Sunday, 5 August 2012

In Struggle We Can Find Truth

Years ago there was this famous TV advert for a brand of cigars, known as Hamlet.  There were many versions of these advertisements that would begin with various scenes involving an attempt of sorts that would go wrong.  Famously, there was one advert where a man in a photo booth is vainly attempting to hide his baldness with only a few strands of hair before the camera flashed to take his photograph, but the unpredictability of the camera turned his vain attempts into disaster.  Disappointing, is the word that comes to mind.  At the point of deepest despair, Bach's Air on a G String is played and our dismayed friend consoles himself by lighting up a Hamlet cigar.   Such was the popularity of this advertisement at the time that if you referred to any story of failure or disappointment as 'Hamlet time', it would be likely to receive a knowing smile from the hearer of the tale. I can't help feeling that the Hamlet advertisements inadvertently not only pointed to consolation but also to the potential for new understanding that can arise from disappointment. The Zen Buddhists call this form of personal insight Satori.   

Life as we know can be full of disappointments or to put it another way, 'Blessed are they that expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed' which in a way is again very Buddhist when we consider the four noble truths, of its teaching that tells us that life is suffering and that our suffering arises from desire or attachment or wanting; and no doubt, disappointment. If we look at the New Testament there is of course, the story of Jesus and an expectation that following his death and crucifixion that he will return within the lifetime of his followers and bring God's kingdom to earth:

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory: Mark 26: 13

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass a way before all these things take place:Mark 26: 30

The literal message, the eschatology, was of course not realised and yet the faith of the Church, sustained by the spiritual truths of the teachings of Jesus, continued. 

It seems that there has to be new revelation when events, outcomes do not concur with our expectations.  There is more on the ground than there is on the map and we have to accept surprise and disappointment and move on in the light of new knowledge, in revelation, so that we can continue our journey. In an article published by the National Unitarian Fellowship 'Book Believers' by the Rev. Bill Darlison he tells us that, 'We must constantly bear in mind, that in the main the Bible is a book of poetry, and poetry depends for its power on ambiguity, on nuance, metaphor and similes. To translate poetry into history or into prosaic doctrinal formulations is to destroy it. There is no one way to interpret a poem.'

In the Bible, we are challenged and confronted by the contradictions and mixed messages, and even Jesus is not always presented as a serene mystic who can face his own death with equanimity but is actually presented as someone much more human who knows pain and fear and openly expresses anguish and his own anger as he argues and remonstrates with the teachers of the law.  The characters in the Bible, as well as Jesus, have faults and many commit all kinds of crimes and take issue with God.  Perhaps the Bible exists to say to us 'life isn't perfect and neither am I, look upon me as a person and then show me a person who never made a mistake.' Or we could remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt, who said, 'It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again . . .'  In struggle we can find truth.