THE HOUSE ON THE BORDER
The house is, indeed, on the border – though which border is perhaps best left unsaid. It is as old as a house could be, in its heart – part local stone, part wooden framed – cradled by the irregular ground at the foot of the hills, shaded by ancient trees. There were broad yews in the garden.
It is a place to meet, and a place to depart from, on whatever journeys we find ourselves drawn to.
There is music in the house. Several of the visitors put on small concerts, intimate sonatas for recorder, the fine 17th century harpsichord, cello or viol. Occasionally a passing flurry of musicians play dark fantasias by Lawes or Gibbons – those fancies by Gibbons seem to me like records of journeys, a diary of the kind of wanderings I long to make, along, across, or through, this border.
All the people who have appeared in these dialogues were there: the Countess, who found books to delight her in the library (a Splendor Solis in living colour); Maude, silent and invisible for much of the time; the dancing one, and the cold and intellectual Lady who I had met at the Observatory. I found Mordant, grizzled old traveller, who had been so wise about the meaning of “Works”, lost in himself, alas, with a hand-drawn map spread out on the great oak table. Could these diagrams, lines and rings, have any meaning when laid across the geography of this island? The Lady of the Observatory occasionally glanced at him sceptically as she glided through the hall.
What journey do I make? What could guide my steps? What thoughts do I take with me?
At different times I follow each of these teachers, sometimes still the crabbed view of old Mordant. Recently I have come to understand more of Maude’s way of seeing. It’s only one way of looking at the world and travellers who pass through this house come from many traditions – but, while keeping in mind the Countess’s love for the laws of the cosmos and soul, I find myself remembering the need to love things as they are, even the occasional failings and uncertainty of matter. Truth may be immaterial, but it can be known in the dancing of “silva”, the Latin term for unformed matter, as it seeks to embody all those potential forms of beauty.
For someone not from a catholic background the role of Mary can seem alien, but to an outsider there is the attraction here of mystery, secrets hidden in plain sight.
I was, at first, surprised, that the oldest, stone, part of the house, held a small chapel – room enough for benches for no more than twelve – with a statue of Our Lady.
Inscribed on the wall beside this shrine was a prayer to Our Lady. The wording seemed obscure at first, but I could see that this was perfectly orthodox. It had to be the case, in this place, that the prayer would emphasise the belief that Nature, the Cosmos, was inherently good, was founded on Harmony, and we, our Souls, have it within them to reflect this Harmony. (How you take this is up to you. You may think, literally, of Harmony, or simply of the Laws of Nature, which undoubtedly guide all things, and which make unnecessary the idea of an all-controlling God.)
- mother of the Word made flesh
help us to know the Word in every face of Nature.
- in whose Nature is the perfect expression of Harmony
teach us the wisdom to find Harmony in all Creation.
- Who shared God’s creative love
help us to work with love in our own expressions of the Word.
- The new light spread through darkness at the birth your son.
Help us to see the world in the light of the New Creation.
Of course, this can be said in other ways. Some wanderers may be seeking the city of Hurkalya. The dancer liked to keep it simple.
‘Who sees all beings in his own Self and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear’, as it says in my tatty old copy of the Upanishads. That’s dancing.
True, but it’s all too easy to get that wrong – and just see yourself in everything. That way you never become your Self.
Best not to worry who you are. Just get on with it.
That’s what I want to do. Just get out there and look. It’s hard to know where to start. I like the random thing – follow the spinning top on the map. Or be spun round at the crossroads and follow the direction you fall. That’s not so easy in a car.
True, but there are ways of doing it. And you don’t have to do too much. You can’t go everywhere.
There’s a lot of world to see.
But we’re just small people. Let’s just see our bit of the world.
I’m not sure what my bit of the world is.
Or which bit needs you.
MAUDE (who could occasionally sound severe)
Some of our journeys may be for our learning and delight. Some might be as prayers. We may need to give love to the places of our pilgrimage. Sometimes just being there is a form of healing.
The temptation, to me, is to keep trying to avoid the truth that we should see all places, and people, with the same open eyes. How easily we find ourselves wanting to impose a meaning on the world, or impose patterns on our explorations which narrow our vision. I used to like the idea of looking for patterns in the landscape, or in life, but I realised it was an illusion. It’s so easy to impose patterns. It’s too easy to see things which seem to fit a meaning. We might not see something that just doesn’t fit, or needs our prayers. Everywhere, everything, and every person, contains all these aspects, and has a centre.
URANIA (of the Observatory)
The images of our Camera Obscura may be measured with geometry on the map, but the centre can be anywhere. All foci contain all things within them. Everywhere can be an omphalos.
We carry the universe within us. I delight in studying the stations of the stars and days within the cosmos and within myself. I might construct a pleasure garden in which we can stroll about taking in the floral and decorative amusements which teach us the workings of the stars within us. But my garden is a book of emblems, a place of learning. Just as is this House on the Border, my garden is a place from which we depart to enter the world.
Though I am, as you know, a votaress of St Clare, and I have a language by which I hope to understand the working of God, I am always aware that my language can be misunderstood. I know how difficult it is to comprehend, and that the misunderstandings can be most misleading when speaking to Christians of other traditions, who may use the same words in different ways. To me, the meanings are precise. The words are difficult because they are about the difficulty of understanding the intimate relationships of God, Nature, and ourselves. Our dancer friend has simple words, but I prefer to be reminded that the world is not only in the Mind. We only know Nature in our Minds, but what we know is Truth within material Nature. It’s dangerous to disparage material things. It’s too easy to forget that our vision is clouded by what I might call sin. We need to see the world in the new light – which is the old light of Creation made visible for us again.
Our Lady wasn’t just an abstract idea of Harmony. She was Harmony in Nature. She was, and is, all Nature. Creation is in her. Christ is in all Creation.
We need to see the world in the new light – which is the old light of Creation made visible for us again. It’s too easy to forget that our vision is clouded by what I might call sin.
But our hope is to reveal this light, and words misunderstood can cast a net of darkness.
But how do we clear our eyes and minds so that we can just see? There are always distractions, however vividly the place speaks to us. Where can I find a sausage roll? A toilet? I wish I was somewhere else. I wish I was with someone else. I don’t think there’s any end to the learning – the preparation. There will always be new distractions. We are always needing to renew our language, so we don’t just see what we want to see.
THE COUNTESS – as EUTERPE
We have to clear the dust of earth from our souls so we can hear the heavenly music. We can ascend through the spheres learning the music and mode of each sphere in ourselves so that our soul can resonate wholly with the Music of the Spheres and hear the whole world as a song.
THE DANCER – as THALIA
As poor Tom said: “You cannot enjoy the world aright till the sea itself flows in your veins.” Just be the trees, the hills, the seas. It’s easy if you can forget all your own rubbish.
THE LADY OF THE OBSERVATORY – as URANIA
This is the human disease – our detachment from the world. Empiricism led to detachment, an analytical outlook, and we lost the sense of participation in the universe. It can be recovered. We can happily examine the workings of nature, the mathematics of the stars, but we can know all these things and still recover our enjoyment – and just see what there is.
MAUDE – as POLYHYMNIA
Pray to be Christ-like. Find Christ in your soul and you can find the Word in all things.
The fact is at different times all these words mean something to me. Perhaps our souls are constellations. No one has one single point of view. No-one has a single vocation. One “self” might dominate from time to time but we can never forget the other planets or modes which lie in the shadows. I might find some new sphere moves into the light, something I have neglected. It might be the tragic muse, or even the muse of love poetry.
It’s time to be going. I have a device, a method of looking under the surface of things, with images and music. All I need is a means of random travel. There are places I might want to visit, there is an attraction in the mysterious, and in lost shrines – but these are only ever one person’s fancies. I am not recording the world, or even a part if it – just one small person’s glimpses of one small bit of the world. Everyone can explore – just by looking. By being there.
When I am not exploring the world there is music to write, music which explores music itself, the language of music, which is also the language which lives in everything – and explores the parts of the soul, and the world, I have neglected, or from which I have tended to turn my eyes.