Only context

Aug 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Ministry

It must have been the summer of 1985, for a year later I would have been one of those addressed and the speaker that day that day was incomprehensible. Looking at the candidates for ordination, the preacher quoted two words from E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, ‘Only connect’.

The sermon had been excellent, about personal integrity; about reconciling differences within oneself and accepting diversity among those around.

Forster had written in the 1910 novel,

‘Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die’.

To connect allows integrity, but not necessarily happiness. One doesn’t necessarily to be always reminded of one’s weak points and one’s failings, which are generally the very things that are missing when one acknowledges a lack of integrity. Connecting is essential, but there needs also to be a source of encouragement, cheerfulness even.

Looking out the car window as we swept through the Co Carlow countryside, Mount Leinster looked stark and desolate against the evening skyline. A combine harvester was completing the cutting of the grain in a field along the roadside. The first hints of autumn have begun to appear on the trees.

In the past, such a panorama might have evoked a mood of despondency; the sense of a summer fading, the light dying, the darkness returning; yet there was an equanimity contemplating the scene. Even memories of the winter of 2010, when the Blackstairs Mountains assumed an Alpine guise and when driving the motorway to Dublin through snow and ice was a frightening experience, did not have the power they customarily possess.

Everything looked different because of the context in which it was seen. Our three week holiday in France is now just four weeks away and the diary leading up to the day of the flight from Dublin to Bordeaux is well shaped. The days to come are now transparent, through them the vast Atlantic beaches of Landes and the sharp peaks of the Pyrenees are visible. The mundane, the boring, even the oppressive, are manageable in the context of what is to follow.

The difficult and the depressing derives its strength from being the only show in town; when there is only greyness, then  the landscape all around seems without light. Different contexts, even brief ones, can make everything appear differently.

Only connect, of course, allows one’s life to have integrity. But only context can give it perspective.



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