Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The bread and fish of civilisation and chaos

I have had a brilliant, difficult, distressing and fabulous day. A day when two good people drew hearts on post it notes and left them on my computer screen. A day also when I have cried - I don't do that often. There has been comfort from a good and wise friend and I have learnt some very powerful things about myself - from my own words. Sometimes you have to get sad and upset, feel as if you're at the end in order to begin to formulate your inner turmoil and find a way out.
My wise friend is also learnèd and told me about how in the apocryphal gospels the image of the heavenly banquet is of bread and fish - the fish representing chaos and the bread, civilisation. This was quite a revelation to me - and of course the fried fish breakfast Jesus eats post resurrection with his disciples takes place on that most liminal of places, the beach. I had never before thought about fish as symbols of the fruit of the terrifying chaotic waters, nor really about bread as the fruit of civilisation, symbolising the static not quite so terrifying city.
Anyone who has visited my office knows that I can live with chaos - or that I have a high tolerance for disorder (though some this week have been shocked at the apparent order that is briefly reigning there for a few days this week, rumours that this is because I'm worried about receiving the award for the most untidy office are not entirely unfounded), but I try not to descend completely into it. I'm not happy all the time with the ordered existence of the city - my ideal city would definitely be inspired by Hundertwasser very organic and colourful - so my natural dwelling is the shore, the beach. It's the place of liturgy, the place of living with contradictions, the place for great breakfast parties, for holding together the ambiguities of chaos and order; it's also the place for tears.
I understood much more about myself and about others as a result of the conversation with my wise and vulnerable friend. I understood my own distress a bit more and I groped towards understanding the strange spirituality of resistance I have been involved in over recent months.

Tonight as I reflect on this and much, much more, I realise what I learned from Jürgen Ebach 20 years ago holds true for me today also. Actually I am only just crossing the red sea into the desert and leaving Egypt behind, the land of promise is part of my faith-filled vision but there's quite a way to go camping in the desert first.
The desert like the beach is often a sandy, stony place; a liminal, dangerous, ambiguous place. But it is also a place to be close to that which is essential - tears, joy, hope.