With the patience of old stone, we've waited long enough. God wants us to save this world with all we've got... an elegance of spirit.
I'm selling tickets to a new age. Not for a world of temple-bells and chants, or paleo-diets, crystals and dream-catchers, but for a new world of harder choices, where we must grab hold of our faith and change the way we live forever and hang on.
There's this book I'd been trying not to write my whole life. I've picked it up every now and then, looked at it, given it a good shake to see if it was still there, listened to it rattle around like a pebble in a box, and I’d think, one day...
I always knew (somehow) that god (the one I refused to believe in) would let me know when the time was right. I had turned away from god at a young age. I thought I did, anyway. What I later realized was that I'd merely turned my back on any vestige of the old religion I'd been brought up with. Jesus had loved me, this I knew! Because the bible inclined me to... but that bible was awfully well-thumbed, and slightly greasy to the touch. Many hands had coaxed the words from its pages, and those words had become tarnished with age. They were frigid and brittle and turned to dust and slid through my fingers.
I lost my religion with many of my generation ("that's me in the corner") and I’ve watched the story of its fall evolve and entwine with my own. There was a gap in my life which grew as I grew, becoming like some huge carbuncle, and having blossomed, it now slowly matures. Or has matured. Ripened to the point where I need to preserve it before it starts to ferment and rot. It begins as An Elegance of Spirit, a coming of ages where a small boy struggles to understand the complexity of childhood in an adult world, while inadvertently triggering an apocalypse of hot gasses which blow across the surface of our planet and set off the circumstances leading to environmental catastrophe, the wrath of a misspent youth bearing down on everyone with equal force, irrespective of position or wealth or ideology. An Elegance of Spirit, the subject of this work, explores the tensions and conflicts confronting the human condition as we face the challenges of living on the earth in this time.
And it's a world which remains brim full of old religions, some dating back thousands of years, and fed by stories which predate even that. We live in this technological age, where information flows through our fingertips, and yet many of us are informed by texts which were delivered around the time of the late stone-age. I think maybe we need some new stories, with subjects that bear some resemblance to our own experiences. At least something fresh. After all, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, there is nothing that’s new under the sun. So maybe we need to come at the truth from a different edge. In primeval ages, as primitives, the tribes would worship the natural forces which dictated their lives. Maybe we can save something of ourselves, and this unique and beautiful world we cohabit, from the multitudes of follies we parade daily, by reclaiming some of that lost spirit. Some of that lost faith in the turning of tides.
I want to publish my thinking, and need to raise funds to help establish these ideas into a solid foundation. The book will be in three parts, and although a work of biographical fiction, it will form the basis of a philosophical teaching offering ideas on how to start climbing out of this midden we have created for ourselves and every other living thing.
It will investigate how we can unite some of our disparate belief systems and co-ordinate forms of worship, to come together without agenda other than to appreciate what we have, mindful of the momentary nature of everything. Simple, unadorned experiences like:
- The caress of the sun’s warmth.
- A gentle breeze, hot or cold.
- The passive buzz of a pollinator.
- Birdsong in all it's varieties.
- The flavour of ripe fruit.
- The awe of an evening sky.
- The smells of a city at dusk.
- The noises of the forest.
- The sound of the sea.
These invoke feelings in most of us at one time or another. We take them for granted, as we take pretty much everything else for granted. This is no criticism, merely an observation, and we are all guilty of believing that there will always be these things: food to eat whenever we want it; clean water to drink and to bathe in; warmth when it is cold, coolness when we suffocate with heat. Solid, basic things like the understanding of others. Complicity, empathy, sincerity.
We must save a version of this world for our children and our grandchildren. We have enjoyed a world which is not sustainable. It may not seem like it sometimes, but compared to what might have been, it is all luxury. It just comes in a variety of standards. It must stop, however, in order for our children’s children, and subsequent generations to enjoy similar levels of the plant and creature diversity we have, or to breathe clean air and drink fresh water, to swim in seas recovering from pollution which can flourish with marine life, we have to do more than recycle our waste. We have to do more than manage our local resources. We have to do more than invest in renewable energy. We have to demand a ban on pesticides and inorganic fertilisers, on plastics and fossil fuels. We have to avoid more dairy or beef and advocate proper management of our fisheries and farming policies. We have to conserve everything that we use, from food and water to power and fuel. We are lazy and we want the lifestyles we’ve been brought up to expect. We must suck it in and find new ways. Better ways! We must accept that. We need to avoid becoming an ever-thinning diaspora of nomadic hunter-gatherers with nowhere realistic to go. We can believe that it is still possible for common folk to change big things; that if enough of us get together to force our collective wills in a particular direction, we can achieve… anything. We must, if any are going to survive. We need to buy into faith.
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches—
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead—
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging—
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted—
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
From Dream Work, 1986 Mary Oliver ©