Monday, 20 May 2013

Do we still know where we are?

Yesterday (Sunday 19th May) the swifts came back. Some of them nest in the eaves of our houses, and this year, what with our awful spring, they are two or even three weeks late. The day before, we had our first community get together in each others gardens and it seemed profoundly wrong in a deeply spiritual sense that it was cold and overcast and many flowers had not yet bloomed – and the swifts were not circling above.

In meeting for worship yesterday we were reminded that it was pentecost – a celebration of new life in the spirit. Weeks earlier it was Easter – the coldest on record, but supposedly a celebration of the resurrection of life. And then on the 1st May those with pagan inclinations were supposed to celebrate new life. A friend with Finnish connections told me that there they celebrate Walpurgis Night, after Saint Walpurga, on 30th April, again to mark new life, yet northern Finland  is still in the depths of winter.

What seems to have happened is that all these externally imposed festivals have disconnected us from the physical reality of the changing seasons. When we should be relating spiritually with the world as it is, instead we are encouraged to relate mystically with some imagined world where spring always arrives on Easter Sunday, or 1st May. And so it is that we become detached from the physical world as it is, and we are but a short way from exploiting it and the creatures in it, including our fellow human beings, for our own selfish ends, all justified by appeal to some disconnected ideal, whether religious or political.

When I first started to become really aware of the world-as-it-is, which coincided with first attending a Quaker meeting, I had become profoundly disillusioned with established Christianity, and came to call it the 'two thousand year ago, two thousand mile away religion'. But we do not need to have the external authority of imposed festivals to cut us off from the world, our consumer culture is more than effective by itself. It amazes me that supermarket fresh food sections, and even some greengrocers, look almost identical whatever time of year it is. And so it is that our disconnection is complete and we become lost and wander aimlessly over the world damaging it by accident as much as deliberately, so blind are we to the reality that is outside of us.

This last weekend we had asparagus for the first time in ten months, and we sat in the garden and toasted the swifts with bubbly.


S Fred Langridge said...

Thanks for writing this.
I had my first asparagus of the year yesterday, too, and greeted the swifts - and showed my little nephew a house martin's nest with a little head peeping out.

Unknown said...

I think there is value in both accepting what is going on in the outside world as well as having some kind of internal story of the year which is related to a mythological death and rebirth cycle. Who knows how the one affects the other?

Craig Barnett said...

Perhaps this tension reflects the triumph of uniform modern 'clock time' over the regionally and seasonally various times of natural events. I like the idea of celebrations that mark the events of natural time rather than festivals on arbitrary dates; whether it is the arrival of swifts, sowing and harvest times, or the real spiritual passages of life and death.
In Friendship,