a fair amount of time curled up with a selection of good books. I have read some excellent, heartening, terrifying non-fiction. But mostly I have read stories. I have read stories set in the past and the present. I have read stories from close to home and far away.

I have taken great pleasure in reading lots of stories. Many of the best books I have read, I can't exactly describe as enjoyable. They are books that have made me smile, certainly, but also reduced me to tears. They are books where I have come to care deeply, passionately about individuals dreamt up in the imagination of another.

But maybe this is not pure escapism into an imaginary world of fairy dust. For me the great power wielded by these authors of fantastic fiction, is not that they can make me care about what does not exist; but that they are able to draw me more deeply into a world that does exist. While their characters, scenarios and events may be fictional creations, they are also able to speak of a deep reality. The reality of humanity, the reality of life.

Like many people, I am always a little suspicious of statistics, and not just because I prefer words to numbers. Despite our post-enlightenment obsession with facts, we are deeply suspicious of those same facts which we tirelessly seek. But we do want to know. Really know.

I wonder whether, in the same way that facts can be used to hide a deeper fiction; perhaps it is through fiction that we are able to discover deeper truth. Sometimes, perhaps, this uncomfortable fiction may be more real than we want to imagine. Sometimes perhaps, we leave our fiction uplifted by the very real enduring tenacity of the human spirit.

This is already long enough, but I feel I can't really end without at least a couple of recommendations, so go and get hold of a copy of Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie and Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abalhawa, . Read them, smile at them, cry over them, care about them. Then remember to care about the real life characters too.

Monday, 5 August 2013

This is Freedom

We hear a lot about freedom. We hear of the 'freedom' of "anything goes" and of "each to their own." We hear of the 'freedom' of markets to drive up profits (and drive out prophets). We hear of the 'freedom' bought with guns and missiles and self-piloting drones. We could be tempted to get a little bit cynical about this "gift of freedom" we have been given: it doesn't always look like a particularly attractive present.

But there is another freedom. And it was this other freedom which kept cropping up during the bible introduction of our first week in Taize this year. It is this other freedom which is the inspiration for this poem.

A saying no
The yes of
A whole life
A choice to close
The door
To other possibilities
By saying yes
To fullness of life
Where freedom flies

A life lived
At the edge
Of what we know
As others call
Us out
Beyond ourselves
And in their love
We touch
The fullness of life
Where freedom flies

In the daring trust
Of a human heart
Where a spark
Of the infinite
The mortality
Of the everyday
This is the place
Of fullness of life
Where freedom flies