Today, having just completed a road-trip of several thousand kilometres, the father has risen late, enjoyed a long hot shower and is now seated with his notebook computer in a chair of white painted bamboo that’s lined with cushions. The stillness of the chair a major improvement on the constant shudder of the one he has been in for days. The view is not quite as good but even a good view can become a cliché when framed by a windscreen. Across the room, a wall of matte gold absorbs soft winter light that’s coming through a window next to his right shoulder. Through the window a grey wool and blue sky radiates light that seems to come from everywhere.
Having just gotten himself settled and written a few sentences, the father is interrupted by he can’t remember what and now it is a late evening five days later and he is at the other end of the house—the late night end—with his books, his lamp and his swollen pile of cords, papers and unopened mail, attempting to remember what he had been writing about but deeply distracted by something more compelling.
All the memories of his road-trip have been relegated by a re-playing-in-the-mind video of a moment the day before when he and his wife visited a young girl and her family in town. It is raining and they are walking to the front gate, which is low enough to step over, a brindle bull-dog is already running, followed by a small off-sider, and both of them miraculously stopping at the gate, their tails wagging.
The girl is there, looking up at them: grinning from ear to ear, her face framed by a tangle of red hair, delight pouring out of green eyes. As they are speaking, the younger brother is jumping up and almost over the fence for a hug. Further back, the older dark-haired sister is smiling happily. And now the mother, with her lean and kind face radiating stories—not many of them happy.
Ever since that meeting at the gate in the rain, the father feels as if he and his wife have had a moment of great luck, which was arranged by the feathered wing of a mysterious loving spirit who nudged their boat up to a favourite shore. He knows of course that much of this has come about because of prayers and plans and invitations, but he also knows that two families met at a front gate on a miserable and rainy day and exchanged gifts of grace through smiles and greetings and are now touching each other more closely than they were before.
Tonight, for some reason, he has been provoked and finds himself thinking of the sort of words that are frequently used to describe what he has just experienced: ‘being kind’; ‘doing good’; ‘caring.’ All words that have their place in the English language, but which feel obscene in this context. He remembers having the same feeling thirty years before when he watched Jesus Christ Superstar performed on stage. Mary Magdalene was singing:
‘Try not to get worried,
Try not to turn on to,
Problems that upset you,
Oh don’t you know, Everything’s alright.
Yes everything’s fine,
And we want you to sleep well tonight,
Let the world turn without you tonight,
If we try,
We’ll get by,
So forget all about us tonight’.
Although the father still cherishes the musical and it’s poetry, there is a suggestion in these words that the Nazarene is a sweet kind-hearted boy trying to make a nicer world, but who, if he doesn’t chill out, will one day become just another hand-wringing law-maker like those who are about to crucify him. The father is reminded of a line from one of his own poems: ‘All appetite for life was lost in a mean spirited sulk against noise, colour, tang. Middle aged imam, bishop, teacher, scientist, guru, lama in his pyjama; gobbled up my panorama!’ So—on the horns of the dilemma—we have two options: 1. Get serious about saving the world and sulk against life; or 2. Do a few bits of nice stuff, chill out and have fun.
But for the father, the very idea that his meeting in the rain came from a place of being worried or from some determination to fix the world’s problems, feels obscene. If he were asked to describe it, he might say that an ‘impossible to understand’ love regularly re-enters his soul at time of lost-ness, and rather than coming from a place of ethics, comes from an encounter with what some writers refer to as a ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinans’, a dreadful and captivating presence … of joy, confession and laughter that lives a thousand miles away from anxiety, and where the doing of good deeds is a taken for granted, don’t mention it, after-thought, in the same way that a cherry tree might first put its roots down into the earth and water and seem to die, then blossom and then say to its owner, ‘By the way here’s some cherries.’
The father knows that what bothers him most about Mary’s song is that it describes what happens in him when he loses his way and becomes what George MacDonald has described as a ‘noble slave’ who makes God’s will his law. He wonders what the cherry tree might say about this dark posture, which enjoys feeling that one has made some great sacrifice and must therefore keep a score-card for the record, or failing that, subtly make sure that others know and are impressed with the superiority of his cherries. He suspects that the cherries may have a bad taste.
He remembers one night travelling on a freezing cold train and noticing a drunk lying on the floor, then seeing a young man taking off his own coat and placing it on the man’s shoulders and the young man seeming embarrassed that he had noticed. This furtive, self-forgetful, cherry tree style love, instead of coming from a place of stoical score-card keeping, coming from what MacDonald described as the heart of a ‘free son’, whose will—rather than becoming his law—has somehow happily fallen in tune with the will of the maker of both heaven and earth. As George MacDonald himself said, ‘The only door out of the dungeon of self is to love thy neighbour.’