Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Writer's Tale

When I was writing my meditation (see link above) - Thin Places, Scarred Times - I wanted to take the listener on a journey into some very dark places - places of suffering and pain - which are exemplified in the three little visionary snapshots. Only one of these can easily be attributed directly to other human beings, so it is also an exploration of suffering caused by natural forces.

After the dark places, the movement of the narrative, I felt, should then move back into light, joyful places, to contrast, and mirror the dark, and that the darkness would not be the final word.

At this point, I had "writer's block" and could not see how to move from the grief, pain, suffering to joy, in a continuous way, so that it did not appear as a break in the flow of the narrative. My solution, which came to me after a long walk, was that the way to move to the end section was by starting with a hymn of praise in creation - which doesn't appear to be an answer in the rational sense - but as I realised, has a lot in common with how God answers Job on the question of suffering, which I've always previously found a little odd, because it is not a direct answer at all. Now I understand the movement of that narrative a lot better.

The book of Job is of suffering of an innocent man, where disaster after disaster is piled upon him, and his friends come with trite and easy but false solutions to his suffering - for example, he has done something wrong, and is paying the price. It is in part an attack on the easy and glib explanation for suffering. In the final segments, Job confronts God, and accuses him of inflicting pain without explanation, and demands to know why. And the answer is not a rational answer, but a theophany, an appearance by God who speaks to Job of a great hymn of creation.

Martin Buber, philosopher, wrote of this, "But how about Job himself? He not only laments, but he charges that the 'cruel' God had 'removed his right' from him and thus that the judge of all the earth acts against justice. And he receives an answer from God. But what God says to him does not answer the charge; it does not even touch upon it. The true answer that Job receives is God's appearance only, only this, that distance turns into nearness, that 'his eye sees him,' that he knows Him again. Nothing is explained, nothing adjusted; wrong has not become right, nor cruelty kindness. Nothing has happened but that man again hears God's address."

According to this position, the answer to Job's dilemma is found in religious experience, not in theological speculation. Rather than a theoretical solution to Job's problem, there is this song of creation. And without seeking to imitate that at all, I found that was the same way that I'd also found out of my impasse on the movement from suffering to joy.

This is also mirrored in the final paragraph of my narrative, which is an allusion to Elena Farjeon's "Morning has Broken".

When read out loud to others, as I did last week, the tone has to soften in the final section, from the harshness of the first, which made me wonder if Job, as well, may have been originally presented in that form. While the ancient Israelites had a prohibition on theatre in the Greek fashion, they may have used various texts for a recitation in different voices. The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia notes that:

"The Song of Solomon, according to many scholars, is a regular drama, the heroine of which is the Shulamite, and in which the other dramatis personæ are: Solomon; a shepherd; chorus; watchmen, etc. (see Renan's translation of the Song of Solomon). To the foregoing may be added the Book of Job, which, if not so elaborate in dramatic form as the Canticles, yet represents several persons as acting, namely: Job; his wife; the messengers; Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (Job's three friends); Elihu; and God. These few crude dramas of the Biblical epoch had no immediate successors."

Seeing the faces of the dead was actually drawing on Harry Potter, the chapter "In the Forest", which has to be one of the best passages in the Deathly Hallows. Without imitating, I wanted to try and capture that "feel". And equally importantly, when Harry uses the Resurrection Stone, and the dead appear, J.K. Rowling makes it clear that they are "part of him", not some spirits called back from beyond - she makes it very clear that the dead have "moved on". 

"Light the candle, cast out all fear" is loosely paraphrasing the chant in the All Souls service at St Brelade's Church, when a roll of names is read, and everyone comes up to light a candle and place it on a large bowl of sand on a table. The names are paused in the reading, and the chant is sung (going by memory). I wanted to reflect that as a refrain, in the passages on suffering, as a sign that not all will be dark. As the nights draw in, we need signs of light.

 We kindle a candle to lighten the dark
And take away all fear

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