I process things by writing about them; you could say this this is my kind of contemplation. However, I have struggled to write much about this virus that has now suspended almost all our normal human activity.
Perhaps this might be something to do with a lack of requirement- a deadline can be very creative, after all. I have been toying with the idea of looking for some creative colaborations with other artists, but at present I am struggling to find a window to look through, so am not sure that I have anything to offer in such a partnership.
Facebook dulls and frustrates, full as it is with virtue signalling and foux-righteous indignation- I have enough of these things myself without being immersed in everyone else’s. I find myself equally repelled by the worship of NHS workers and the rants against hoarders and campervans. We might have hoped for so much more from such a vital communications platform in a time of isolation, but instead, it seems to be a conduit for cliche and condemnation.
The other day, in a moment of existential cynicism, I wrote the poem below. I hesitate to share it, because it is hardly a cheerful offering- in fact, feel free to skip past it – but in the end, I decided that it told part of a story that might be worth telling (you may disagree if you last to the end of this post!)
While we shopped
While we stared at small screens
While we threw more and more plastic into our plastic bins
While we pumped full the tanks of our personal transport machines
While we told ourselves that consumption was a human right
And package holidays were reasonable compensation
For all our hard work
While we did all of these things, thinking
We could do them forever
The Earth waited
For the time when all this human hubris
Would become no more than a faint barcode
Buried in the strata of old rocks
Revealed from time to time
By waves of a clean clear sea
Reaching in from the far
I try to write what feels ‘true’, but if there is any truth in this poem, it is only partial, or perhaps situational. I (mostly!) do not think that humanity is doomed and best gone and out the way for the sake of the wider world.
But I do think that the human condition, COVID-19 or not, is a carrier of darkness. By this, I don’t only mean that we do bad things, which of course we do, but rather that pain, uncertainty, lonliness, doubt, fear, failure, despair and grief – these things are wrapped around who we are and what we are becoming. Positive thinking has it’s place, but tsunamis and viruses are not fooled.
If you are feeling some of these things now, you are not alone. I have even heard this collective howl at the heart of our humanity called this; The one true sadness of God
Through the last few months, I have been making my way slowly (with some dear friends) through a book by Richard Rohr called ‘The Universl Christ’. I have written about this book before because it is a beautiful, hope-filled piece of writing, exploring theology and philosphy in ways that seem ever more important and apt for the times we are in.
In one chapter, Rohr describes his acute pain at the loss of his dog after 15 years of companionship. I am not a dog owner, so the bond between man and animal is something of a mystery to me, but this matters not, because what Rohr was trying to describe was his own personal howl of pain and loss- how this individualised and seperated him, but then how in turn it became a connection between himself and God.
This is not the Talisman-God, worn like a medallion in the hope of warding off anything unwanted, rather this is the Christ, through whom all things live and have their being. The Christ who we glimpse deep inside the eyes of the other.
This is not the God of the prosperous and the healthy. S/he is not to be discovered on mountain tops, but dwells in the deepest valley, shadowed even by death.
To those of you who are suffering, this God offers no easy solutions, no promises that all these things will work together for good, if we could but understand his mysterious ways.
Instead, S/he offers this promise; I am here, where you are. In the middle of this darkness.
I wrote one more poem. I hope it makes sense;
The one true sadness of God
The black dog turned his face to me
And I stare into eyes that go on for ever
Like wells dug down
Into the wilderness of this world
Like weeping wounds
Nailed into the soul of God
For here are we, with hearts near broken
By all these broken things
Trapped between the birthing pains of our becoming
And terminal pains from passing
Blessed are we, for love comes not just as joy
It holds us too in suffering