We have had to quarrel with our time
Andrew Taggart on the importance of reflection in tough times @ Spike.
This morning I awoke in a wistful mood. The birdsong coming through my bedroom window reminded me of something softer and higher but also, and less faintly, of something long absent. When I’m feeling wistful, my mind gets older and, without my consent, returns to Larkin’s empty church. In ‘Church Going’, a poem set in the years following World War II, the speaker describes his experience in this once-sacred space. He steps inside, has a look around, yet remains outside its meaning. Recalling the old rituals, he says, “‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant” and hears “The echoes snigger briefly,” then wonders what ends church used to serve and pictures what aims, if any, it could fulfil in the coming years.
Is it destined to become a relic? A ruin? In any case, “A shape less recognizable each week.”During quiet moments, disquieted and contemplative, I come back to the poem, reading it silently and aloud, mumbling the words, certain that, if nothing else, it records with accuracy and feeling our historical moment. Walking beside the speaker who recognizes a divine aura but who has forgotten how to pray, we also intuit the absence of a previous way of life—the rituals and ceremonies we once knew, the words we once learned, the virtues we once possessed, the higher things we used to love—as well as the longing for a new, equally holy way of life amid the “unignorable silence.” The church may not express our spiritual sentiments, yet the ends it once fulfilled have not been entirely forgotten nor has it been turned–not yet anyway–into a museum or a tomb. My morning mood, the speaker’s reticent wonderment, our cultural moment: all these partake of the “no more,” the “not yet,” and the “what now.”