Tuesday 7th July 2020
Yes, it has been a blustery time, even without snowstorms. I have deliberately let everything blow around, including current affairs, choosing instead the calm of music and poetry during spare time in this past week. Meanwhile, some kind of normality has tentatively begun around the country. Rational thinking does not always help us when interpreting the Covid guidelines, nor those relating to other matters, but I endorse some of your observations on the former subject. Whatever the guidelines though, outcomes will largely depend on individual responsibility and sound judgement. Ah, the mere thought of three hours at the hairdresser's is unbearable in itself. With reference to your personalised comments on the theme, you have surely been at an advantage over these past months? A remark springs to mind from the elderly friend, previously mentioned. This was over a decade ago, following his visit to the village barber's when in exasperated tone, he exclaimed, "Five pounds," adding mischievously, "A pound to cut it and four to find it!" It is probably an old joke, but it was the only time I ever heard it. This weekend a couple's wedding, postponed since March, featured in several news reports. I liked the journalist's observation that it is traditional for the bride to arrive late, but not 3 months late.
In my last letter I spoke of thoughts provoked at several levels and see that your recent one includes a number of references to levels. As for the Prime Minister's comments from the depths of one hole, I can imagine his voice saying the line you quoted, while noting the truth within the saying, "Many a true word said in jest." It is possible that he was reading some people's thoughts at the time, but I wish we could all laugh more because it helps. Imagining all the concrete used in our constructions and what may be hidden within, I wonder if archaeology will be as fascinating to future generations as it is to me, watching the discoveries from thousands of years ago, involving the patient use of trowel and brush. Most of their structures were on a more human scale and often, but not always, involved craftsmanship. However, many of our twentieth century edifices have already been destroyed and replaced by something more fashionable, so I wonder if anyone will wonder much about any remaining gigantic lumps of concrete.
We did listen to the Sunday worship led by John Bell and although the Gaelic version of Psalm 42 was good to listen to, the words themselves were incomprehensible to me; hence my reference to it in the Bible that day. Given your mention of saffron buns and brass bands in connection with the Summer suns hymn, you may have noted that Bell referred to a slice of carrot cake left by his previously hardly known neighbour. It was a reflective programme which is how I usually experience his contributions. One of the poems I have encountered for the first time this week is entitled, The Supple Deer, by Jane Hirshfield. Her poems have a different rhythm compared with the work of many other poets that I am accustomed to, but I like some of her short works such as this. It describes the passage of a deer between narrowly spaced strands of fencing, but leaving no trace. Her final line is "To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me."
Tender memories can give rise to tinges, if not large volumes, of sadness, but also to great happiness, love and wonder. Although words are important, music is a language in itself which communicates and often touches the depths of our being, our very souls. It is no surprise, therefore, that it has been a vehicle of reconciliation on many occasions between previously divided groups. Some of the compositions we have enjoyed this week, fall into the category that I describe as yearning music. My favourite opera is La Bohème, so that has featured, as has Elgar's cello concerto in E minor. When one cellist was describing the advice he had been given in his early years by Yehudi Menuhin, it seemed transferable to other settings, including speech. With particular reference to the first movement, I think, he was told that he should be less forthright and to play as if it was coming from over the hills. It is such a good description and so much of Elgar's work encapsulates something of the Malvern Hills and their significance, not only to him. We remember stopping alongside a wooden seat in those hills and then turning towards the view that somebody must have enjoyed from that spot. There was only enough space on the top bar for the inscription, part of the well known verse from Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. Apparently at the end of his life, Elgar hummed his tune to a visitor, saying that if ever he was there and heard this tune, then he was not to be afraid, for it was only him. How lovely.
Before I am carried away by such thoughts, I want to briefly respond to the latter part of your letter. It is, of course, accurate to say that it is more than an invitation, but a commandment, to love God and our neighbour. Yet, remembering the line from the film some weeks ago, that to know God we have to be introduced, I wonder if some words, especially at a time of introduction, can be a stumbling block. It may be more effective to focus on the invitation extended to everyone, a hand reaching out with warmth - except for now, I suppose such imagery has to be avoided in case it encourages touch. You have homed in on the reply Jesus gave to the question and, as always, His manner of dealing with such situations is one we can try to imitate. I think your later line aptly illustrates the essence of what I am trying to express: "if we would only care to turn to Him and accept this gift."
It was interesting for me to read your summary concerning the etymology of the word 'saint', thus recognising that 'any halo' I referred to, would be at best an ankle bracelet. In all seriousness, whilst the explanation is valuable, in most ordinary conversation among us all, I would guess that the word is not used in this sense outlined and have you noticed how the meaning of many words has been flipped over in, say, the last decade? It can be mere word play, rather than an authentic attempt to interact with another person and to get to the crux of what matters. Yes, you are responsible for your own words and deeds and in my view, so is everybody else for theirs. As you can predict, I am questioning your suggestion relating to potential negative effects and causing others to stumble. Trying to be sensitive in the context and taking account of whatever you may know of the person with whom you are relating, is commendable. However, causing somebody to stumble seems quite an accusation against yourself and I'm not having it! In the current climate, I think that one person's genuine attempt at sensitivity can be rammed back at the speaker with outrage and offence which I think is unlikely to be fruitful. I do not accept that there should be a monopoly on word usage; the freedom to choose our own words to express what we think and feel is one aspect of culture which I hold dear and it expands our horizons. I meant to have concluded last week by referring to your imagery of a rock in a river: Yes, stand firm on it and, given that you mentioned being prepared, make sure not to wear slippery soles.
God bless, as always,