MINDS WITHOUT FEAR

IT’S WHAT NATIONS WANT, on the larger canvases, and what individual persons want, on the smaller ones. Nations like yours and mine. People like you and me. Minds without fear … heads held high … where knowledge is free. “I do not put my faith in institutions”, wrote Rabindranath Tagore, “but in individuals all over the world who think clearly, feel nobly and act rightly. They are the channels of moral truth”. Winner of the The Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913, the citation read … “author of Gitanjali and its ‘profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse'”. It’s what nations want, and persons want. And Tagore encapsulated the desire in a prayer:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore
born in Calcutta, 7th May 1861

died there, aged 80, 7th August 1941

Egypt. Libya. Just two among the many peoples of the world who, yearning to know, yearning to be free, have taken the risk to stand up, to stand out, and to make their peaceful dreams known. And then there’s you and me, people of faith, peacefully seeking our own way to be free. “Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection”. This is what faith, this is what love, this is what life is for. “Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action”.

I mentioned the other day that I’ve been reading Gerald G May’s The Awakened Heart. He and Tagore are kindred spirits. “We dull and occupy ourselves so completely”, says May, “that we stifle our desire, anesthetize our yearning, restrict the energy of our passion”. Can we imagine a day, and better than just imagining, can we pray with Tagore for the living of Life “Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.”? “It is truly a matter of choice”, to return to Gerald May. “From love’s perspective, everything is a matter of choice”. This is grace. A risky business for Egypt, for Libya, for you and me. But this is grace. Gift. It’s what we’re all stretching out our arms for. Grace, pure gift, makes it possible for hearts, here and now in this world, to have a foretaste of what it means to be free. And beyond the grace given to us in this world? I hope to to know Grace, “the depth of truth”, with Tagore and May, in eternity.

BETANCURIA

LA IGLESIA CATEDRAL de Santa Maria de Betancuria is a must when we stir ourselves and head for a day in the sparsely populated Fuerteventuran interior. There’s no going straight from A to B in the hill country, of course. Today’s VW Polo passed muster as a mountain goat, but getting anywhere here takes time. How much more so for a 15th century bishop?

Who lived on this rocky island in the Atlantic early in the 1400s? How did they travel anywhere? What saved them from dying of starvation and / or dehydration? (We were fuelled by a cooked breakfast, a couple of litres of water and an ice cream!) And what on earth, in what must have felt like the middle of nowhere, did the episcopal occupant of the chair of Santa Maria de Betancuria DO?

I always mean to seek out a bit of the island’s history when I get back to the UK. I am keen to know who chose the location, who funded and who built the cathedral, but today I’m interested simply to observe myself falling straight back into the 21st century “doing” trap. Why so keen to ask what a Fuerteventuran bishop might DO? I wonder, is it possible, that a 15th century donkey-riding bishop of Betancuria, when he wasn’t worrying about invaders, or building and maintaining a cathedral, miles from anywhere, might have thought it important just to BE?

I’ve been reading another of Gerald G May’s wonderful books, this time The Awakened Heart. He touches on the difference between doing and being – and on why touching on the difference matters. More on this in a day or two, no doubt.

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Fuerteventura, Spain