O Wisdom that came forth from the lips of the Most High;O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodistii, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia; veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
you reach out to the ends of the earth,
and reduce all things to harmony by the firmness and gentleness
of your touch. Come to us now and teach us your way of prudence..
It is a true thing, though not necessarily one that most of us find palatable, that it is in the dark places that our great chances for new life arise. It is in the wilderness that we first hear the good news, and when we are twisted by grief and pain that we hear words of hope. Stella's Work of Light speaks deeply to me, of the way spiritual things are square and straight on principles other than those we usually take for granted, of the way that there are depths of beauty and texture 'firmness and gentleness' and great dawning hopefulness in the dark calm beauty of austerity.
This is an austerity which is part of life. Not something we need to seek, and at first sight the angles seem to jar, the demands seem to be at cross purposes. There are barriers here, hurdles, things to be got over and round. But only while we avoid the source of all this dynamism. When all grows from the living rock, the illumination and centring of the soul shows us the straight paths the direct links which seem at first sight perhaps to be almost inhuman. I suspect this is because as humans we tend to prefer the easier way, and to think that straight means looking at nothing but the end in sight.
For we are wanderers really. More likely to hope that things will be better in the morning than to come to terms with the real problems which beset us. We were not born to rise and set with clocks, but with the sun itself. We were born to rhythms of soul and of body, of heart and mind and spirit, and we do not, as a society, live that way. As a society our idea of making the rough places smooth and the crooked straight is to drive a bulldozer through the hills and the valleys, to flatten the landscape - whether it be of the soul or of the earth herself. This is no way to make the crippled leap with praise! It is as if one tried to straighten a broken leg without any knowledge of the way bones knit together or muscles and sinews connect.
St John the Baptist went into the wilderness himself and allowed the depths of nature not only to seep into his very being, but to tell him what he was. He was, according to his cousin Jesus 'the greatest'.
As human beings - as a society - we do tend to get things back to front. Putting tarmac and parking lots over the wilderness, papering the cracks of our misunderstanding. We live in a wilderness of asphalt which mirrors a wilderness of soul. But it is so barren. In the past christians have tried desperately to show others how sinful they are so that they can demonstrate the need for salvation. We have elevated generalized, non specific guilt to the point where it obscures the simple crookedness of our society's assumptions and our own simple wrong doing as well.
St. John Chrysostum got everyone in turmoil when he tore down the new furnishings of his episcopal palace and made a hospital. He didn't waste time preaching and 'convicting of sin' - he didn't criticise the Imperial palace. Instead he faced the crookedness in his own diocese and as a result was soon taught new ways to suffer personally. Of course his life and preaching was much praised and celebrated when he had died, and his body brought back to the city. But he had illuminated the darkness of his Christian city, in such a way that he caused real pain and real trouble.
When we go into our own darkest places and set ourselves right we transform the possibilities of the world. When we go out criticsing, setting things straight according to our own presumption it is not good news to anyone. The truth of it is too easily avoided. When we put ourselves straight people see only too clearly that new life, new straighness are possible.. and while this brings hope it also brings condemnation. Blessed are you when men revile you and curse you.
Can we still walk into our own wild places, our own pains, and build new lives from there? On the rock, not the sand ? Can we change ourselves before we change the terrain? To do so requires of us great humility, great clarity of soul. Can we too embrace our own real crookedness and make it straight ?
Unless and until we do, we will have no acquaintance with ourselves or others. The beam in our own eye will direct us only to the mote in other people's eyes. Our own inner being will be neglected, unnurtured and solitary in the worst kind of way.
But when we do then we are on the way to the new dawn. We are becoming ourselves,
Angels and Ministers of Light
The longest journey
Is the journey inwards.
Of him who has chosen his destiny,
Who has started upon his quest
For the source of his being
(Is there a source?).
He is still with you,
But without relation,
Isolated in your feeling
Like one condemned to death
Of one whom imminent farewell
To the loneliness which is the final lot of all.
Between you and him is distance,
He will see you withdrawing,
Further and further,
Hear your voices fading,
fainter and fainter.
Markings, Dag Hammarskjold
trans. W.H. Auden and Leif Sjoberg