Ash Wednesday

It is customary during Lent to read a spiritual book, something to encourage introspection and a more consistent attitude to prayer, etc. I seem to have gone off anything to do with spirituality, theology or prayer. I find them impossible to read now. They do not speak to me. They have nothing to say that has any meaning. Once I devoured them, searching for knowledge. All that is gone. The knowledge they imparted seemed to make sense in a former life. I have gone beyond that. I no longer live there, or anywhere, really. I am a visitor constantly revisiting where I used to live and be. No longer belonging, yet not a stranger either. So, instead of scuffing through the sawdust of yet another book I will write my own, commenting on the only literature that seems to have any meaning for me now – poetry and in particular, that of R. S. Thomas.

Young and Old

Cold sea, cold sky;
This is how age looks
At a thing. The people natter,
The wind blows. Nothing they do
is of worth. The great problems
Remain, stubborn, unsolved.
Man leaves his footprints
Momentarily on a vast shore.

And the tide comes,
That the children play with.
Ours are the first questions
They shelve. The wind is the blood
In their veins. Above them the aircraft
Domesticate the huge sky.

Age does alienate. We find ourselves strangers in a familiar land. The vast universe of former times, then so full of promise, of adventure, of opportunity, of unknown marvels – has been domesticated. The crises, the struggles and challenges are ours no longer. Another generation has taken over.

And so I sit at the edge, out of play, observing the to-ing and fro-ing, my remarks lost in the gusts of general conversation. Meanwhile the children play, oblivious in the immediacy of their experience. All this is behind me. Before me the cliff falls sheer in the darkness.

This is the reality that conventional books on prayer and spirituality never seem to touch. This is life at the edge when there is no way back into the centre of things. The world has not lost its beauty. On the contrary, but never was one more aware of how ephemeral and fragile this beauty is. A beautiful face is more poignant than ever because like old photographs it no longer belongs to my reality. At the edge a fissure begins to open in even the most intimate of relationships.

God does not exist at the edge. He is not there in the centre of things. He is certainly not there beyond the sheer cliff fall. He was present once. You felt his touch… surely that was not your imagination. But now you stand alone before the cold sea, buffeted by a cold wind. You hear its sound. You certainly do not know where it comes from or where it goes. But you suspect that that is the way it is meant to be.

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