This irrelevant glory
Newsletter: June 2017
Dear web friends
I don’t know how you feel about the outcome; but we have just lived through an utterly gripping election campaign here in the UK.
It didn’t start out gripping, more like a procession towards a ‘strong and stable’ coronation, guided by the dead-hand of predictability.
But it became gripping as, before our excited eyes, the procession stumbled somewhat while voices of dissent began to be heard… and then heard again, louder this time, and heard with something akin to hope.
In the end, to cut a remarkable story short, predictability crumbled and there was no coronation – just the coalition of chaos the future queen had warned against.
She became the nightmare of her projections.
The journey towards polling day was intense, provoking sharp comedy (very entertaining) and deep rage. And what most struck me, everything was so relevant – Twitter, Facebook, news outlets; everything responding to the live action before our eyes.
‘If it isn’t election, don’t bother,’ was my sense and still is, really. I feel in myself the pressure to be relevant, which means commenting on the here and now before our eyes. And there’s nothing more here and now and before our eyes than the chaotic aftermath of a hung parliament.
Yes, I feel the pressure to worship the god of relevance, the god of present day chatter, all praise to his name!
Though this was not a pressure felt by Julian of Norwich, the first woman to write a book in English; and a woman who felt no need to be relevant… or not in this sense.
She wrote in the 14th century, which was a pretty shit century.
Instead of a hung parliament, there were hung (drawn and quartered) peasants who rose in desperate/noble revolt at oppressive taxation and starvation.
It was a revolution which ended at the Battle of Billericay in 1381, but started in Eden where there was no social hierarchy.
‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?’
The century also endured several visits of the plague, which killed two-thirds of Norwich, Julian’s home town… and two-thirds of the nation beyond.
So two out of three of the people you know are now dead.
Yet Julian did not see fit to mention any of this when she wrote in her cell. It was crippling lives around her, it was the talk of the town, as loud in the ear as Brexit… but you wouldn’t know it from her writings.
Instead, she gave weight only to her experiences of God through a series of visions.
‘Plague? Peasant’s revolt? Famine? Oppressive church and government? So what? Here’s my vision of God.’
And it reminded me of a strap line I used when, 13 years ago, I said goodbye to the supposed security of full time employment and went freelance:
‘Simon Parke – not famous for being relevant.’
There were probably unconscious echoes of Julian there, a desire to be something other than a ‘solutions-based’ operation full of disingenuous crap.
I perhaps lost it somewhere along the way, it comes and goes at least, that’s my own insecurity, wanting to be noticed. But I find myself now – with Westminster buzzing – reminded again of the calling to irrelevance.
Julian, in her lack of engagement with the news, somehow remains as alive as ever. It’s also a virtue of her near contemporary, Meister Eckhart, who took irrelevance to even greater heights.
They start with God and the divine echoes they hear across this contorted planet. And then stop there, really; that’s enough. The contortions are not the story; the story is God and the divine echoes.
So Julian holds a hazelnut in her hand and sees in this small nut the entirety of creation; all that is made, every awareness, every scream: ‘In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; the third is that God preserves it.’
Amid famine, plague and political uprising, there’s nothing quite as irrelevant as a nut. But is it also magnificent?
I have worked quite closely with both Julian and Meister Eckhart down the years. If you’re interested in the fruits of my labours, follow these links:
Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love (edited by me): http://tiny.cc/c43sly
My Conversations with Meister Eckhart: http://tiny.cc/x13sly
Surprisingly, at least to me, Eckhart has been the best-selling of my Conversations series by some margin.
We’ll let the pendulum swing in our lives, the constant movement of experience, now this response drawn from us, now that; now this discovery made, now that.
Relevance is a many-layered and many-splendoured thing, and while sometimes it’s the breaking news and the food bank, at other times it’s the hazelnut, or sunlight across the pavement.
I’m sorry – I feel I have gone on rather, testing your patience, so I’ll take my leave.
But until we meet again, may the breeze and the bumble bee bless all that you do.
With very best wishes