It’s so cold your fingers hurt. The streets immediately surrounding the buildings where my office is located were still grey. Late-rising sun filtered through the thick clouds.
The university precinct was peaceful. A few birds chirped. They sounded right—not the ebullient and energetic calling of birds a few weeks ago disoriented by a warm spell, but quieter and more delicate, maybe thoughtful or at least thought-provoking.
Peace is a much-used word. It can mean many things. Here in this place now it seems to mean letting go of the to-do lists and spreadsheets of information which I associate with the office. It means putting my feet on the floor and breathing deeply. I try to give my all my arguments with myself to God.
I am not on trial. The clock ticks softly and the birds chirp and the computer whirrs faintly. My purpose is to be. It seems too simple. It seems crazy. It seems useless. But remembering that means you do not have to guarantee your own being by meeting a list of expectations.
Sure there are things to do and people to see. Thank goodness for the delicate sing-song birdsong outside the window and the computer gently whirring. But my value is assured right here and now as I take a breath and take it all in and exhale again.
The cold air is very good.
All day we’ve had big sporadic drops,
no real rain, no downpour, release,
just shifting Channel breeze through the gaps
between hedgerows’ thin growth and the house.
We exceed ourselves in each other’s touch,
from bedside table, text-alerts’ pulsing glow.
That slightly stale salty air off the dark unseen stretch
of estuary feels heavy. Darkness lies beyond and below.
This evening promises a change in the weather
but here even local predictions more often just change again,
and couples may make time, turn down lights and lie together,
those heartbeats constant against tiny patterns of rain.
Let’s start with the feel of the place:
irregular flag-stones’ uneven joins;
a young woman’s cigarette smoke in your face;
uneven splashes of that thin rain.
Perhaps you look invisible out here
as apple blossoms stick where you walk
but you are light and flesh and wet hair —
Spring showers splash on your back.
Now spring’s pale sunshine through high cloud
casts watery shadows on the street.
We wait, bodies aching and good,
two grey men huddled with bare feet.
Last night i had the misfortune to wake up with the radio still on and Donald Trump’s address to Congress wafting through the darkness.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a time of prayer, penitence, and charity which prepares Christians for Easter. So our thoughts may be turned towards the gret events of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
Trump referred to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper No greater love has any man than this that he lay down his life for his friends’. He applied Jesus’ words to a slain Navy SEAL as he recognised that man’s widow.
Trump ignored–or was ignorant of–the contexts of Jesus’ words; friendship in that world meant equality of status, a radical cahange from the relationship of slaves and master–and Jesus characteristically used that image to portray the analogical distance and relationship of human and divine. Yet Trump’s speech tries to subsume this distance under the figure of the master-President.
Unfortunately it seems Congress and many media pundits went along with it.
To me this helps explain the raptuoprous applause and praise for Trump’s many promises–the rhetorical largesse was a counterfeit of the generosity of the source of reality, without the recognition of the difference between a political leader and athe ontological origin, a difference that should make us sit up and ask what this political generosity would cost, since its bounds are finite. But Trump could promise many benfits without cost because he was portraying teh counterfeit of divine bounty, grace.
The perspective of disability helps us confirm this interpretation. The social model of disability helps us see how societal power and organisation excludes people who do not conform to ideals of normalcy. We may recall Trump’s mockery of a disabled New York Times reporter during the eledcdtion campaign. His world-view could not or would not admit difference that is crucial to Jesus’ message.
To me this helps us understand the feedback loop of uproarious applause that echoed periodically throughout Trump’s speech: Congress was caught up an an immanentised counterfeit double of divine grace’s power. So it is all the more important to keep our eye on the distinctions between human adn divine and to take part in each for the service of friendship and justice.
It’s cold and wet. It’s half-term so children are underfoot. It’s easy to feel worn down. When you’re disabled or in pain or both, it can be all the more easy to feel not up to the job. Being disabled can feel like being unable. Impairments can easily feel like straightforward deficiencies.
I was struck this weekend by Jesus’ admonition to his followers about being wholehearted. He expresses this in stark language doubtless in the traditions of Hebrew rhetoric: If one of your eyes proves the source of wandering, it is better that you throw away your eye than that your whole body go to Hell.
On the face of it, this is a stark call to doing the right thing. And doing the right thing really does matter. Yet the image of having just one eye left made me see impairment in a new way.
Our identity is only really found in the ultimates of all reality–this life and whatever comes next. And the body matters. It does not matter in the sense of whether all its parts function fully on accordance with abstract norms. It matters in itself. it persists. We may say this is merely a quaint relic of pre-modern understanding. But to me it is a much fuller view of reality, one filled with significance at a time when we seem constantly to be revising what we know about the universe, overflowing with relevance at a time when questions of identity — sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, nationality, religious grouping–dominate politics of nation, transnational corporation, and Church.
What counts most is being actively open to divine otherness by loving wholeheartedly. We are bodies full of spirit called to love and celebrate the generosity of diversity and the inexhaustible love giving rise to it all.
Candlemas is approaching (2 Feb). This is the festival in the Church’s calendar when we commemorate the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple and so Jesus’ first entry into the temple. We also commemorate the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the ceremony by which Mary, like all Hebrew women, was re-admitted to the religious community after a period of exclusion following childbirth. Of course this is sexist and objectionable on a number of different levels.
But this year Candlemas may make us think harder and perhaps act more kindly. (‘Kindness’ after all etymologically points to ‘kindred’, to what unites, and however arbitrary words may be, their relationships can tell us a lot about culture.) Mary is an outcast– an unmarried teenage mother in a society where pregnancy before marriage was legitimate grounds for expulsion from society and even stoning–and a homeless refugee on the run from the power-crazed Herod who carried out mass murder of all baby boys in his domain in attempt to snuff out the infant king he had heard had been born.
Of course we have just heard of the tyrannical decree of President Trump selectively excluding refugees from Muslim majority countries where he happens not to have business interests from coming to the US. (It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, from which known terrorists have come, are not on the list of banned countries seemingly because Trump has commercial connections there.) We hear of newly-wed husbands and wives separated seemingly indefinitely, of the newly-knighted Olympic-medal-winning Sir Mo Farah fearing he may not be able to return to his family in the USA. But we hear of protesters at many major US airports voicing their concern. Now is a particularly timely moment for us all to remember the imperative of welcoming strangers. We may not know quite who they are–and in not knowing we may come to find we have played some part in the transformation of the world for the better.