OVER ALL

2014-01-03 Gitanjali - Tagore

THE LOST AND THE FOUND – this is the stuff of the stories we’ve heard and we’ve lived from our earliest infancy. And all that we’ve “lost” terrifies and sickens us. And we somehow forget all the “found” that, remembered, we might be healed by. Such are the constraints of TIME. But not forever. Not forever. Over all there is “the deepest silence of the night” and a smiling there, and a whispering. And perhaps a somehow familiar song on the wind: “rejoice with me! – for that which was lost is found”. Again and again and again … whispering, smiling …

When the creation was new and all the stars shone in their first splendour, the gods held their assembly in the sky and sang ‘Oh, the picture of perfection! the joy unalloyed!’

But one cried of a sudden – ‘It seems that somewhere there is a break in the chain of light and one of the stars has been lost.’

The golden string of the harp snapped, their song stopped, and they cried in dismay – ‘Yes, that lost star was the best, she was the glory of all heavens!’

From that day the search is unceasing for her, and the cry goes on from one to the other that in her the world has lost its one joy!

Only in the deepest silence of the night the stars smile and whisper among themselves – ‘Vain is this seeking! Unbroken perfection is over all!’

Rabindranath Tagore
Gitanjali – the 78th Song Offering

SOUL STIRRING POETRY

POETRY IS SOUL STIRRING. That’s its job. Stirring souls. From the Greek poiein – to make or compose – poetry is an exercise in listening, in making things new, in vivifying, bringing life and maintaining and sustaining it. Poetry opens windows onto the depths of our souls, and the depth always surprises us, opens us, stretches us, appeals to a deeper generosity of spirit, a wider inclusivity. We will never cultivate a love for poetry if we’re inclined to maintain fixed positions – on any subject or object under the sun.

On the move …

Poetry is on the move, dynamic (explosive), changing, creating, morphing. Poetry is beyond the control – of any one human person – even beyond that of the poet. “The Spirit listeth where it wills”. Poetry bears the very Word of Life to hungry hearts, souls, minds and bodies. Poetry is a wide open door and every man, woman and child is invited to enter or depart her portals entirely at will. Poetry – this particular kind of creativity – invites us to celebrate being free to be.

God is the Great Poet. Word has been breathed into the Universe – and thereafter, through the divers gifts of Spirit, trusted to do Word-stuff – something different, even when similar, in every hearer, indeed in every element and atom of Creation. My prophet doesn’t look, sound or make exactly the same sense to me as yours does to you. Your “Christ” and mine might be similar whilst also being different. God – and Life itself – are seen through different lenses. And God is apparently OK with that. We can no more say that another’s faith “is not true” than we could say the same of a poem. Truth is a matter of perspective and a matter of the Word heard; what, where, when and by whom.

Sacred writings

That’s why the world’s sacred writings – the Bible amongst these – are full to bursting with glorious poetry. That’s why, in the Church of England, The Book of Common Prayer is granted a place of high honour. That’s why the late twentieth century Church of England’s Common Worship points to Divine activity with supremely beautiful phraseology such as “the silent music of your praise”. Poetry itself might be bound between two covers, poetry binds up, gathers, collects – in the sense of drawing together, but poetry never seeks to imprison. Poetry recognises that the real grace of words is their function as vehicles for every person’s imaginative creativity and expression. Christian truth, as one example amongst the world’s faith traditions, is intended to hold and to celebrate the glorious fact of diversity.

I think that’s why poetry enters most every conversation I ever have with a would-be priest. Conversation with four ordinands today, two within our parish and two without, led naturally and fluidly into the sharing of poetry. That’s always rewarding and hopeful in my book. I’m assured thereby of a willing and loving open-mindedness and generosity of spirit.

All of one race – the human one

Further reflection upon the gifts of Pentecost at the Eucharistic celebration here this morning brought us again to that glorious affirmation in the King James Version of the Bible (Acts 2) – “we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God”. Different words and different languages for different people, but all of one race – the human one.

The sharing of three poems – each written by people of different religious traditions – was well received by one person after another at the fiftieth birthday celebration of our Associated Church Fellowships group here in the late afternoon. And – gloriously – in the relatively few words of the poetry a large assembly multiplied the power of the words by a factor of 50 or more persons present. Each of us hears a different measure of truth from exactly the same set of words – and are, at one and the same time, bound by a common, shared experience.

A Vision …

And then there was the sharing of Psalm 122. “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.” Jerusalem is the big word here so we unpacked it. Jerusalem may be translated “City, or Vision, of Peace”. (Oh, can you feel the irony?). Let’s pray the psalm poetically – “O pray for the peace of the Vision of Peace”. Ah! There’s OUR point and purpose. Whether we’re praying for or about the representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths that look to Jerusalem, or for or about any other form of reaching out (or in) to the Divine, what is of fundamental importance is that we pray, with all our hearts and souls and minds and bodies, with our very lives, for the peace of the Vision of Peace. How are we to set about this in practice? By cultivating a love for the poetic, by being open-hearted, by being willing to recognise that the Divine Source of all our lives is “making all things new” and “turning the world upside down”.

Ria Gandhi, a writer friend who lives in Mumbai shares my affection for the works of Rabindranath Tagore. I love the 78th Song Offering in Gitanjali – with which I ought to draw this post to a close … (for the wholly pedestrian reason that I’m due at my aqua-fit class in half an hour!)

When the creation was new and all the stars shone in their first splendour, the gods held their assembly in the sky and sang ‘Oh, the picture of perfection! the joy unalloyed!’

But one cried of a sudden – ‘It seems that somewhere there is a break in the chain of light and one of the stars has been lost.’

The golden string of the harp snapped, their song stopped, and they cried in dismay – ‘Yes, that lost star was the best, she was the glory of all heavens!’

From that day the search is unceasing for her, and the cry goes on from one to the other that in her the world has lost its one joy!

Only in the deepest silence of the night the stars smile and whisper among themselves – ‘Vain is this seeking! Unbroken perfection is over all!’

PRIDE CAN NEVER APPROACH …

PRAYER BOOK MATTINS (1662) – as well as the Eucharist – was a  major feature of my spiritual diet in childhood, youth and early adulthood / priesthood, so Zechariah’s Benedictus (Luke 1.68) comes readily to mind whenever I think of tenderness:

And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people: for the remission of their sins; through the tender mercy of our God: whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

God walks among the poor. Tender mercy belongs to the Divine nature. God is especially present today in Norway and in East Africa. Human beings though, and perhaps especially those most materially blessed, have to work at tenderness. Tagore’s Gitanjali echoes in my soul today:

10. Here is thy footstool and there rest thy feet where live the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

When I try to bow to thee, my obeisance cannot reach down to the depth where thy feet rest among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

Pride can never approach to where thou walkest in the clothes of the humble among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

My heart can never find its way to where thou keepest company with the companionless among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

Rabindranath Tagore

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.

HOLY WISDOM IN ALL THAT IS UNFOLDING

JOY IS EVERYWHERE! Here’s proper counter to the bad taste of Anglican disharmony, conservative theologising, parsimonious judgments about who’s in and who’s out, who’s staying and who’s going.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be slaves again. Galatians 5.1

Joy is everywhere because the Maker of the World has made it to be so. Joy is everywhere. Some of it in the Church and some of it outside of it. So let us be done, for God’s sake, with anger, mounting hatreds, prejudices, and the destructive demolition of an arm of Christ’s Church that ought to be rejoicing in God’s delight on the road to paradise.  Let’s get back to the gospel – the goodness, gladness, generosity, graciousness, glory, grandeur and greatness of the joy of God …

And joy is everywhere; it is in the earth’s green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share. Joy is there everywhere; it is superfluous, unnecessary; nay, it very often contradicts the most peremptory behests of necessity. It exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love; they are like body and soul. Joy is the realisation of the truth of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world and of the world-soul with the supreme lover. Rabindranath Tagore

Dr Kevin Thew Forrester’s election as Bishop of Northern Michigan has failed to receive the necessary consents to his consecration, and the election has, therefore, been described as “null and void”. Concerns were aired around the question of whether his practice of Zen Buddhist meditation diluted his commitment to the Christian faith, making him unsuitable to serve as a bishop. I’m personally not at all sure that would have been the case, but leaving that aside for the moment, of all the ecclesiastical statements I’ve read and heard in recent weeks there’s something in Dr Thew Forrester’s grace-filled response to what must surely have been heart-breaking news for him that fills me with hope for the future of religious faith – and of God-centred contemplation:

I have been extraordinarily blessed and honored to walk with my friends from the Diocese of Northern Michigan over these past months as their bishop-elect. I treasure the support they have extended me and my family, as well as that I have received from Hong Kong to Holland and from Great Britain to New Zealand, and indeed from so many throughout The Episcopal Church.  As we live and move and have our being in Christ, there is truly a Holy Wisdom in all that is unfolding, and as St. John of the Cross affirms, a grace in ‘all that happens’

Joy exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love. O Lord, open thou our lips. And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.