Going home again...

It has all been said before about David Brooks - the conservative that liberals love and all that - but I genuinely enjoy reading him twice a week in the NY Times.  And mostly I celebrate his thoughtful, non-ideological reflections on our culture, economy and politics. I am particularly interested in his current incarnation - post-sabbatical - as he reflects on what brings meaning to our lives rather than the usual obsessions of inner-belt political junkies. It is simultaneously refreshing and rewarding.

Today, for example, his column "Going Home Again" begins with a recent TED Talk presentation by Sting. The maturing rocker-artist spoke about his early successes and then a long dry spell where he was unable to create new music. What changed the impasse in his imagination turned out to be a journey back in time to his origins. When he physically and then emotionally returned to his first home, he listened carefully to the inner narratives of his personal history. 

He went back and started thinking about his childhood in the north of England. He’d lived on a street that led down to a shipyard where some of the world’s largest ocean-going vessels were built. Most of us have an urge, maybe more as we age, to circle back to the past and touch the places and things of childhood. When Sting did this, his creativity was reborn. Songs exploded from his head. At TED, he sang some of those songs about that shipyard. He sang about the characters he remembers and his desire to get away from a life in that yard. These were songs from his musical “The Last Ship,” which he’s performed at The Public Theater and which is expected to arrive on Broadway in the fall.

Brooks goes on to make two observations that resonate with my work as a preacher and teacher.  First, human beings need to regularly look backwards: it helps us make sense of our past and discern where we must go in the present and future. It is one of the reasons why we read from the ancient Scriptures every week:

Historical consciousness has a fullness of paradox that future imagination cannot match. When we think of the past, we think about the things that seemed bad at the time but turned out to be good in the long run. We think about the little things that seemed inconsequential in the moment but made all the difference. Then it was obvious how regenerating going home again can be. Sting, like most people who do this, wasn’t going back to live in the past; he was circling back and coming forward.

Second, such reflection helps us shape an inner narrative for our lives that can not only grounds us, but moves us back towards our best selves when we get off track.  Stumbling, wandering in the wilderness, being struck blind, fasting and all the rest are symbolic ways of talking about the fact that all human beings lose their way. From the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane this theme is a constant. So rather than simply give up, we look back to the stories of our origins to reclaim our bearings.

Historical consciousness has a fullness of paradox that future imagination cannot match. When we think of the past, we think about the things that seemed bad at the time but turned out to be good in the long run. We think about the little things that seemed inconsequential in the moment but made all the difference. Then it was obvious how regenerating going home again can be. Sting, like most people who do this, wasn’t going back to live in the past; he was circling back and coming forward. The person going back home has to invent a coherent tradition out of discrete moments and tease out future implications. He has to see the world with two sets of eyes: the eyes of his own childhood self and the eyes of his current adult self. He has to circle back deeper inside and see parts of himself that were more exposed then than now. No wonder the process of going home again can be so catalyzing.

The process of going home is also reorienting. Life has a way of blowing you off course. People have a way of forgetting what they originally set out to do. Going back means recapturing the original aspirations. That’s one reason Jews go back to Exodus every year. It’s why Augustine went back during a moment of spiritual crisis and wrote a book about his original conversion. Heck, it’s why Miranda Lambert performs “The House That Built Me” — to remind herself of the love of music that preceded the trappings of stardom.

That is one of the beautiful albeit demanding gifts I find in observing a holy Lent.  Revisiting the arc of my life - and the lives of other fragile and frail people like me - is not an exercise in sorrow but a way to rediscover hope.
(See David Brooks @ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/opinion/brooks-going-home-again.html?ref=columnists&_r=0)

Comments

Popular Posts