JULIAN MEETING – September 2018
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”, writes George Orwell; yet artists achieve it by seeking to discover the inner identity, the essential ‘thisness’ of a person or a thing, in that mysterious, contemplative give and take between the see-er and the seen. But giving attention is not the prerogative of artists: they simply point the way. What I need to understand is that no one else has ever, can ever, look out of my eyes and see things exactly as I do. My genetic make-up, my characteristics, my experiences and my potential mean that I have my own unique story and my own unique way of seeing; and if I am to see with love what is given me to enjoy then what is out there has to be recognised and named before it can become alive and take root in me. Like God giving the creatures an identity by naming them, I must name each thing for myself by my initial and repeated attentiveness to it if I am to relate to the mystery of the created universe of which I am a part. Sadly, there is no guarantee that contemplating nature and flora and fauna will lead to contemplating people and learning to love them. Yet this is infinitely more important and, when the chips are down, this is what we are here to do.
We are all aghast at newsreels depicting the horrors of the Holocaust and I have never forgotten feeling ashamed by the unimaginable bestiality of which human beings are capable. That attempt at the genocide of a whole race can never be forgotten and the fact that it was attempted witnesses to a destructive potential in human beings that diminishes us all. And yet, we are still witnessing comparable brutality to this day in various parts of our world and even in our own country.
Is not the life of a single child worth more than a thousand sparrows, a hundred works of art, a whole library of books? Of course: but if you are blind to the worth of the one you will not see the worth of the other. This is the point exactly. Once wonder goes; once mystery is dismissed; once the holy counts for nothing; then human life becomes cheap and it is possible with a single bullet to shatter that most miraculous thing, a human skull, with scarcely a second thought. The beginning, the middle and the end of that most lovely of qualities, compassion, is a question of how we see. How you see me: how I see you.
There is in each of us a hungering need to be seen, noticed and so given value. This is not some childish craving for attention. It is the only way I have to become myself. From my first moment of consciousness I needed that relationship with my mother, that instinctive sense of being noticed, given attention, and all that I am now has been shaped, indeed created, by a thousand successive relationships. It is how we are made: we thrive on love. It isn’t only babies who languish and grow sick if they are starved of it. I am affirmed when you, by your noticing, by your giving attention, affirm me; for egos are lonely, and egotism a lonely way of being, and our spirits are fed by what we freely give each other.
However old or wise we grow, the child we once were is always part of us and, in one way or another, every human being cries out or acts out their need to be known, forgiven, affirmed and encouraged. And the importance of recognising and giving attention to each other is because we cannot be fully human or fully alive unless we are in some way giving and receiving that kind of attention that is a form of love. It is in the discovery of other persons and the recognition of their uniqueness by seeing them with love, that we become aware of God as the mystery in and between us, holding us and uniting us at the very centre of our being. It is in learning to see each other, without preconceptions, without envy and without expectations, but with attentiveness, that we fulfil what it means to be human. For we may then discover yet another mysterious paradox: that we are both other and the same, that I can accept that you are your own distinctive self and allow you to be so, and yet understand that our lives touch and connect at many points. Morality is always ultimately about the value we put on each other.
The next Meeting is on 1st October at 7.30pm in the Rectory. Brian Fletcher