Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reading Time

Last night our Book Group met.

Reading books reminds me of my mortality in that part of my enjoyment of a book is the feeling that if I like it, or don't fully understand it, I can read it again. And if it stimulates an interest in something I haven't discovered before, or sets me thinking in a new way, I have time to pursue it further.

I can remember when such future opportunities seemed endless. The growing awareness that they are not robs me of an innocent pleasure.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Price

Returning from a lecture on the history of Manchester Cathedral I read this account of that part of Manchester my ancestors would have been familiar with:

"Such is the Old Town of Manchester, and on re-reading my description, I am forced to admit that instead of being exaggerated, it is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world. If any one wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air - and such air! - he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither. True, this is the Old Town, and the people of Manchester emphasise the fact whenever any one mentions to them the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth; but what does that prove? Everything which here arouses horror and indignation is of recent origin, belongs to the industrial epoch."
From Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1892), pp. 45, 48-53.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

For crying out loud

When Daniel's mummy and daddy came to take him home for Christmas, he cried. He was born with a brain abnormality known as lissencephaly which has left him at the age of six still unable to speak. What precisely he is trying to communicate about anything is always therefore partly a matter of guesswork.

So what was he crying for?

We feel sure it wasn't simply because he wanted to stay, or not to go. His cry seemed to be as much of bewilderment as of protest. The tears I saw were shed out of helplessness in a world out of control - the human condition.

Daniel is not able to utter a single word. He cannot express himself verbally. He cannot speak. Many of us can - but don't - mainly because it is too difficult or painful. But somehow Daniel's lack of articulacy is the clearest articulation of his distress.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Body and soul

What I miss most about being a regular Christian is the thing I always had the most difficulty with - the practice of prayer.

Victor Hugo wrote, 'There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.'

My problem was not, was never, how to pray, but how to stop praying. And so it remains. My soul is still on its knees.

Escaping from reality

How to spend the rest of his days freed now from the responsibility of earning a living and raising a family? Short of a major disaster in the national economy he has quite enough to pay his bills and meet his needs and even more surely provide for his wants till kingdom come - his kingdom at least. (He had made due provision for his darling spouse should she be fortunate or unfortunate, about that you must ask her, enough to survive me.)

In the meantime, what should he do? Become a spectator, or a passenger, seek to be entertained, amused, or travel the world and see its far-flung beauties? Or join in the human evasion through social or political activity?

Something odd here. If he takes up a hobby or pastime, or joins a club that gets him out and meeting people, it will be perceived by others as a personal achievement, a mark of sanity. If he stays in and devotes time and thought to solving the riddle of existence, and perhaps becoming disillusioned and discouraged by what he finds, he will be seen as escaping from reality - the very reality he is trying to understand.