The end of 08

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My last commute before 09 today. It was uneventful. Which is probably a good thing.

The passing from one year to another is, I think, something Christians aren’t sure how to do. There are those who hold alcohol-free parties, or church-based vigils, but both smack of secular custom appropriated and made more boring.

In Jewish custom the new year, Rosh Hashanah, is the culmination of a whole month of self-examination. The day itself is started by a trumpet call to awaken people from their “slumber”, and in the afternoon people symbolically throw off their sins. It marks the new year for people and for legal contracts. It is in the world and of it.

But the Christian church, for whom the Gregorian calendar is as much a part of the heritage as protestant/catholic rivalry and an Arian Jesus, doesn’t seem to have taken the concept of an annual rebirth and celebration of old to new into their doctrine.

Again, this is probably a good thing. No doubt if there were such a celebration, it would become as stale and rote – consistently reimagined by emergent groups and unjaded clergy – as other elements of liturgy have over time.

However, the alternative is wondering who might kiss you at midnight or devising ‘resolutions’ whose inspiration is generally negative and their achievement is more so. Neither contributes to a life that is ‘telos’, that is complete.

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Jewish tradition also recognises a need to reflect and respond. The close of one year and venture into another is a natural time to take stock of yourself and your life. It is, perhaps, one of those times in the year when the Kingdom of God can shine through the chinks in society’s armour. It is a time when optimism can flourish in the face of possibility, or at the very least others can encourage this to be so.

By the time I am back on my morning train I will have seen in a new year (and a new baby Jesus). And I hope that I will have found some time to self-examine, to awaken and perhaps to throw off some sins.

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The Christmas crunch

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I am torn between being pleased that precious resources aren’t being draped unbecomingly along the commuter route, and feeling sadly unseasonal of a morning.

It reminds me of the American election. The day of and the morning after there was little indication that history had taken place. I’m sure that if I’d tried talking with someone about it, or even shouted a jubilant “go Obama!” it woud be clear people knew and cared, but if they did they hid it. So too with Christmas.

And I miss it.

The joy of seasons, particularly the ones in the Christian calendar, is the dynamic they create. Advent should be a few weeks of expectation and excitement, readying yourself for the time of family and celebration that the nativity story reflects. Instead it has become a time of money worries, and present-planning, the same music tracks on repeat and a cynical weariness for what western civilisation has made it.

Perhaps we should encourage a new feeling for Advent inspired by a different love for Christmas. If the Day is not about the presents, then the Season is not a time to buy; if the Day is for laughter, then the Season is for writing the jokes; if the Day is for family, then the Season is for making contact; if the Day is about faith, then the Season is about what that means.

And if the Day is about being away from work, the commute takes a back seat. Truly it seems more clear that commuting is what happens when life does not.

On dreams

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When I read books – or daydream – I absorb myself. At their end I am lost grasping for the world I have had to leave, without choice, without warning. My favourite books are those that offer up that world, or a philosophy , an existence that is beyond this one. Somewhere extra ordinary.

On closing a book at the last page my life becomes all too ordinary, all too real. I am small and I am insignificant beside my dreams.

I have finally watched Brazil by Terry Gilliam, my favourite director. Like Pan’s Labyrinth it offers a salvation rooted in dreams. In a world that disappoints, distraughts and destroys, losing oneself in fantasy provides a better life than that of reality. But these films themselves are fantasy. And when the credits roll you are left reeling. Knowing your own reality is waiting for you, at the end of every extraordinary dream.

Is it ok to escape each morning and evening, to allow yourself to dream along the commute, or – in this world of shoulds and musts and obligationss – is that the easy way out? Perhaps the smell of sweat of others’ humanity should be breathed in and absorbed, a reminder of your place in the world. One thing I do know, when sweet dreams fade into day, the sweat of reality smells far worse…

Philosophy for funsies

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I have realised that reading philosophy is a hell of a lot more fun when a little bit drunk. Not easier to grasp, or more enlightening, but fun.

Grappling with the ideas of (male) philosophers is erudite, exciting, even enlivening when you aren’t lost from paragraph to paragraph…wondering if you’ve understood what the hell they were saying. 9 hours down the line with a few pints in you and the words of Lacan are ambrosia to a poor commuter’s ear.

Try it.

Consider the climates, how they grow…

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Consider how the lilies grow. They don’t work or spin yarn, but I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was clothed like one of them.
Luke 12:27

Is there one thing that mankind has made or developed that is as rich, varied and beautiful as the earth and its changing seasons?

From my station open to the skies I enter my windowed carriage and watch the world go by. Until I go willingly into the bowels of the earth and teeter on a platform, afraid for falling, risking claustraphobia with every stop that rumbles past.

Why do we do that? Why have we created a civilisation where work, life (and too often love) are so far apart?

At least I can console myself in the knowledge that public transport costs the earth less. Although the anonymity and isolation felt in a crowded carriage can be as palpable as that in your car.

Returning after a week away

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I am reminded today – after a week away from commuting – that life goes on. Work life, that is.

In the last week I have lost someone I loved very dearly, I have sung drunken carols with strangers, I have been put under the professional spotlight, I have danced until my legs collapsed, I have read many many books and I have made a whole bunch of people smile.

Today though, work goes on. Today I stand on a cold platform with my hours mapped out by deadlines and outputs and management and expectations not my own.

Tempted to sink into a melancholy for the next 3 stops, I pick up the Metro (which demonstrates how low I have sunk already) and read on, becoming steadily more confused… It is dated from 2 weeks ago.

Curiosity trumps self-pity. Why the hell is a two-week old freesheet sitting on my seat as if only recently unfurled?

At East Dulwich a happy-looking man in a Sinatra-meets-Accessorize white scarf bounds onto the seat opposite. I ask him about the paper, does he have a theory perhaps?

His response is that one of the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band used to hoard copies of the Evening Standard and distribute them a year later, watching with a giggle in his heart to see if/when the commuters around him noticed.

This amiable stranger works as an environmental firefighter, minimising the potential damage of ‘green’ disasters. He also has a business card that Patrick Bateman would kill for. Literally.

I walk down the escalator at London Bridge chuckling to myself. What began as a morning full of rejection and worry became something that much more positive.

Experiences like these, I feel, offer some insight into the way God answers prayer. It is not necessarily coincidence, but it cannot be solely my own doing. Perhaps it is choosing to see God’s Kingdom in the smaller – yet still consequential – moments that brings it closer?