Soil, Soul, Society

I have been working on a paper for about six months, I knew that at some point I would have to write the beginning, but have not as yet until this morning found the right words.
Soil, Soul, Society. Alastair McIntosh describes this as the “Tripartite understanding of community”

(For those who are concerned about such things, it matters not, I think, where you begin, with either soul or society or soil.  The important thing is to begin where you are.)

This is the perfect beginning as it draws together all the strands which are at the moment hanging by the threads of an idea yet to be born.  In this simple framework it all comes together so well.

So we must (re)connect with the earth, realise our interdependence with all life on the planet and learn to tread lightly.

Connect with society, our life and our death is with our [global] neighbours.

Re-congnise the Soul, that which is connected to the source of all life, in the Christian context – God.

With these three in harmony, Soil, Soul, Society it might just be possible to move beyond our current obsessions and live a more balanced and far simpler life.

to recover the celtic

I have avoided that word for a long time, it has almost become a nothing word to some, speaking of fanciful longings and notions without any depth or heart or soul. ‘Celtic Christianity never really existed’ some say, and to an extent I would agree. The trouble is, it goes deeper than this. “And Celtic Spirituality is only the heart ruling the head” They might go on to say. When I hear some poetry and music quoted as being ‘celtic’ or of celtic influence I always wonder who was the influence to these quaint ditties, some long forgotten saint speaking from beyond the grave perhaps?

Reading Alastair’s book Soil and Soul is illuminating because for once he usurps the general convention of, is there, isn’t there, celtic arguments and says this:

“The issue, I think, is not whether Celtic spirituality ever existed, but the fact that a living spirituality connecting soil, soul and society manifestly can and does exist. This is community in that word’s most holistic sense. … Celticity therefore takes on a meaning that can be bigger than ethnographic and linguistic definitions alone: it becomes code for reconnection with human community, with the natural world and with God. It expresses what I call a ‘metaculture’: a connection at a level of the soul that goes deeper than superficial cultural differences; a connection simply by virtue of our underlying humanity. Such a bedrock of commonality is desperately needed in today’s fragmented world. It arises not from globalisation as a business concept, but from the fact of being ‘one world’ “

Life, Death and Neighbours

Magazine letter for October: A time when we are in the midst of the refurbishment of a church…

Life, Death and Neighbours.

That is I think, a pretty good description of humanity.  We live our life, always aware that it has a beginning and an end.  The art of living a life so fulfilled that at the end of it one can greet ones own death as a life-long companion and happily go on to the next world is a lifelong achievement, one which, I fear, few of us will master.  The description, Life, Death and Neighbours comes, not from a city centre community where everyone lives on top of each other, nor from a small rural community where everyone’s business is known to everyone else.  It comes, rather, from a community where the majority of contact with the outside world is shunned.  A place where people have sought solitude and actively moved away from what we might see as normal human interactions with neighbours.  It comes out of the Desert and derives from a saying by Anthony the Great who is known as the father of modern monasticism.

Our life and our death is with our neighbour.  If we win our brother, [or sister!!] we win God.  If we cause our brother [or sister!!] to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.

Those early pioneers of monasticism in the Egyptian desert and mountains were, perhaps ironically, not looking to flee the contact of others in the way you might expect someone to shut themselves away from the world because they cannot cope with it.  Instead the move into the desert was to find out what church was all about.  They were not convinced that the ordinary churches of their day were a fair representation of what it would be life to be a true follower of Christ and be truly in touch with ones God.

The harsh message of the desert is that in order for us to become true followers of Christ and to be able to dwell in the realm of God, (you might want to call this having a ‘spiritual life’) this wont happen unless we mend our relationships with our brothers and sisters, our neighbours and then sustain them.

I write of this because it is happening in our midst.  The church building in Greenfield is being renovated and the people are in a wilderness of sorts.  Instead of being a time for gloom and despondency, it is a time to heal the wounds between one another, for the people’s relationships to be ‘renovated’ as well.  A time to come closer together as a prayerful group and to look closely at what binds us together and what drives us apart.  It is about winning the neighbour as St. Anthony writes, however this doesn’t mean converting them by beating them about the brow.  It is rather about careful attention to their needs.  We must pay careful attention to the needs of all in our communities, to invite them in gently aware of each others brokenness and willing to grow together.  Only then will the church building be ready to receive us back and only then will we be ready to return to it renewed refreshed for the next stage of our journey.

(With material from the chapter ‘Life, Death and Neighbours’ in ‘Silence and Honey Cakes’ by Rowan Williams)