February 1, 2013 admin

Negative capability

Tomorrow we read in the Ten Commandments ‘I am the Lord your God’. One spends one’s life wondering what those words mean….
I often ask myself what we can really give one another. Of course, in the daily humdrum of life there are endless ways in which we interconnect, care about and support each other’s activities. We shop, fetch, cook and wash up; we phone, send emails, and even occasionally indulge in the ancient art of writing a letter. We chat, confide and tell stories. That’s what love and companionship mean amidst the thousand rushing realities of this world.
But sometimes it’s not about all that. Listening to a person’s anguish, noticing the tears, sitting by the hospital bedside, or in the waiting room at the end of the ward, or at home after the tea has been put down on the table, amidst the powerlessness to change the circumstances, to repeal time, void the diagnosis, or make un-happen what has already come to pass, – what then? What does one do or say or have to give?
There’s so often the temptation to know something more, or offer answers: ‘It must be because…’ ‘God only send us what we can cope with’. I, like my mother Isca, have always respected John Keats’s remarkable definition of what he called ‘negative capability’:  when a person ‘is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Faced by life’s cruelties, injustices, pain, as also by life’s wonder, beauty and tenderness, we don’t have knowing or answers, and wisdom is sometimes silence.
So what do we have? – Only this being here, only an open heart and each other; only this solidarity of testimony, felt, unspoken. Maybe it’s a form of love. (Later the doing becomes important again, the practicalities, the humour, the courage of getting on with it.)
I wonder if God isn’t sharing such moments, God whose first word is simply Anochi, ‘I am’, God whose deepest request of us reduces down to the simple demand that we say to each other Hinneni, ‘Here am I’. (All the rest, all the commandments and the history, follow as consequences and culture.)
‘I am’, says God, without interrupting either silence or conversation. I am in your hearts and in the bond between you; I am with the nurses in the intensive care unit; I am with life’s first breath and its last; in the bird’s heart and further away than the furthest star you can see.
Is God always good, or sometimes bad? Is God fair, or often unfair? Does God do things, or fail to do them? At certain moments these questions retreat; their unanswerable perplexities withdraw. Something other has rendered them at least temporarily irrelevant.
There is companionship, solidarity, somehow a kind of healing.

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