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Photo: Bousure / Flickr / Creative Commons


Martin Shaw
Dec 16, 2016 · 6 min read

“Sweet love, renew thy force”.
1.Shakespeare, the Sonnets


These are not ordinary times, and that’s why I’m writing.

As the son of a preacher, I was always curious as to how much of your life actually showed up in a Sunday sermon. I’d seen preachers with big black arrows in their chest get up and plough through chapter and verse with no reference whatsoever to what had befallen them. Then, many years later, being subjected to the world of the “spiritual workshop,” I would witness frantic disclosure of life’s low blows, usually relayed in a manner that robbed the experience of much wider pathos. I supposed I’m interested in some other way. I would imagine most of us are.

How do we stand in the middle of a community and hold dark material without either denial or absolute possession by its power? How do we invite it to the wedding? The birth of a Grendel is always when we send it into exile.

Grief is getting talked about a lot at the moment. And more than talked about: it’s getting felt, experienced, deeply absorbed. So I’m wondering about making a shelter for it, keeping it in the story, not cutting it out as some rogue element that cannot possibly fit. It’s not meant to fit. It’s meant to break open. But that doesn’t mean we won’t feel utterly wretched upon its arrival. And I think today I’m talking about more than grief; I’m talking straight up about the appearance of sorrow and of fear, suffering and loneliness. One way to feed it is to give it the dignity of an image:

These are words we put in the deep freeze:
bereft, despair, abandoned.
Last night, even the crows left my roof.

I am not too sophisticated to be shattered,
not too swarthy to be felled at the knee.

Not such a king that I will not rush
into black night when I hear the
cry of the Heavenly Woman
from the lost and lonely rushes.

I often wake to monsters in the middle of the night — it’s a harrowing. But I get up, brew coffee and write them something like this. It’s their invitation to the feast. They like to taste themselves in our language a little, otherwise they don’t believe us — otherwise they are still out there watching from the tree line.

And when we can only half-glimpse them, slightly indistinct, then they appear even more terrible because our imagination then becomes a kind of black magic of awful possibility. I can’t tell you that this works as a salve, or quite sends them off happy. But it’s maintenance work, ritual work — it’s what my man Finn Mac Cool calls “the music of what is.”

They sit there, I sit there, but now this third thing sits between us. Maybe it’s art; maybe it’s a small black loaf for them to eat. Maybe like Psyche, I am sorting through piles of grain in the half-light. So my simple counsel is to negotiate your monsters with some form of artfulness. They are not intruding on the mythologies of your life, they ARE the mythologies of your life, at least in part.

Why am I doing this? Because in a few hours I will have to blearily get up, blow on embers, make breakfast, feed the animals, somehow find a uniform from the bottom of the wash pile, pay bills, and drive the kids to the school gates. My heartbreak is not my child’s business.

We have kingdoms to maintain, all of us, but there in the middle of the night is when I have to give the monsters their terrible council. If I do all the outer stuff without some kind of interior mediation they flood me, devour me, annihilate me. And I can’t indulge that too often. It’s not becoming.

If the monsters have woken us up, we may as well admire the moon together. It’s only proper. This night will eventually pass, it will. We will clink our glasses again.

“Real love is one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world.”
2. Alan Baidou


Ok, enough of that. I’m taking us out — Christmas Eve. Put your wallet away, your money’s no good here. I’m paying. Let’s meet at mine at 7:30.

Don’t worry about cabs, or trains, or even planes — a carriage will be outside at 7 o’clock sharp, lanterns swinging merrily, and the sound of laughter and champagne corks being popped. Old friends are calling your name from the window. Someone wonderful is looking after the kids and the animals, so you can get back as late as you want. You are dressed so fine; people won’t be able to tell quite which century you are from. You’re the most beautiful thing anyone has ever seen.

The fire is glowing with coals, and the room is low lit and merry. That smiling man that took your coat looks a lot like Mircea Eliade, but don’t make a fuss about it, he gets a little shy sometimes. And the musicians have come. Settled on a magic carpet by the fire, we have Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sitting in with Van Morrison and a group of lute playing Troubadours sent exclusively for tonight by Eleanor of Aquitaine. She’s coming late, with Rudolf Steiner and a bottle of very good brandy. He’s got his dancing shoes on. Roberta Flack is cozied up on the sofa and riffing her words beautifully over the whole ensemble.

My hut has many doors. Over this evening, which lasts several days, we will wander through many, you and I. One is large and ornate and opens up to dusky Shiraz where we will wander with Sufis and children and animals, led by Hafez, throwing keys into the dungeons to free all those rowdy prisoners. Later we will drink Margaritas on the roof, leading toasts with the Baal Shem Tov.

Some doors are smaller, and when we open them together, snowflakes cover our cloaks, and the thrilling scent of pine moves through the frosty night. Out there are the great forests of old Europe, and a little cabin with your ancestors in them, stew on the fire, and a fiddle tune in the air. These old ones gather us in, and hold you very tight in particular. Their cheeks are flushed with joy to see you, and with some tears too. They know all about your story and its travails. All of it. And they love you without condition. Love is the very lintel over such a dwelling. Some heavenly nutrition moves into you.

We will behold many things this night; from the forests of Sherwood to a midnight wander through the Louvre with Modigliani and Frida Kahlo (that took something to arrange). We will thrill to the erotic swish of the black sea against Pan’s ship as he makes his way to England to nurse a lost little otter through a terrible night, this Piper at the Gates of Dawn. A mid-winter night’s dream. We will wander in such glory and sweetness we will become a little more human again. Just a little. But we will not forget that cabin, and the eyes of the old ones on us. Regardless of country or creed, your people are there, and they behold you.

And at some point we will wander back into my house. Tolkien, Bachelard and Virginia Woolf are playing cards, and some have curled under blankets and are just gently snoozing in their happy acres of dream. There is no need to leave just yet. And you can come back anytime you want.

Let this night be with you always. Don’t ever give up on love.

No Fear No Meanness No Envy

Read more on Dr. Martin Shaw’s website

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