Monday, August 18, 2008

Sheep may safely graze

We have not seen very much sunshine in this part of the world this "summer."
However, most of the many weddings I have conducted since June have been blessed with good weather. One evening in early July, I was heading home from one of those weddings through a lovely part of rural South Lanarkshire (near Quothquan) and I couldn't resist stopping at this point to take a photograph of these peaceful fields. There were plenty of clouds in the sky but just enough breaks in them to allow the evening sunshine to light up the rolling hills and fields. The sheep lazily grazing away just added to the sense of tranquillity. I could have driven past in a hurry because (as always) there were many things still to do that evening but how much more satisfying to stop the car, get out and then just stare...
Reminds me of the poem by W.H. Davies.


WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gie us peace!

I came across this interesting stone in the churchyard of St. Dieniol's Church, next door to the library.
When I first saw it I actually mis-read it as "The Place of God."
It seemed to me to be a fairly accurate summary of what many people nowadays think and feel. God's place is consigned to the graveyard!
It can be true in two different senses: firstly in the sense that the only time some people think about God at all is when they are confronted by the end of their own life or the life of someone they care about, and secondly (and perhaps even more common) is the notion that God himself is dead and faith in God is nothing but a foolish delusion.
Many people are happy therefore to wish that God will "Rest in Peace" and that those who still go on talking about God will give it a rest. ("Gie us peace!" being their watchword.)
I think for me part of the problem lies in the way that the words "peace" and "quiet" have become associated with each other.
We need a much more robust and lively understanding of what peace is.
It is not just the absence of war, or conflict, or even of hassle.
It is not just about having some space or time out of the busyness of living.
In other words, it is not the peace of the graveyard.
I much prefer the Biblical/Hebrew concept of "shalom" which (brilliantly) can be used as a noun, as a verb or as an adjective as well as being the means of saying 'hello' or goodbye.' Peace is something you do, as well as something you can have and a quality that can permeate anything.
This is a positive, muscular, heavy-duty kind of peace that is life-affirming and life-enhancing. It is about things not being broken or wounded or incomplete. It's about fulfilment and engagement: not escape.
That's the kind of peace I wish you all...
but here are the lyrics of an old Eagles song that could perhaps be taken either way
"I Wish You Peace"
I wish you peace when the cold winds blow
Warmed by the fire's glow
I wish you comfort in the, the lonely time
And arms to hold you when you ache inside
I wish you hope when things are going bad
Kind words when times are sad
I wish you shelter from the, the raging wind
Cooling waters at the fever's end
I wish you peace when times are hard
The light to guide you through the dark
And when storms are high and your, your dreams are low
I wish you the strength to let love grow on,
I wish you the strength to let love flow,
I wish you peace when times are hard
A light to guide you through the dark
And when storms are high and your, you dreams are low
I wish you the strength to let love grow on,
I wish you the strength to let love flow,
I wish you the strength to let love glow on
I wish you the strength to let love go on.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Reader part 2

Well... holiday time is over and it was back to work for me this weekend.
Hopefully it will also mean back to some blogging.
Weather-wise it was a pretty disappointing break. Most of the time I seem to have succeeded in avoiding any glimpses of sunshine that may just have fallen on the British Isles the last couple of weeks. I was in a number of places in England and Wales, including Manchester, Hawarden (more of which in a moment) Bristol and Buckinghamshire. And wherever I happened to be at any given moment, the sunshine was usually somewhere else.
In fact the photograph above is a little bit misleading in that there is actually quite a lot of blue sky showing. An hour or so after that moment, however, there was yet another monsoon.
Having said that, the main aim of my holiday break was not affected in any way by the weather, for I had decided that what I wanted to do most was some reading. Nothing too taxing or demanding. Nothing too 'useful' either. This was to be reading as a form of escape and relaxation.
I had intended (as I said in my last blog) to start with Jonathan Coe's "The Rotter's Club" and in fact I had begun reading before I left home.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take the book with me and for the moment it remains unfinished.
However, I had managed to pack a few others and over the course of the two weeks I read the following:
1. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Actually I finished this just before I went on holiday. Excellent story, well-written. Definitely to be recommended.
2. The Rotter's Club by Jonathan Coe. Interrupted in mid-read by my all-too-common forgetfulness- so no final judgement on this one - though I really was enjoying it.
3. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson. Very well written crime/detective novel set in Edinburgh. Interesting and (mostly) believable characters and an intricate but well-controlled plot line. Another good escapist read.
4. Enigma by Robert Harris. Some years ago I saw the film of this fiction, set in wartime Bletchley Park, and I thought I might find reading the book pretty boring, but it certainly wasn't. Actually I find the true story of Bletchley Park exciting but there is enough of the real historical background in the book to make it work. Having visited Bletchley Park itself a couple of years ago it was very easy to visualise every location in the novel. Another recommended read.
5. Out by Natsuo Kirino. I'm not sure exactly why I chose to buy this particular book. It is not the kind of story I would normally feel attracted to. It is certainly not one for the faint-hearted. But it was the highlight of my summer reading- though highlight is a particularly ironic word in the context. Brilliantly gritty and disturbing, this 520 page novel is a descent into the darkness of the human psyche and it leaves you wondering what any one of us just might be capable of doing, and what boundaries any of us might just cross if the circumstances were right (or should I say wrong?) Probably what makes the story most disturbing is that the circumstances in question amount to little more than boredom and hopelessness. But you'll need to read it for yourself to see what I'm talking about.
6. Steal You Away by Niccolo Ammaniti. Another story populated by low-life characters; this time in Italy. I didn't find this novel quite as enjoyable as Ammaniti's first book "I'm Not Scared" but it had its moment.
7. The Two of Us by Sheila Hancock (My Life with John Thaw) I haven't yet finished reading this biography/autobiography but it is certainly much more than you average showbiz biog. Very well written and interesting, especially the structure of the two lives side-by-side.
8. Flights of Love by Bernhard Schlink (author of The Reader) This is really a collection of seven different stories. They are slightly longer than the average short story, all written in the same cool, understated but poetic style as The Reader. The stories are not connected with each other on the surface but the title Flights of Love indicates a shared theme, explored in many different ways. It ends up as a pretty uneven collection, though. I think some of the stories try to do too much in their attempt to deal with Germany's historical past but there is also some pretty good pieces of writing in the midst all of this. Unfortunately, I don't think it quite reached the heights of The Reader.
9. Raids on the Unspeakable by Thomas Merton and
10. The New Man by Thomas Merton.
These last two books I borrowed from and read in St. Deiniol's Library in Hawarden (pictured above) where I stayed for two nights.
It was a trial visit, scouting out a possible location for some study leave next year. The library's website advertises it as a place for "bed, board and books", but it is also a place to meet some really interesting people, most of whom were engaged in much more intellectual pursuits than I was, writing dissertations for postgraduate degrees or books for publication and so on.
I think I will be back.