Living in the question

'. . . the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.' RAINER MARIA RILKE Letters to a Young Poet

Monday, 29 July 2013

"Understand Life Backwards"

 Reading:  Run the Film Backwards - a poem by Sydney Carter
Address for Sunday 28th July 2013:
On the side of my filing cabinet I have pinned there the ancient Sanskrit poem:

Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;

This poem has been with me for many, many years and I find myself looking at it when things go wrong, or life feels not very good.  It encourages me to look to the moment and try and put whatever is bothering me out of mind.  In the last few days I have found myself looking at it far too frequently, not least last night when I pressed the wrong button on my computer and lost my entire address and had to begin again.  Definitely a moment to glance at the Sanskrit words of wisdom.

As most of you know I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to clear clutter out of my house as part of getting ready to move.  Some 400 books and several bin bags full of clothes have found their way to the recycling centre.  As part of the de-clutter process, when my ex-husband offered to help me by emptying the loft before he returned to France – I jumped at the chance, thinking it would be a really good idea.  My heart though sank as a mountain of boxes and bags appeared on my landing and bedroom floor.  What was worse was when I realised that I had enough wool there to open a wool shop, I have always been an avid knitter and always very good at starting projects and not finishing them. There was nothing for it but to pack up as much as I could and pay yet another visit to the tip.  Three quarters of the pile gone and I felt really a bit more positive, but then came the moment when I found all those bits and pieces that I have carted around from one house to another for many years – there was my wedding dress and all the cards and gift tags from that day in 1976 and then there were the welcome baby cards for my son and daughter, both now in their thirties, not to mention a mountain of pictures, letters and other bits and pieces.  Determined to be ruthless I started to throw them out for recycling when my daughter grabbed the baby cards saying – ‘you can’t get rid of all these they are our history.’  Well yes I suppose they are, but what is the point I thought as I glanced at my Sanskrit poem.  What is the point of taking these bits and pieces from my past from one loft space only to put them in a new loft space to await the next time I come to move, far better to look to the day and get rid of them now.  Don’t get me wrong, I do think our history is important but I also feel that the memories are there anyway without the bits and pieces that have cluttered my life for what seems like forever.  I don’t need these objects to remind me of the past, it is after all, always there in my memory.

It is a little bit the same when it comes to my Unitarian Faith.  Looking at the history has been very important to me, especially as I came to Unitarianism later in life.  The history helped me to understand what Unitarianism was all about, to know where it had come from and that history has helped me to formulate my own theology, my own Unitarianism.  The words and actions of all those past Unitarians continue to feed and inform where I am now.  They have shaped the Unitarian that I have become but I do not carry on in the same way as they did, nor even in the same way as I did in the past.  I have continued to move and change with time because I am not prepared to dwell in the past.  To me that would be like living my life backwards, as Sydney Carter  so  beautifully illustrated in his poem.

I very much like the idea that Ralph Helverson suggested in my second reading of living life forward. – What was it he said?

“On a life-sized area of human fronts we must live forward. We do and dare. We must explore more than we understand. Only later will we understand more fully.”  And “We are not limited to present sight or an imagined foresight, because we have hindsight. If history would only repeat itself – which is questionable -- we should be wiser than we are. We must garner wisdom from our forefathers but remember that insights into their times will not quite fit ours.” 

 Isn’t this exactly what I have said about looking to our history but then moving on and then in the light of that history, looking to this day?

In everything we do we must always remember that what is now, what we are and what we do and what we believe is only as it is now, here in the present and tomorrow we will be in a different place, maybe believing something different, maybe doing something different, we are always in the act of changing and for that reason alone we should not dwell too much in the past.

A young girl called Rachel Corrie put this so very well when she wrote this piece in 1991.

(She finds a journal and turns the pages.)
My name is Rachel Corrie. I am twelve years old. I was born on April 10th, 1979 in Olympia...Washington, to my mother and father, Craig and Cindy Corrie, a brother, Chris, a sister, Sarah, and a really old cat named-Phoebe.
I grew. I learned to spell cat, to read little books. When I was five I discovered boys, -which made my life a little more difficult. Just a little, and a lot more interesting.

In second grade there were classroom rules hanging from the ceiling. The only one I-can remember now seems like it would be a good rule for life. 'Everyone must feel safe.' Safe to be themselves, physically safe, safe to say what they think, just safe.’ That's the best rule I can think of.

Now l’m in middle school. I guess I've grown up a little, it’s all relative anyway, nine years is as long as forty years depending on how long you've lived. I stole that from my dad. Sometimes I think my dad is the wisest person in the-world.

You understand none of this is really true, because what I wrote today is true, but you'll read it by tomorrow, or the next day, and my whole life will be different. Is that how life is, a new draft for every day, a new view for each-hour?

Wise words from this young woman, who at the age of twelve recognised something that some of us never really understand.  I cannot imagine this wise Rachel Corrie hanging on to all those bits and pieces that I have saved and collected over the years.  I am sure she would have been able to let them go.

Being able to let these things go is important for me if I am going to continue to ‘Look to this day’

Terry Weston, one of those voices from a Unitarian past, in – The Seasons of The Soul puts it like this:

The Demand of Yesterday

Yesterday I have had. Whatever it was,
I took it and it entered into me.
I had a part in making what it was;
Accepted or rejected, resented or rejoiced
In this experience of mine.
What I did with it took root
And yesterday still lives and works in me.
I can't change what it was
But I can still do something with what it is.
I am a feeling, thinking, human thing.
I can reflect; I judge; I act;
I am my yesterdays and something more:
I am the unknown which is yet to be.
Statisticians can predict the averages;
The individual escapes their net.
I am an individual and, thus, unique.
I can choose if I will.
I can reflect upon my yesterdays and use them now
To make of my tomorrows something more.
The ant goes as necessity drives; a man,
Having the privilege of choice,
Helps to determine his own necessity
And that of others as well.
My privilege fails except I make of it

So what am I going to do with the bits and pieces that my daughter doesn’t want me to throw away- well I am going to pass the baton on to her, she can keep them if she wishes, in her space.  And me, I shall keep my Sanskrit poem in some place prominent so that I can always look to this day and live my life forward in the knowledge that I understand it all backwards.  For as Sarah Dunant said this very morning (28.7.13) on Point of View, (radio 4)  “The lens of the past gives us a way to view the future.”
 And I hope my future is less cluttered than the past. . . . .  .
So may it be.