When was the last time you read a novel? Or watched a Netflix series, which is taking the place of novels in meeting our story-telling needs?
Western literature could be said to originate in the teeming imagination applied to all the things that fill the passage of life – from the daily chores and routines to the tragedies and times of bliss. In yesterday’s reflection I thought about how the mind, especially in times of great distress, jumps from scene to imaginary scene trying out different versions of reality. A great writer selects from this overwhelming choice of parallel universes and focuses on creating a convincing version of one of them. A very great writer also leaves a trace of the teeming mind in the order he creates, a sense of all the possible other ways in which characters and the storyline could have developed. This, oddly, is what makes a good story seem ‘real’ and therefore satisfies us.
For many modern writers, story and making order out of chaos, seem secondary to portraying the reality of the restless imagination. They leave us with a. sense of flux and without an ending. This too is vanity, the pursuit of the wind, as Ecclesiastes say. Even stories that don’t satisfy our expectation of a beginning, middle and end, help us make sense of life. Poems and photography are forms of this too and even music tells a story without words or images.
Living in the moment may not be good for novelists. They need to float and wander among different possible presents. Yet they too need the discipline of sitting down regularly and taming the mind. Like us meditators.
Despite rapid economic globalisation and the contagion of Hollywood culture the world remains an enigmatic, infuriating and wondrous mosaic. If our minds and lives are teeming, what about the planet? So, despite the westernisation of the ‘East’, the erosion of its wisdom cultures by materialism, and the cultural collapse of the ‘West’ we can still speak of these two hemispheres and add to them the North and South manifestations of humanity. Western mind and culture is shaped by storytelling, from Homer and the bible on, as a way of knowing the unknowable and expressing the ineffable. Without stories we would be as lonely as Adam without animals.
At many times and on different levels, we share our personal story with others as a sign of trust and growing love. The gospel is a story of a person in whom the inner and outer became or always were extraordinarily one. That oneness, his Spirit, continues to move among us in our own inner and outer universes. It embraces humanity, offering itself without force or blame. If we recognise this, we are walking our life in his footsteps, and he in ours, in a wisdom always entwined with love. His spirit teaches us to accept whatever is, now, to separate fantasy from reality. To be faithful and not to run away from ourself.