At its best, tradition is like a tall sailing ship, navigating the uncharted narrow shoals of postmodern times. Its cargo is the virtues and values that create civilisation. From time to time, its crew has found it necessary to discard outdated, redundant and no longer serviceable jetsam. To navigate unknown shallow waters, the art of “kedging” or “warping” is applied. A dinghy rows forward a small anchor attached to a hawser while simultaneously sounding the depths. The mother ship then hauls itself forward. Rinse and repeat. In this way, the good ship “Tradition” makes its way forward through brave new worlds. When done well, such tall ships are feted and celebrated. (I am indebted to Leonard Sweet and his book, Aquachurch (Group Publishing, 1999) for this helpful concept.)
Because of the fragrance of your good ointments your name is as ointment poured forth …
Song of Solomon 1:3
Across the spectrum of Christian spiritual tradition, from the sacramental to the puritan, fragrance has described the beauty and intimacy of connection with the Divine.
I recall in 1991, visiting the shrine of the Feeding of the Multitudes in the Galilee district. It was on a lonely hillside overlooking the famous biblical body of water. I was suddenly overcome by the powerful aroma of freshly baked bread – a childhood memory that had become almost tangible to touch and taste.
One of those once in a lifetime mystical and numinous experiences? Or the unlocking of that part in my brain where memories are stored?
Whichever, it is an experience and fragrance I remember, savour and treasure.
Is the universe typified by chaos or harmony? Ancient societies in the Mesopotamian cradle of civilisation theorised on chaos – hence the justification for violence and conquest. The Abrahamic faiths, introducing monotheism, pushed back with a view of order and visions of harmony. Philosophies continue to compete in all the human disciplines – fundamental apocalypticists vs present world peace seekers, rationalists vs poet-scientists and all the spectrums in between.
Can harmony emerge from all this randomness? Is there a singularity?
Then there’s this –
The Hebrew word dabar speaks of the spoken word that is also an action, hence the Creator “spoke” the universe into being, and the fourth gospel writer, blending both Hebrew and Greek consciousness, points to the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. What word (or Word) lies dormant within you and me?
A friend last week reminded me of the time, some years ago, I saw myself as a boundary rider, looking for and mending holes in fences. It probably suited my maverick-like approach to my work, seeking to be a part of but apart from the communities in which I participated.
Upon reflection, the boundary rider still rides, but his tasks have changed. He rides the fences looking for closed gates. He opens them wide. Some open easily on well-oiled hinges. Others are rusted with corroded padlocks that can only be removed with bolt cutters or an angle grinder.
Gates – they can keep people in or let them through.
I must be in high dudgeon this morning (could be the result of some fruitless negotiating of the labyrinthine corridors of two government departments). The moment I saw today’s daily prompt “lollypop” I thought of those enormous “all day suckers” of my childhood. The double entendre does not escape me, nor does it with Stevie Wonder when he sings:
I’m an all day sucker
Coming to give something to get nothin’
I’m an all day sucker
Coming to give something but to get none of your love…
(Singalong if you are so inclined!)
Such melancholy thoughts are normally foreign to me. I love my work. I love my engagement with others. I love the healthy interchange of giving and receiving that is a constant part of my daily experience. I generally have an optimistic outlook.
I think I am reacting to an overarching idealistic zeitgeist to which western democracy seems to have succumbed. My recent encounters with the way public policy is being enacted at the coal-face have me in sympathy with those who claim the government is simply “playing us for suckers!”
There is small scale and big scale. When I look at my small scale disasters it seems precious and hyperbolic to name them as such. Burnt toast does not compare to the levelling of Aleppo, the world refugee crisis and famine in the Sudan. Why do we call our minor inconveniences “disastrous?” Is it because we find security in facing something that we can handle, a matter that will eventually pass, then we can return to our half-awake slumber? That which is truly disastrous swamps and panics us, evoking the primitive fight or flight response that sophistication would rather ignore, explain away or, worse, victimise the sufferers. Look to the apocalypse within!
(This is in response to the WordPress daily prompt – I’m not really in meltdown!!!)
WordPress prompts me to write about “soil.” I referred to “soil” briefly on Sunday – how the parable of the sower is sometimes called the “parable of the soils” because the added explanation focuses on the productivity of the ground on which the seed falls. This, I argue, misses the whole point of the parable – the profligacy with which the sower sows the seed. The explanation as applied by some assumes an economy of scarcity – “don’t be like the foolish sower – plant only in the soil where the seed is likely to grow.” The parable itself assumes an economy of abundance – “Sling that seed everywhere and sit back and wonder at the yield.” I’ll stick by the parable!
Sticking with yesterday’s coffee theme, which is calling again as I contemplate an hour or two working into the evening, the daily prompt brings something to mind.
Some of the eco-friendly coffee haunts around here offer discounts to patrons who supply their own refillable mugs. I’m not a take-a-way fan myself; I like to stop and linger over a proper porcelain receptacle of brew. But I caught a glimpse of a clip of a barista flogging edible coffee cups! How bizarre is that?
The first thing I notice about the WordPress prompt for today is the missing “u.” Right now I “savour” a cup of coffee I’ve been waiting to enjoy for some time during the last few hours of interruptions and minor dramas. My American friends may or may not “savor” the powdered instant brew steaming before me right now. I don’t care. It’s wet. It’s hot. It’s got caffeine. And I’m savouring it! And I’ve just noticed that Grammarly is putting a red line under the spelling of “savor”. How immensely satisfying!