A dear friend led me to David Ford’s book “The shape of living”. It is an
excellent explorations of how our lives are shaped. It is a book on the, extremely popular, topic of
spiritual formation. Ford’s UK
voice brings a freshness to the conversation and I’m learning a lot.
In one of the chapters entitled, “Faces and
Voices – shaping a heart” Ford describes the people who comprise “the community
of the heart”, those people who are allowed into the deepest parts of the
heart. He comments that our “Our
heart forms habits of welcoming and rejecting”.
In a poignant passage, which I’m quoting in
full he talks about “The intrusion of the faceless”. He writes,
constantly meet with faces and voices which appeal to us to help, to have
compassion, or to take some special responsibility that goes beyond what our
commitments or obligations oblige us to do. These appeals cut across our friendships, marriages and
in-groups. They pose one of the
biggest questions to us and to our groups: how do we cope with the suffering
poor, the hungry, the impaired, the marginalized, the victim? These may be the test of the right
shaping of our hearts even more than friends, spouses or fellow group members. O’Siadhail’s poem ‘Intrusion’
graphically describes how the relationship of mutual love can be broken open by
gaze of loved and lover,
and utterly present
the other. Sweetest hour.
what if between our gazes
of the stricken fall,
stares we seem to veil
on commanding us?
two-ness is never alone.
is that intrusive face
looms unseen between us
all we haven’t done?
eclipsed. The destitute.
worm of dominance
its own discountenance,
masks and blottings out.
love a threadbare blindfold?
say our shadows, ‘unless
turn to face the faceless.’
re-envisage the world?
As I read this passage and the poem it
ripped me to pieces and reminded me deeply of our current South African context. Just think about how easily our lives
revolve around people-like-us wherein we build relationships that become a
cul-de-sac, blessing the already blessed.
In the poem the line about the “Sweetest hour” reminds me of the high
regard people place on gathering for a Sunday service so that they can consume
a religious product after which they evaluate it with a “that was good” or a
“that wasn’t so hot today”.
Then comes an interruption, the “shadows of
I think of the beggars at the robots, the
squatter camps around our cities and the occasional person who gathers all
their courage to actually walk up to us and make a claim with their
presence. Also the lonely, the
depressed, the successful without community and the poor without hope – shadows
of the stricken.
The poem then challenges to face the
faceless and asks the inviting question,
“Who’ll re-envisage the world?”
still calls people into communities that face the faceless and re-envisage the
world in the announcement of a kingdom that has come and will come – on earth
as it is in heaven.