Posts Tagged ‘hope’

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Maunday Thursday – Jesus Washes his disciples’ feet

April 5, 2012

Human hands gently clean human feet

Maunday Thursday

Traditionally, at this time of year, Christians from across the world gather together to remember the Biblical story of a man called Jesus, who led a group of male and female disciples in first century Palestine.

The story (or stories) of the Biblical Gospels tell us of how this young man spent time with a small group of close friends having a final communal meal before being arrested by the religious and political establishment of that time,  brutally tortured and executed. 

It is a story told that represents a prescient moment in the history of world religions and civilisation. In a traditional society with entrenched hierarchies of power and authority, the charismatic young leader, who has at times gathered crowds of thousands followers, prepares for an intimate dinner (possibly the Jewish Seda and Passover meal) with an estimated twenty to thirty close friends and family.

 Before eating, however, it is custom for people of that time and place to have their feet washed by a slave. Their feet are covered with dirt and sweat having travelled mostly on foot on dusty roads,  fitted only with simple sandals.

According to the historical texts, the disciples of Jesus should be at the peak of their knowledge, insight and training. Yet, predictably, like so many of us human beings, they expect a ‘lesser’ person to do the dirty work of feet washing.

As almost a final gesture of the young leader’s life,  Jesus, the man at the top of the hierarchy of the group of disciples, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel round him and begins to wash…to wash the disciples grimy feet.

The scene is described in chapter 13 of the Gospel of John.

In sparse words, a moment of scandalous epiphany in the history of human/religio relations is richly described. The man at the top gets down on his knees and takes the role (probably of a woman) at the lowest strata of society. For believers this scene represents even more than that…it is God Himself in human form washing dirt from the feet of human beings.

It is an often overlooked aspect of Christian teaching, that I think all of us, certainly myself, continually struggle with. Yet it shows forward a new idea in human beings relationships with one another and with God.  Here we see illuminated that the path to God is downwards not upwards. We encounter God not as ruler or king, but as a servant for blood and boned, fleshly humanity.

Artist Howard Banks captures in earthy hues and subtle light a  silent, close up of this scene. The figures and faces of the people involved are not revealed. We see (we believe) the hands of Jesus and the foot of one of the disciples in a tender gesture and gentle intimacy. Yet, the painting leaves open the viewer to question whose feet and whose hands are portrayed? Might they also be yours and mine? The painting is entitled Our Humble God.

 “Our Humble God”, by artist, Howard Banks, is reproduced with permission by Veritasse Ltd. More  Christian art work by other gifted artists can be found on the Veritasse site at www.veritasse.co.uk 

For a link direct to Howard Banks gallery see below:http://www.veritasse.co.uk/community/artists.html?artist_id=58

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Open up the Sky – Deluge

September 16, 2010

I love this song! I had never heard of this band or heard of this song until I bought a compilation of worship songs on CD recently, but I love it. Pure unadulterated worship of the Divine. A beautiful, wasteful, exuberant, gracious pouring out of love for the Loving God. 

I love the lyrics:

 Open up the sky
Fall down like rain
We don’t want blessings
We want you

‘We don’t want blessings….we want YOU!’

I don’t know if people can relate to that, but these lyrics express a wonderful idea in the history of religions that people would pursue God, not because of what favours or blessings he can do in their lives (as good and important as this is), but because they want…they hunger…they desire…INTIMACY with the Divine. It’s really a holy idea. A sublime concept that us…broken…frustrated…foolish and sometimes self-indulgent human beings would use our faculties, our human capacities to cry out to God:

“Put aside the blessings, Lord!

Let’s forget the good things you give us!

Can we just have closeness to YOU?

Can we just be close…united even to you?”

In the Bible stories, Moses cried out to God in the desert on Mount Sinai:

“Let me see your face?!”

This is the spirit of this song…a desire for intimacy with the Holy One…a longing for  a purity of love….a longing to perceive the expressive, healing countenance of the Invisible One.

 Let it be so on earth as it is in heaven! Thank you for this song…for the great music and beautiful lyrics.
Here are the lyrics below:

 Open up the sky by Deluge

Our beloved Father
Please come down and meet us
We are waiting on Your touch
Open up the heavens
Shower down Your presence
We respond to Your great love

We won’t be satisfied with anything ordinary
We won’t be satisfied at all

Open up the sky
Fall down like rain
We don’t want blessings
We want you
Open up the sky
Fall down like fire
We don’t want anything but you

Our beloved Jesus
We just want to see
You In the glory of Your light
Earthly things don’t matter
They just fade and shatter
When were touched by love divine

Here we go let’s go to the throne
The place that we belong
Right into His arms

Music and lyrics by Deluge

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Tread Softly…

July 14, 2010
 

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

by William Butler Yeats

 
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
 
Two weeks into a new leadership role in a new church, it feels like the circumstances of life are combining together to exorcise some of the poisonous spiritual ‘puss’ of my life…and it is quite a humbling, yet necessary process. A series of events, most of them minor, yet seemingly carrying significant spiritual freight have come to undermine my sense of ‘self’ assured-ness in my ‘own’ holiness. I now feel quite in need of spiritual favour from God.
  1. First of all, there has been the momentous transition to living in a totally new and different part of the country. It is a move that I am very happy with and generally have really enjoyed, yet it is also destabilising and disorienting as the conditions and people of a new environment swirl around you. Even positive and enjoyable experiences can become intoxicating if gulped down all at once.
  2. Secondly, there has been the breaking of my spectacles – an achiles heal like weakness that can bring down even the most sturdy of giants. I am reminded so powerfully as I try to live with slightly out of focus vision, how frail human life really is. Our health can be taken away from us in a moment – mind or body. Good health is certainly an unearned gift, rarely appreciated until it is taken away in some form, no matter how slight it might be, like a couple of days without glasses.
  3. Thirdly, the breaking of my glasses provided the ‘sharp shard of broken glass’ in my mind to awaken me to the danger of using people as instruments for one’s own pleasure or plans and how subtle, but powerful a temptation this can be when you are a single person living alone. Perhaps, to protect the soul from experiencing the full weight of existential angst the mind plays little tricks with us, small, seemingly innocuous self-agrandising delusions that cushion us from feeling our true isolated state. Yesterday, I became freshly aware of my need for companionship – a loving and faithful spouse with whom we might shelter each other from the full brunt of the cold bitter winds while sailing single-handed the turbulent ocean of existence on this planet. For a Christian, indeed many religious believers would say that God himself/herself is with the individual soul on their travels across the sea of life, and I would certainly agree. Yet, even God must allow us to brave the existential winds alone sometimes, lest we become convinced that the securities of civilisation, money, pleasure, food and drink are more solidly eternal than fleetingly ephemeral. I remembered yesterday of how blessed I am and how God’s good gifts are not to be taken for granted as part of a self-centred hedonism (even if it be a spiritual or religious hedonism), but rather are kind mercies to help us remember that life could be much harder and indeed for many on this planet it IS much harder. Therefore, we should live soberly, thankfully and reverently. Yes, each day, even each breath is a gift. Thank you God for your kindness to us. Help me to live kindly to others too.
 
And hence, ultimately, the quotation from Keats – “Tread softly…”
 
Oh yes.
Yes, Lord, may it be so in my life!
May I tread gently on the dreams of others.
 May these tender and sacred sentiments expressed in verse be my prayer too.
  
 
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 
 
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Falling into the everlasting arms of God …

June 10, 2010

I have been pretty quiet for the last couple of weeks due to some personal news that has kind of ‘rocked my world’, but thankfully, actually in a good way! About a month ago I made an application to a church in the East Midlands to work as a member of the community’s leadership team. Although the whole application and interview  process couldn’t have been done in a more friendly and civilised manner, I have to admit it was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. Perhaps, you can imagine my surprise, elation and disbelief when after a second interview I was offered the job two weeks ago today! I was certainly pretty stunned…and honestly, overjoyed!

Since then I have been making plans to move out of Sheffield area to near Leicester and have been involved in all the throes of decisions and preparations such a life change entails. I have hopefully found accommodation for which I am making a formal written application. It’s really all good – a new start, a new church community, new friends and a new job. I’m really thrilled about it, although I still catch myself thinking is this for real and then saying, “Yes, this the real thing. It’s actually happening!”

Regarding Dark Nights White Soul, I have had to pause to think about what happens next. Dark Nights White Soul was conceived, carried and born during a period of feeling an intense sense of God’s absence in my life and enduring a real period of alienation from established Christian religion. Now suddenly I have reached the end of the proverbial black tunnel to walk out into the light of day. It is a welcome release. The warmth of God’s light and life is penetrating me deeply through the loving welcome and embrace of this new Christian church and community. It’s a wonderful sensation and touching experience.

So, is this the end of Dark Nights White Soul?

I think not. Dark Nights White Soul is my personal blog and my hope is to reach out to those in whatever circumstances of life that find themselves relating to or fully submerged in the experience of a Dark Night of the Soul. My experience has taught me, that however you feel  – God is actually still with you, in the darkness and in the pain, even if practically speaking it seems that you are completely alone…you are not. It is when you feel absolutely abandoned and isolated from all comfort and consolation that you are actually closest to the love of God, although paradoxically it seems that you are experiencing the opposite. Hold on tight, don’t let go of your hope. Even if you do let go of some of the circumstances around you. I know when my ex-wife left me, I literally felt like the ground beneath me might give way and I would fall through the core of the earth out into space and into a bottomless abyss. I felt like I was falling…and I guess in a way I was falling…falling out of and through the shattered fragments of my previous life, with no firm place or solid fixtures of a new life to hold onto. A wise and godly friend told me at the time that although I felt like I was falling, actually beneath me were the ever lasting arms of God. At the time I listened and somewhat cynically dismissed such sweetly,sentimental and contrived pseudo-spiritual teaching. I was so overwhelmed by the circumstances and how I experienced them as effecting me. Yet, looking back, my kind and gentle friend was right…the everlasting arms were beneath me…and eventually when I hit bottom they caught me.

Two and a half years later through a long journey of meeting new people and trying different ways to forge my own new success programme… and repeatedly failing…the Grace of God has put me back on solid ground with a new life, a new horizon, a new task and a new hope. I am so excited…and thankyou God and to everyone one who has helped me in both small and big ways over recent years, I am so grateful. Am I allowed the chance to express myself a little in the colloquial language of Christian sub-culture? I think I am. I’m going to give myself chance to celebrate too. Hallelujah! Amen! Thank you God, thank you family, friends and acquaintances I have met and passed like ‘ships in the night’…Halelujah! Amen! God is Good…even when it hurts and the world seems covered in the blackness of night. Even especially during those times. Thank you so much for the lesson, I hope and pray I might be able to help and comfort others going through their own desert and dark.

David

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Atheism and religion – the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties.

May 22, 2010

‘Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope. Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refuses to acknowledge how things are. But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is. It is what we all need – hope that comes not from going around suffering but from going through it. I am learning that the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties. By this I don’t necessarily mean balloons and confetti and clowns who paint faces. I mean backyards and basements and porches. It is in the flow of real life, in the places we live and move with the people we’re on the journey with, that we are reminded it is God’s world and we’re going to be okay.’

Central to reclaiming creation and being a resurrection community is the affirmation that when God made the world, God said it was “good”. And it still is.

Food and music and art and friends and stories and rivers and lakes and oceans and laughter and…did I mention food? God has given us life, and God’s desire is that we live it.’

Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell, page 170, 171

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Friday night!

Actually, Saturday morning…

Nearly 1 am and I’m sat at my desk with my laptop and the diffuse light of my desk lamp creating a cosy corner in the dark, still room, contemplating the world and how it should be…at least how I believe it should be. I have an interview on Monday for an inspiring role at a church and I’m thinking about what to say. I have been asked to make a short presentation to the interview panel on how I would host a group of people who are unfamiliar with the church and possibly, somewhat skeptical of its value and  ‘good intentions’. It’s a good task to set candidates. I feel challenged and enthused, but I ask myself – Can I really answer that question faithfully?

Faithfully, in two ways. Two different motivations and yet not entirely unrelated.

One, first and foremost, being faithful to the good people I know and love who, in my eyes are quite entitled to doubt  the existence of God in the Universe. Moreover, who question the Church’s sometimes dubious achievements in representing God and/or Jesus to the world. Skeptical, even antagonistic atheists have in many ways made a powerful case for arguing that progress in human rights, freedom, civilisation and democracy have often come from sources outside the religious establishment. Even worse than this, such reforms have often been actively opposed by the Church. I struggle within the keenness of such arguments, but I recognise their basis in fact and history, and my need, I believe, to accept those criticisms face on as bitter, yet necessary medicine.

Two, I want to be faithful to my God, my saviour Jesus of Nazareth. According to the ancient documents we call the Gospels, Jesus was a historical figure of passionate, religious fervour. Few would doubt this. Yet, at the same time his zeal for high ethical and moral standards was balanced by a wide and embracing grace and forgiveness for those who aspire and try to live a moral life, but fail. Jesus cared for those who found themselves tripping and falling on the very, lofty steps they had set themselves to climb. When I use the word climb, I am not suggesting that Christians believe people have to somehow climb up to God, by their own efforts.  Rather, Christianity teaches that God in the man, Jesus, descended from heaven to us, to earth. Jesus lived our life and lived with us – Emmanuel –  which means – God with us. When I refer to climbing, I am imagining our human predicament. The personal daily, neverending, trial of endeavouring to climb our own standards. The challenge of living an ethical and good life, authentic to ourselves and caring for our fellow human beings and creatures, inhabitants of this world. Jesus somehow held this balance and paradoxical tension lightly. High moral ethical standards in our individual and common lives, but mercy and generosity, not judgement for those who failed to meet those standards. Probably this was because Jesus himself, as a young man had grown up in the brutish hardship of ancient Palestinian life, and was aware of how frail, as well as how galant, the human frame and soul could be. Mercy, not judgement, he lived and preached.

So how might one answer the interview question faithfully, both to skeptics outside or on the margins of the religious frame of reference and to the source of religion itself – God and his/her teachings.

Firstly, listen. Listen, to the antagonists and iconoclasts who decry the self-serving delusions of religion.

There are a number of good, thoughtful voices who express eloquently these viewpoints in popular literature and media. A.C. Grayling, love him or hate him, has put forward a strong case to argue that much of  the freedoms, rights and privileges, as well as modern, technological breakthrough we take for granted, both religious and atheists, have originated in developments from the atheistic philosophical and scientific revolution of the Enlightenment. He is an atheist and his arguments, are not always waterproof. Yet, in a real way, I believe, he is right. Much of the benefits of modern society have been hard-won for humanity by non-believing pioneers working in science, philosophy, politics and social welfare.

To argue this, as Grayling does ably and articulately, is not in itself proof against the existence of God. However, it does present a healthy and sober challenge to the claims of institutional religion and personal religious conviction to represent a benevolent deity that has humanity’s best interests at heart. It also pours cold water, on religious confidence – I am thinking of Christianity in particular – that faith in God represents purely a revolutionary force for social justice and human welfare. Grayling and popular authors, such as Philip Pullman (See his recently published – The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ), argue that in fact religion and Christianity, in particular, has often been an anti-progressive force in history.

Ok… point taken. A sharp incision is made in the bubble of  benevolent, religious self-illusion by these intelligent and thoughtful authors.

Secondly, embrace. Embrace the refreshing source of  original ethical behaviour in religious terms – God himself, the Ultimate, the Eternal Spirit. And do so by remembering your history. Return to the stories of old. Rediscover, the lives of the great figures of the past, who did act faithfully – true to the incandescent, dynamic divine message of love. Love one another, love your neighbour, care for the oppressed, even love your enemy.

 It is true that looking back in history there have been great social reformers, philanthropists, artists and benefactors who have been inspired and passionate Christians – William Wilberforce, Joseph Rowntree, John Cadbury, Sir Titus Salt, Thomas John Barnado, Florence Nightingale, Chad Varah, Martin Luther King Jr, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Charles Dickens. These figures and many others have made seismic shifts in society by improving the quality of life for poor, disadvantaged and marginalised people. 

It can be a depressing place to be standing face to face with the critics of religion. It is, I believe, a healthy practice to remember the good which many religious followers have accomplished by practically serving others. A lifestyle many of them claimed to be at the call of God. Both believers and non-believers can find inspiration and encouragement at the selfless, kind and noble acts of others who took faith in God as a vocation to help others.

So, we do two things. We listen to our critics and we embrace the stories of heroines and heroes of the faith of old. We don’t deny the voices of either. But how can we reconcile these two opposing accounts of history and the nature of the world and universe? Well, here I return to the original quote by Rob Bell. Perhaps, at one level the purely rational there is no easy or even adequate answer to these contradictory histories, to affirm one is to suppress the other, to silence another’s view, is to diminish the strength and authenticity of one’s own assertion. Perhaps, rather than operating purely rationally, as if in battle at the debating hall, we might meet over the dinner table. Rather than fighting to assert one’s case and defeat our opponents we could raise our glasses to life in all it’s fullness and variety. We could toast and celebrate our company, as long-lost friends, fellow travellers on the journey of life, in the search for truth, wisdom, companionship, belonging and love.

There will still be ample time to discuss and listen to our differences, but at another level we might just find more in common with each other than we previously expected. We are all subject to the same plethora of difficulties and troubles. Most of us still delight in the same joys and hidden exultancies of life. Music, food, drink, dancing, crying and laughing…Maybe this way as Rob bell so eloquently puts it in his book Velvet Elvis:

‘I am learning that the church has nothing to say to the world until it throws better parties.  By this I don’t necessarily mean balloons and confetti and clowns who paint faces. I mean backyards and basements and porches. It is in the flow of real life, in the places we live and move with the people we’re on the journey with, that we are reminded it is God’s world and we’re going to be okay…Food and music and art and friends and stories and rivers and lakes and oceans and laughter and…did I mention food? God has given us life, and God’s desire is that we live it.’

 

 

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Cold Desert – raw, lonely, pure, beautiful

May 6, 2010

Cold Desert lyrics
Songwriters: Followill, Caleb; Followill, Jared; Followill, Matthew; Followill, Nathan;

I’m on the corner waiting for a light to come on
That’s when I know that you’re alone
It’s cold in the desert, water never sees the ground
Special unspoken without sound

Told me you love me, that I’d never die alone
Hand over your heart, let’s go home
Everyone noticed, everyone has seen the signs
I’ve always been known to cross lines

I never ever cried when I was feeling down
I’ve always been scared of the sound
Jesus don’t love me, no one ever carried my load
I’m too young to feel this old

Here’s to you, here’s to me
On to us, nobody knows
Nobody sees, nobody but me

Just listening to the Kings of Leon album Only By the Night on the CD player in the car. I love this album, which I would rate as one of my all time favourites. The whole album has a dark, moody and raw emotional feel to it. It’s the kind of new postmodern rock  that just permeates your skin and bones and seems to speak directly to your heart, only after it has reached the black inner chamber of your secret emotions does it resurface to enter your mind and stimulate ones thoughts and imagination. There are loads of good songs on the album, including Sex on fire, Use Somebody, Crawl, Revelry, Be Somebody and the final track on the album is the one I have quoted and tagged above Cold Desert.

 

I don’t know what the artists mean – the song writers and musicians – at least not specifically regarding the details of the events and lives that inspired the creation of this beautiful and haunting piece of music. For me it’s just one of those songs that catches me unawares when it comes on the CD player in the car. It works like a ‘magic’ key that opens the door to my soul for a few moments. Like a charm, the song opens up the dark recesses of my heart and says to my hidden emotions – “You may be unwelcome in the light and that’s why you have been shut away in the darkness, but right now…you are part of something larger, more humane. You are a amongst a kind of community, where the pain, anguish, confusion, disillusionment, abandonment and grief are all welcome to come out the cellar and feel the warmth of shared human love and lament, as expressed through music.”

Yeah, thanks, that’s how I feel sometimes. Bless you.

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Listening to the quiet, burning desire to be authentic

April 24, 2010

I found this poem at the beginning of a book on aesthetics (the study of beauty). It struck me as a very modern poem and yet I have discovered it was written in the mid-eighteen hundreds. Still, it speaks to me deeply of the importance and discipline of listening to and paying careful attention to one’s inner feelings and thoughts. Both of which can easily be suffocated and suppressed by a relentless, unseen pressure to conform to what we perceive to be the standards of our culture and society.

Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine,                        10
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.

Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved                                     20
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves–and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!

But we, my love!–doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?–must we too be dumb?

Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!

Fate, which foresaw                                                    30
How frivolous a baby man would be–
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity–
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way;                        40
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course;                        50
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us–to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves–            60
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well–but ’tis not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power;                                                70
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.

Only–but this is rare–
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,                                               80
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d–
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.            90

And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.

Matthew Arnold, The buried life, (1852)