Thoughts From the Village: on Permanence and the World We Hope for

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…And I knew just as surely, just as clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.

Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It

 

 

We are still here, and so is the heat. Thankfully, the breeze is also here, and thankfully, we are still within the time-frame of our August vacation.

I love this place.

Of all the places in the world, this is the only one where the deepest pain and the highest joy of my past are so present. In contrast, our new home on the beautiful Sussex coast in England is something that, for the first time in my life, I can truly call home. It is my nest — an independent and separated place, away from any other person in my life, save for my wife and our little daughter. In this new home joy is abundant and the flow of life is light and clear; memories are yet to be made there, and the sense of calling, of the greatness of the human soul — its art and its place in the world — is strongest there.

But it is not this home I wish to talk to you today; not the nest of pure beauty and clarity, that place of sea and greenness; of late gulls and moonlight, of foxes and hedgehogs. No, not now. Today, my soul roams the very place that surrounds my body. Today, there is not much clarity and very little purpose. The fog of confusion is strongest here, and the battle is most fierce. Much is felt here, yet very little discerned; there are too many shadows and not enough swords; there are too many barriers against feeling the unfelt and too many signs and signals to know the right way.

Oh, but it is so breathtaking… It is so calm, so deeply mine, and so haunting…

 * * *

After a long and sweet night with old friends, I woke up feeling raw and tender on the inside. It was a night of depth, of memories and stories. The gentle breeze, the garden lights, the freshness of the vines, and the darkness of the old familiar street — they all came together in a fragrant, colourful amalgam; and our souls were light and free. In moments like that friendships can be richly intoxicating — every uttered word is met with knowledge and joy, and each felt emotion is joined by knowing, loving siblings. Loneliness cannot exist in such environment; falsehood and hostility are banished.

In this old and richly deep place, late at night when my parents — my old family — are sleeping in the cool bowels of my childhood home; when my wife and child — my new family — rest in the rooms above; when the old friends are around me, merrily raising glasses — in those times, I feel truly happy and known…I am home at last.

But I wake, and there is longing again; I have dreamed, but my dreams fade too soon…

As I open my eyes, the breeze of my sweetest times gently kisses my face; I look up and see the deep sky, and before I have the chance to rise and become and adult, my heart is pierced, and I am defeated.

How is it that we can gaze in the heart of eternity and go about our business without batting an eyelid? How is it that we can stand in the presence of holiness, and not weep and fall on our faces in worship?

Tragic is the fate of the human trace; darkened and numb we have all become…

But I am returning, and though the road is strewn with pain, I am gradually arriving home. And the closer I get — the more I am pierced by the pain of grief and longing — the more hope and joy I also feel. Here, for a brief moment or two, I gaze upon the heart of Laughter…

The sky that smiles at me in the morning also weeps, for I have gazed upon it when I was little — back when my soul had not yet succumbed to the numbness of the world. When I see that sky, and the roads, and the trees; when I bask into the warm dark air that surrounds my old home; when I hear the crickets and the laughter of my old friends — this is when joy is merged with grief…

Because I know that it would not last.

* * *

The message we have all been given by life, often too early, at the very start of our earthly sojourn, tell us that, as MacLean wrote, ‘life is not a work of art’, and that ‘the moment’ — the best moments of all goodness we would ever know in life — would ultimately not last.

Is it any wonder then, that we have all lost heart? Does it seem so strange that our race is locked in an endless cycle of reaching and grasping, endlessly trying to hold on to our best times and make them last, while keeping darkness and death at bay for as long as we can?

We have all been made for more, and deep down in our hearts, we know it — if it were not so, we would be content with our misery, and indeed not be miserable at all; for it is namely that — our misery in the face of mortality — which proves our hidden eternal design. We must therefore see these two messages — the ones that tell us that life is not a work of art, and goodness does not last — for what they are: lies.

The realm of my youth — the village and its hills, and the friends who still laugh as they once did — all of these things fill my heart with joy not because I want to return to my childhood — God forbid! No, but I long to come back to the heart I once had; the freer soul which was far more open and wondrous, far more aware of the deepest truths of life than the one I am bearing now. Then, I was closer to the Promise…

Yes, children know, and this is why the world is ever set against them; this is why their knowledge of eternity is quickly shamed and silenced, long before they are old enough to see the lies. This is why we have all become wraiths…

This is also why we must all come back to the heart and its desires. For without the heart there is no life, and without the heart true hope does not live…

* * *

Through that immortal longing, awakened by the spirit of this haunted place, I am searching for the self I once had — the heart that had not yet suffered its fate of latter times; less suppressed in its emotions, less dark and less burdened by shame and defeat. Yet, it is also true that there is more, much more, that I am actually searching for.

My heart, as do the hearts of us all, seeks permanence.

It looks not simply to return to carefree days, for there are no such days in the realms of mortal men; but it looks for deeper, older things, in deeper, older places. Places and times that once were — the heart in its immortality remembers them; places and times that will be again — or else the heart would not hope for them with such fierce intensity.

The summer evenings when I was a little boy… The time when all the grown-ups sat around the table of my grandparents; the time when the smell of fresh tomato salad, of peppers, onion, and spices (all homegrown, of course) preceded the aroma of the roasted meat and the laughter…those times spoke to the little heart about home, and about lasting goodness. Later, when I am sitting under the same sky, under the warm caressing embrace of the same evening air, it comes again…the friend on my right lives close by and knows me and my whole family well; so does the friend on my left. No, I cannot go back farther in the limitation of this finite world; I cannot go deeper than this. The happy celebration with people who know and love me, the sense of effortless belonging in a place where the very rocks are soaked with the happiness of my younger self… Endless joy and comfort in my own skin, in the old fellowship of those who feel the same and would never become less, never in a thousand years — this is what my heart yearns for, and this is what I am always seeking.

Moments that would not end. Peace that will not cease. Love that will not fail. The brief whispers of my most romantic childhood hopes becoming a solid, tangible truth. The world that we already know and love; the world as it was meant to be. I think it is a world where all people…no, wait — I will let a better writer describe it:

I have seen a land shining with goodness, where each man protects his brother’s dignity as readily as his own, where war and want have ceased and all races live under the same law of love and honour.

I have seen a land bright with truth, where a man’s word is his pledge and falsehood is banished, where children sleep safe in their mother’s arms and never know fear or pain.  

I have seen a land where kings extend their hands in justice rather than reach for the sword; where mercy, kindness, and compassion flow like deep water over the land, and men revere virtue, revere truth, revere beauty, above comfort, pleasure or selfish gain. A land where peace reigns in the hill, and love like a fire from every hearth…

Like Taliesin in the Pendragon Cycle books, like king Arthur in Stephen Lawhead`s amazing works, I have seen it too, though only in few brief glimpses. I have read the signs of immortality and redemption, back when I was a little child; back when I listened to the sounds of peaceful human existence merge with the songs of crickets and owls; when I looked at the bright stars in wonder and knew that I was known. I saw the same stars again last night and I recognised them; my heart leaped, and I knew…

You too, have seen your glimpses of this world, though perhaps you have forgotten. Be not afraid to remember, for in your pain, there is redemption. There is also a Promise, and it is a promise for permanence…

Where have you searched for permanence in a world that offers none?

Remember — even the best the human life is a long string of great victories and great defeats — both measured by time; both passing.

Do not despair…come back, and face the heartbreak; be brave and face the broken hopes within…

And if you are brave and face your battles; if you do that well and hold nothing back, who knows, you may find that which you have always searched for…you may find yourself returning to that first true Love whose touch once sensed, back in your times of wonder, even though they have been cut short by the darkness of this world.

Go — go against the currents of your life, and against the defences, habits and escapes of your own broken self — go deeper and go higher, for the truth is waiting for you there, and the life you search for is waiting to be lived. You are known, and you have a destiny.

Believe not in the loss of your darker times, but trust in the hopes hidden in your heart…

They do not lie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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