June 2018 – JULIAN MEETING
If it is true that we must find God within the only world we have, then the link I know in myself between ‘matter’ and ‘spirit’, the holy and the common must be true of all that is created. Certainly those who wrote the books of the Old Testament believed this to be so: they speak of God blessing everything he creates, making all creation the sign of his presence. If spirituality means the way we grow into the kind of being we are intended to be, then the starting point is not a striving after another world, but a deepening awareness of the true nature of this world and our place within it. For by and large our sense of the perception of things has withered away: what remains is mere recognition. “The habit of ignoring Nature is deeply implanted in our times,” wrote the artist Marc Chagall.
Ours is a world that is unimaginably more than the ordered mass of atoms and molecules obeying the rules of their separate fields. For it is a world in which matter is capable of being the bearer of spirit – which is what people mean when they talk of a ‘sacramental’ universe – meaning any action or object which is believed to mirror the Divine.
To talk of a sacramental world is not to appeal to magic, but to describe another aspect of the mystery. For material objects, the world of bodies or things, the only world we know, are the raw material for what gives life meaning. Spirit can only speak through matter. When I was born my physical body became the vehicle of the spiritual being I know myself to be, and what is true of a person is true of the world about us.
Quite ordinary material things have the potential to convey truths which carry for us the most value and the deepest significance. The small bands of gold my wife and I placed on each other’s fingers 50 years ago are comparatively trivial things in themselves, yet the meaning for us is powerful. Many people do not fully grasp the language of symbols and sacraments, yet they live as if they did. When people kiss or even shake hands, when they write a letter or give each other presents, when they create a work of art, they are giving value to material things by using them to express what are essentially spiritual, non-physical truths, bearers of ourselves, our presences.
All I have tried to say so far about mystery and transcendence stems from the firm belief that the whole world is sacramental and the whole creation marked with the signature of its Creator, and that the only way to find the holy is in the ordinary; that the ordinary is far more extraordinary than we think. At the heart of all great art and all creative science lies this assumption, and there is nothing material that does not have both significance and value.
Artists are those who look at reality as if for the first time and try to see it with eyes which see beyond the surface appearance: with, you might say, sacramental eyes, finding wonder in a world full of mystery. Edwin Muir, one of the last century’s finest poets, was a man who more than most understood this kind of double vision, of seeing the holy in the ordinary, sensing how matter is the vehicle of spirit. He can write;
“That was the real world: I have touched it once,
And now shall know it always.”
His body lies in a churchyard near Cambridge and on his gravestone are the words he chose –
“…..his unblinded eyes Saw far and near The fields of Paradise.”
To believe in a sacramental world is to believe that spirit speaks through matter, that God penetrates his creation and may be found within it. There remains the question, for those who believe in God, whether he is to be trusted, and to ask in what other ways we can come to know him. For to say “God” is to say “good”, to speak of one who affirms and is concerned for his creation. We need to know whether we can walk through this world as those who, are not only ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, but also loved.
Next Meeting on 2nd July 2018 at 7.30pm at The Rectory Brian Fletcher