Mental Fight

Saturday 19th August 2006
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-8

For the Wedding of Ed and Kath

Ed and Kath, you will see that I have come from out of the choirs, so my attendance at weddings is way above the average and I have therefore become familiar not only with St. Paul's famous hymn to love (1 Corinthians 13) but also with some less exalting passages such as the Apache Wedding Song, Khelil Gibran's The Prophet and, of course, the vastly over-rated musings on love of Dr. Iannis in Louis de Bernier's Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

In all those more than 100 weddings I have never before heard the Ben Okri passage and few dare to venture into the Song of Songs, for reasons I will come to in a moment.

Ben Okri, like my old guru, George Steiner, is an opponent of the footnote so let us see who we can unearth in this treasure trove of a reading which would be my ideal basis for a pub quiz rather than the usual rubbish: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Dante, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, Austen and Faulkner (a very odd couple); Heidegger and Sartre; Shakespeare; Kafka, Eliot, Yeats; Achebi, Garcia Marquez, Proust, Alejo Carpentier & Harriet de Onis; with references to Persia, Arabia, India, ancient Greece, early English  Romanticism and contemporary magical realism, with Blake hovering somewhere between the Niger Delta and our green and pleasant land. Not a bad library for life, let alone for a honeymoon! So you have made a promising beginning, always remembering, in the spirit of Okri, that praxis (a good old Marxist word) is much better than exegesis. If you are positive and prayerful I pray that you will find it easier to love than to write about it or understand what others have written.

For what I like about the Okri piece, other than its literary allusions, is the core of its message, my lifelong motto: we are better than we think. If we accept that, then we will be able to face reality, to face unpleasant truths, to think more clearly, to strive unceasingly and, above all, we will dare to love. A strange phrase for a wedding day but if the distant music of the future is to do more than haunt, if it is to come into our present lives, then we all need to take risks; for all their haunting beauty, partitas leave us feeling incomplete, duets are charming, quartets taxing but only in the symphony, as Mahler said, is true life portrayed.

Which leads, quite naturally, to the reading from the Song of Songs. We are only better than we think we are under three very explicit conditions. The first is that we love the whole unity of God's creation and refuse to be trapped by the vicious Protestant, Roman Catholic and enlightenment dualism which separates our bodies from our souls, our feelings from our thoughts, our right brain from our left brain, our yang from our yin. I am pleased to say that in the liturgical revisions of the second half of the last Century the Church of England recognised that there was a place for Solomon's Eros as well as St. Paul's Agape in the wedding service; marriage is much more difficult if you only have one or the other.

The second condition is that human striving in the power of the Holy Spirit will only succeed if it is corporate; I doubt whether there has ever been a truly autonomous hermit. I am ashamed to say that I have been a guest at some weddings and then have rarely seen the married couple again. True, friendships come and go, people move town and now even country, but we all need a core of close friends and an atmosphere of communal space and enablement. That means that at least some of us who have promised to help Ed and Kath will need to keep that promise; we will have to keep it because I am asking Kath and Ed to be brave enough to ask for friendship and community when they need them, not as individuals but as a couple.

Which leads to my final thought which, not surprisingly in view of all the literary allusions, is a paradox; it is the paradox at the centre of the Song of Songs, the paradox at the centre of our relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord and brother; and the paradox at the core of the relationship we enjoy in marriage: true love is fusion but it is also creating space for otherness.

Ed and Kath, I hope and pray that somewhere in your honeymoon library - but, even more so on your honeymoon - the beauty of this paradox will come alive for you. When it does, the music of your future will be wondrous to hear.

Mental Fight

By Ben Okri - A few selected extracts

Already, the future is converging with the past.
Already the world is converging.
The diverse ways of the world
Will create wonderful new forms,
Lovely cultural explosions
In the centuries to come.
Already I sense future forms of art,
Of painting, sculpture, humour,
Already I sense future novels,
Plays, poems, dances.
Already I sense the great orchestras
Of humanity, a world symphony,
A world jam, in which the diverse
Genius of the human race -
It's rich tapestry of differences -
Will combine, weave, heighten,
Harmonise all its varied ways
And bring about a universal flowering
In all the vast numbers of disciplines
And among the unnumbered people.
Already I can hear this distant music
Of the future,
The magic poetry of time,
The distillation of all our different gifts.

Will you be at the harvest,
Among the gatherers of new fruits?
Then you must begin today to remake
Your mental and spiritual world,
And join the warriors and celebrants
Of freedom, realisers of great dreams.

You can't remake the world
Without remaking yourself
Each new era begins within.
It is an inward event,
With unsuspected possibilities
For inner liberation.
We could use it to turn on
Our inward lights.
We could use it to use even the dark
And negative things positively.
We could use the new era
To clean our eyes,
To see the world differently,
To see ourselves more clearly.
Only free people can make a free world.
Infect the world with your light.
Help fulfill the golden prophecies
Press forward the human genius.
Our future is greater than our past.

We are better than that.
We are greater than our despair.
The negative aspects of humanity
Are not the most real and authentic;
The most authentic thing about us
Is our capacity to create, to overcome,
To endure, to transform, to love,
And to be greater than our suffering.
We are best defined by the mystery
That we are still here, and can still rise
Upwards, still create better civilisations,
That we can face our raw realities,
And that we will survive
The greater despair
That the greater future might bring.

From Mental Fight - an anti-spell for the 21st century, Phoenix House 1999