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Monday 11 July 2011


I was awoken yesterday, as usual, by the radio alarm set to a local station. Also, as usual, I heard the disembodied voice suggesting a topic on which listeners might like to phone in, text or email. Usually these topics are pretty trivial (this morning, for example: "What do you call your dog? Have you an interesting name for it?), but yesterday morning the big news story was the demise of The News of the World and the suggestion was that we might like to share our thoughts on what it is that we believe. At any rate, being only half awake, that's what I heard, and my mind immediately began to concoct a sort of rough and ready personal creed that I might recite on appropriate occasions - whatever they might turn out to be. But slowly, as I became more conscious and more tuned-in to what was being said, I realised that he was saying "What you believe in?" - the "in" being most important. We were not being asked for a list of things we could tick off as believable, but to reveal in what we were willing to put our trust. A very different proposition. Where belief suggested a creed of some sort, trust brought hesitation. Are we going to be asking for probabilities, even guarantees? Even Christ never gave guarantees. He offered the possibility of Eternal Life, but it was always conditional on a person's response, beliefs, whatever.

After some thought I decided that if I was pushed I would say that I believe in possibilities, and of those possibilities, that of renewal is the most significant. The arch-metaphor for which has to be nature's continual thrust for renewal. David Nash is a sculptor who works with, co-operates with, nature. He was originally associated with the Land Art movement, but now is a sculptor who works pretty much only with trees. He will take a whole mature tree and over a period of time find numerous sculptures in it, but he never takes anything that nature does not give. He will use only trees that have fallen or are so diseased that they have had to be felled. He has told how he works within the natural cycle. Trees - like people - do not just die, they are programmed to die. If you fell a healthy tree and use its wood to make a table, and if you take that table into your home, you are taking that wood out of its natural cycle. Then, when you are finished with the table and put it outside, you will be putting it back into its cycle. Some of his outdoor sculptures are designed to facilitate the natural decay. He has programmed the constant renewal - and therefore the ultimate death - of the sculpture into its creation.

Death is part of renewal. It's why the body's cells continually die in their programmed way. Nature continually renews itself, and we are part of nature. There is a very old joke concerning a man hard at work in his cottage garden when the parson cycles up and stops to pass the time of day. "How beautiful is nature," observes the parson, "when man and God co-operate!" "Indeed," replies the gardener without looking up, "but you should have seen the mess He made of it when He had it to himself!" That's looking at nature from a man-oriented perspective, of course. Leave the garden to its own devices and soon enough the weeds, trees, brambles and no end of other stuff will be thrusting up through the patio. A mess from the householder's point of view, though not from nature's. Left alone indefinitely it will go back to a very different sort of beauty.

So, in what do you put your trust? It depends, I suppose, what your intention is, what - if you like - you want from life? Do you want to believe in the possibility of life after death. That you will meet up with your loved ones in some form or other? Or do you want to make sense of life, death, creation and the universe? And if the latter, do you need to make sense of it in personal terms or from a more nature-oriented viewpoint? Do you, perhaps, just want to settle for peace on earth and to see man behaving with more humanity to his fellow man? Do you want to believe in the sustainability of life on earth, a viable earth into the future?

The human mind also needs to renew itself, which explains in part why our exalted thought systems stutter and fail one after another, none lasting for long. Philosophy was probably the first to go. It simply failed to keep abreast of learning and thereby failed to renew itself. Organised religion is in a parlous condition from the same failing. We have divided the one God up between ourselves - Christian, Muslim and others - even Catholic and non-conformist - and we have each run off with our different bit of the carcass to consume in our own way. It is probably not too late for organised religion to step back from the brink - as, alas, it seems to be for philosophy. Science, too, is almost at the point of no return - but here again, it all depends upon your objectives: what you want from the discipline in question. I remember a speaker being asked once why he thought Communism had failed. "It didn't fail," he replied. "Like Christianity, it's never been tried." Of all the thought systems, the political ones seem always to be the shortest lived.

Interestingly, perhaps, David Nash works from a former Welsh chapel. At any one time it will contain up to four hundred sculptures. It has been suggested to him that it now enjoys its biggest congregation ever. Art and religion have over most of their history, I suppose, been closely associated, for both try to awaken the spiritual in man. At times and in places they have been indistinguishable. In Western culture art has mainly been subservient to religion, but many (myself included) find the roles to be reversing. Maybe it is the hope that we have of what life will ultimately pay out, that is changing. Wallace Stevens is one who thinks this way. It was a great relief to me when I came upon such poems as "The Man with the Blue Guitar" and "Sunday Morning" and discovered that greater minds than mine were thinking these thoughts. Here are are some lines from the former:-

"                            Poetry

Exceeding music must take the place
of empty heaven and its hymns,

Ourselves in poetry must take their place
Even in the chattering of your guitar."


Rachel Green said...

A lot of food for thought there, Dave. Thanks.

Tabor said...

There is so much in the way of ideas, I have a difficult time responding. LOTS of FOOD for THOUGHT.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not sure I have an umbrella-term for what I believe in. I wouldn’t call myself, for example, a practicing Christian, an atheist or an agnostic and I’ve never been the slightest bit attracted to any other faith (I have no unanswered questions in that regard) nor have I replaced the absence of spirituality in my life with a devotion to science or politics. This leaves only art. Art is a specialism. It is not the answer. If everyone in the world dropped what they were doing and took up watercolour painting it would not solve the world’s problems. It has its place though. And I know (or at least I’ve found) my place. I believe everyone in the world is good at something. Children should be encouraged to find out what that thing is and supported once they do. I am good with words. I am capable of writing words that matter. I have written words that matter.

Belief-with-a-capital-b tends to look at the bigger picture. I find I’m not interested, or capable of taking in, the bigger picture. I take on what I can handle. I know my limitations. Better to do one thing well than a dozen things badly. So I choose words. I believe in language. It is designed to contain meaning – that is it’s one and only function – and if I want my life to be meaningful then words are the perfect medium as far as I’m concerned. Words make a difference. Mine have not changed the lives of millions of people, dozens perhaps. I can live with that.

This is what I wrote a while ago about belief:


        The thing about beliefs is
        they don't need to be true.
        That's not their job.

        They're there because
        so many things aren't true.
        Nature abhors a vacuum.

        19 December 1996

Anonymous said...

thank you for the read

what to place trust in?

I try to go with the first smile of the day as once i started to hunt them out they have multiplied


Mary said...

Whew, there is a lot to digest in this one, Dave. I can't say I have digested it all, but it was a worth while read.

jabblog said...

The older I get the less sure I am about everything!

Carl said...

Belief, religion, art, existence... Some big themes being brought out here. I like the whole renewal theme and will be trying to shed some light on what I believe this week. Thanks Dave. Great stuff here.

Brian Miller said...

wow man you gave us plenty to ponder there...i have to give thought to an overarching statement of belief....i do agree with you on organized religeon for sure...

SG said...

Dave, you have discussed a lot of thought provoking points here. I'm even starting to wonder what exactly believing to oneself means! I have had many different experiences in life, and I have lived in many different places, under different circumstances. The one unifying theme in my life has been change. So, I'd say that I believe in change, in transience. That, in some measures ties with renewal, for renewal is also change.

CiCi said...

I like that you know yourself well enough to know you are not interested in the big picture; that you take in a bit at a time. You do what is right for you. You are true to what you believe.

Dave King said...

It's a huge subject. Inexhaustable.

I think I know what you mean. I need to gear myself up to tackle it.

I don't have an umbella term either. I suppose "humanist" gets closest, but that's not it either, for it excludes a lot. It's interesting, I think, learning for which people the unanswered questions are important or not and why. Even the physicists are now talking of questions that will never be answered and seem comfortable with that.

I fully agree with the statement that everyone is good at something. Finding out what should be the first priority in a child's education. Of course, as adults we might decide not to follow that something. That might form an interesting topic for debate.

Your poem is interesting. It reminds me of a friend I had who was a Methodist minister. An atheist friend claimed that the teachings of the gospels were irrational. He replied that, yes they were, but the fears - dread, even - and the guilt that many people carry around with them is irrational and that it takes an irrational force to cure an irrational force.

hull of a city

Like it - like it very much - not sure I could always manage it, though.

Thanks, but you don't actually have to digest it ALL. Just take what's useful or interesting - if anything.

Exactly my experience. Certainty is the privilege of youth.

Following on from my converse with jabblog, it is increasingly coming down on the side of renewal, I find.

Full of moth holes, the umbrellas, I've found!

Yes, I coud go along with that. Change might very well tie in with renewal very closely. Thanks for that.

Dave King said...

Thanks for the response.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I don't think I put my trust in anything in particular. I have no religious belief and expect when I die to go back into the earth to moulder away and make compost for a few generations hence.

I think I just get on with living and savouring every moment now that I have gone past my three score years and ten - enjoying the music, the art, the conversation, everything about it in fact.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Really intriguing thoughts...what do we believe in, what do we trust/want to trust.

I'm reading this great book right now called "Poetic Medicine." It's not about poetry as venting, as an expression of pain or confusion. It's about writing poems as a way to process what we feel---so yes, it is therapeutic, but not writing as therapy, necessarily---forming and reading poems as forcing us to analyze our responses to our aches and wounds. It's a wonderful book. I believe in art as a way to get our subconscious into the real world, momentarily, and then as a way to be more present in life.

Here's the book: http://www.amazon.com/Poetic-Medicine-Healing-Art-Poem-Making/dp/0874778824

Jenny Woolf said...

I believe that the earth will survivem and life will continue. I'd rather not think the kind of life that will continue will be of the cockroach variety.

As for anything more personal - hm. I think everything changes.

Windsmoke. said...

I reckon its too late for arganised religion because its already fallen into the brink, trying to crawl back out again won't help one bit :-).

Dave King said...

Weaver of Grass
I think that pretty much sums up the basis on which I live day by day. It's just when I get to pondering these other matters...
... but then life takes over again after a while.

Sounds fascinating. Thanks for the tip. (I feel I've replied to this already - perhaps in a parallel life?)

I think I can go along with all of that, especially the not wanting to be a cockroach bit. (Might have to say I HOPE the earth will survive, though it's a strong hope based on my faith in renewal.

Yup, that's pretty much what I think too.

Bijaylaxmi said...

Respected Sir,
Such a beautiful and thought provoking write up... Thanks for it.


Dave King said...

My thanks to you and a very warm welcome to my blog. So glad you found it to be of interest.