BBC Radio 4 Prayer for the Day, 17 February 2017
‘Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.’
When I first heard these lines from Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘An Arundel Tomb’, I thought it was about Agape as timeless spiritual love. An old sculpture of the couple had been on top of their tomb in Chichester cathedral since the middle ages. And the man wasn’t brandishing a sword but holding the hand of the woman next to him.
Thinking I had found a spiritual companion in Larkin, I read more of his poetry and found he’d turned from the ideal romantic love of Yeats towards a brooding ambivalence, even cynicism. Soon I saw that the couple in Arundel tomb may not have intended to have their hands carved together after all, it could have been the sculptors idea. As if Larkin wanted me to be unsure of an ‘almost truth’. That nothing was pure enough to be within reach. I was aware that life is hard, but as a spiritual companion I wanted hope.
Disappointed, I turned to John Coltrane whose music for me was hypnotic. He went away from harmony into what sounded like chaos, confusion and pain but the sweetness was always underneath.
Some time towards the end of my training I was given a card with a quote from Larkin’s poem ‘High Windows.’ He wrote: ‘And immediately rather than words comes the thought of high windows, the sun comprehending glass and beyond it the deep blue air that shows nothing and is nowhere and is endless.’
This time the mundane or harsh images refreshingly tested any idea of dogma. And I realised I was now content with the spiritual love of; ever exploring, ever real, almost instinct, almost true where what survives breaks through as love.
Loving God, may we find that spiritual love in the ordinary, the difficult and the extraordinary. Amen