Wednesday, 15 October 2008

...Cracks and Reforms and Bursts...

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London

In the Waste Land, by TS Eliot, you will find a perfect description of the Eastwards movement in European literature, a symphony of modernist angst and medieval legend. Much of the movement is along the Thames, to the East, past St Magnus Martyr and then the docklands, into the wide ocean of the channel, to the mystical East and heavy Buddhist overtones, before redemption is offered in the willing acceptance of purgatory, by climbing a ladder but plunging back, as Dante did, into the refining fire. The objective correlative shows the compass clearly and enables the reader to pass over aridity and dryness (which marks most human and sexual contact in the poem) into the philosophical purity of being. This, indeed, is the main downfall of the poem in most people eyes, in that humanity is irredeemably tainted, but by original sin, which is normally overlooked in an effort to castigate. Better to find salvation in half understood Buddhist gobbets that face up to the Christian religion.

In the brief extract above, Eliot moves from the crowds crossing London Bridge going to work, flowing east past St Mary Woolnoth, past the fishermen from Billingsgate drinking (the only happy human scene in the poem) , past the Isle of Dogs and Margate and the rich boys taunting the local girls with empty promises, past Margate to the last chapter, the end of Religion. The dream sequence directly before this extract mirrors Eliot's own experiences on an Antarctic walk, where the two friends felt in time of danger that a third walked by them. It also shows his belief that the dryness which characterised much of his life was an inner one, which he also mirrored in the poem as the aridity of the title, the land is dry from the inside, something needs to break in to change it and fertilise the ground, to fill the Fisher Kings arid plains with water. The above extract is the pivotal point of the poem, where Eliot feels that city life is divorced from natural life. In this extract he draws all the cities of the world up into one tower and, slowly, after thought where it gathers itself back together again, it explodes in a purifying moment, in slow motion, the violet light of destruction against the stormy sky. The falling towers of India and New York and every city in the world adding to the corporate lie are equally condemned as 'unreal'.

In the explosion and the confusion comes a nightmare sequence of Belladonna playing the violin on her hair and moving down, not east, for the first time in this poem, down is emphasised again and again before, gloriously, the rain comes in a triumph of ancient magic over religion. Sterility ends through this purification, structures, all the Churches hitherto mentioned and the offices alluded to are gone and the world is free to start again. Eliot, fatally, confuses freedom with a partial understanding of the Buddhist world view and a train crash of European literature, but the East is reached, albeit in an unsatisfactory way, but with the understanding that this is not it, not the ultimate end, just purgatory, the closest Eliot dares to get to the final East, the Finis Africae is still full of secrets.

I offer this post today with THIS NEWS (thanks Roger) in my mind. Notwithstanding the extremely apposite use of Reform's name and the reform before the tower explodes, I cannot help thinking that Rod Thomas overestimates his position somewhat, as the number of Parishes he marshalls indicates. I am very interested in their reluctance to ally themselves to the Southern Cone - and I am also very interested in their plan to ally themselves to 'orthodox' Bishops in this country, which I think to be the lesser of two evils. It seems that SOCA or GAFCON has not had the impact it wished to have. This is, I think, a good thing, it points to a willingness within different sections of the Church to work with each other and to stay in the structure. It is interesting, moreover, that this meeting comes a week after ours. No crossover, no shared speakers, no shared venue as this scribe may have once hoped. I do not know, but I suspect that this points to a mistrust from one or both camps to one or both others and a realisation, which I have said all along, that there is more which divides us than unites us. Not least of these are our understanding of the Eucharist and the role of a Bishop.

If we are to crack, and if we are to Reform again and to burst into the violet air, we fall in too many pieces to collect, it will be a purifying fire, it will be the end of our way of life as we know it. It may point to an ultimate trust in God, but it may also let a very large amount of people who have entrusted our Church with their salvation, down. The sadness of people leaving Churches is not that they go, but that they rarely go anywhere else. At the risk of repeating the Beatitudes for the second day running, we should weigh them carefully, for the promise is greater than the threat. We should pray, in the glory of the cross of Christ, for holy men to lead our Church as Bishops, anointed by God, not pushed forward by various factions, for a house of Bishops at variance will undoubtedly split and, much as we may despair sometimes of them, they are the only body holding us together at the moment.