Into the Deep – Part 3
Thank you for reaching deep inside the bag of your inner life, Dougald, to pull out this offering to share with us! I suspect that your impeccability as a wordsmith will always prevent you from making sweeping statements about faith or reality! I am always amazed at the things you remember (harking back to yesterday's Long-Table weekly heartbeat call, where you confessed that Anna had said you remembered everything but the important things (like putting the dustbins out...)) - that totally unpremeditated but heartfelt blurt of mine about "as long as you don't come back a Christian"... There is something in me that would welcome a mutual groping-around-in-the-bag conversation about all of this. It's so deep and so ungraspable and yet so tangible at the same time. You're opening up a very fruitful and subtle and complex terrain here for us to treasure hunt in.
I am watching this unfolding -- you, Martin Shaw, Paul Kingsnorth, maybe Caroline Ross--with fascination. And two things occur to me:
1.) that I have a sense of how similar to early Quaker history it all sounds; trying to pry some kinds of core truths away from the greedy grasping hands of the Establishment Church, seeking the "beloved community," being called to "speak Truth to Power."
2.) I'm told that it is not uncommon, within certain castes in Hindu India, for men of a certain age to walk away from their families and their material lives in search of some sort of deepened connection with God...
And along with your "impeccability as a wordsmith," I'm always struck by your deep and abiding kindness. That instinct is surely part of what is sacred to many of us as we explore the ruins of modernity. And a way in which you and Vanessa surely meet on common ground. Thank you for doing this work.
"I have been happy in my reticence, not needing many words for this inheritance, letting people take me as they find me" -
there's something in this statement that really struck me. I recognise myself in it, not in terms of religion, but in the Welsh language I grew up with, and the kind of education I ended up with against all odds. At this point, in this culture, I think almost everybody has some kind of inheritance to come to terms with.
Very much looking forward to reading more.
I commented on Gunnars blog that fame takes its toll, which you kindly liked. I went further on Smaje's, that like all centralisation, the centralisation of attention in broadcast media is corrosive and its attendant glamour of fame, is bad for us. The substacks that proliferate are a kind of stone on a path to its dissolution- or better, to its distribution back to its proper place between us - as you describe so well.
We see the horror of organised religion atrophied in national and empirical structures unfold before us.
To lose, or walk away from religion whilst attending our wordless needs is our task now - a deeply exciting prospect. I see the unfolding of that attention through intentional production of hands, in the bringing into being of useful, beautiful things that are essential to rooted, embodied life ways. To go the other way is anathema to me, and is top down and centralised. To me the church is the barn, the field, the home. And every street and city and slum. And everyone is in the congregation!
Like others here, I have full respect for the many paths and for your kindness and welcome. I am struck by your careful and intimate unfolding, like a craftsman, not overreaching or digging in, modest and useful. Many thanks brother.
All of this was a homeplace. In this mad wish after a post-apocalyptic siddur I suspect I should try to imagine and innovate, overturn and salvage in one particular, full-breathed at least if maybe more quiet that clamor. Yet, I begin to love the way the One wicks up from so many strings and so many combs afire but unconsumed. I am not not more things everyday.
One thought on the place where language fails. In love with Word as I am, I resist many of the stories of the violence or exhausted nature of word. I know you aren't on that at all. Maybe language fails in proportion to the distance it gets from the heart of its purpose. In my people's stories I hear this idea of naming, calling up from, out for, in to as the words first way. It relational. Our words stammer the more we try to thing the person. Try to say what is life, death, a person, a god with any certainty and th seams start to unstitch. But say to the Fire "Here I am" or from the Fire "Talitha Kum" and every word seems enough to hold worlds.
Illich is right though. It is a dare. When it isn't anymore, it prolly crosses into bullshit. 1/2 cent from me.
Sweet post, Dougald.
Your conversation with Elizabeth on The Sacred Podcast was an important one for me and I find the story of the cathedral (and what you have written here lately) so relevant to my own journey somehow. Thanks for sharing.
This sense of not being able to name the dear friend to whom we speak is very familiar to me, Dougald. You put it succinctly: that feeling I get when the punchline lands and I "get it", in true belly laugh fashion, never harsh or at the expense of anyone else, is the closest I've ever heard it described in words. I too am not, not Christian, but when I 'get the joke', the feeling is warmly embracing - and it feels sacred. Thank you again!
I'm grateful for this bit of writing today, as the new email in my inbox reminded me to come back and finish the previous one. Last night my husband and I stayed up whispering in bed, our concerns about our teen-aged children and the world they are growing into. We both had a strong religious framework and religious community when we were that age, and are in many ways grateful for its gifts. But we lost it, as you so perfectly describe. Not the faith, but the religion. And we were wondering what we can and should do for our children, how to transmit something with no shape or container. How to let go and trust that we may have no part in doing that after all? I'm not able to explain it but I felt that your piece here really danced around similar questions. Thank you
Good story Dougald! Thank you! Speaking as if to a friend is a Wizard-mode I'm familiar with.
Also- please do let me know if there is ever an opening in your Zoom-group.
For me, the sacred is both Other and All -- all being everything, or this very world in all its particulars. So it is both other and utterly non-other. The sacred has its alterity completely, and yet it has its identity -- the nearest thing to a useful antonym for alterity I can think of. This is, of course, intensely paradoxical.
"The word "paradox" has its origins in ancient Greek. It comes from the Greek word "paradoxon," which is a combination of "para" (meaning "contrary to") and "doxa" (meaning "opinion" or "belief"). So, "paradox" essentially means "contrary to belief" or "contrary to expectation."
The term was originally used to describe statements or propositions that appeared self-contradictory or went against common knowledge or belief, often serving to challenge conventional wisdom and provoke deeper thought and discussion. Paradoxes have been a significant part of philosophical and mathematical discourse for centuries, and they continue to be used in various fields to highlight apparent contradictions and stimulate intellectual exploration."
What paradoxes often do is reveal what cannot be said -- the Tao which has no name, the unspeakable depth of Mystery. The unthinkable, even.
Maybe we humans aren't capable of remaining in paradox. It's perhaps a place which we can visit, but we cannot make our homes there. Or maybe we can. I don't know. When I am deep into paradox there is a very gentle shock of aliveness which I cannot comprehend. It is shockingly gentle and quiet, but with exclamation points.
It was only after hearing R.E.M.'s Losing My Religion a thousand times that I came to learn that in the American South that phrase is an idiom meaning "becoming very angry". It was around this same time that I also learned that for an American, becoming pissed means one is very angry, while for a Brit it means drunk.
All of this is sacred.