Issue #136 / February 2021
I have been reading Tolstoy’s ‘The Gospel in Brief’ and wondered if you had read this short book. What does Christ mean to you? I hear his name mentioned in many of your songs, but thematically there is some ambiguity. Do you consider yourself a Christian?
ELLERY, RAMSBOTTOM, UK
You are right to say that there is some ambiguity to my relationship with Christ, and I don’t consider myself a Christian — at least ‘most of time’, as Bob Dylan would say. Spiritual matters for me are always evolving, never static, and are energised by their mystery and uncertainty and attendant struggle.
However, this much I think is true. I believe that there is a unifying essentialness within all people — the spirit, the soul — and that this spirit is innocent and good and connected to the divine. Over that essential spirit of goodness we place, throughout our lives, mechanisms, strategies, agendas, defences, transgressions — layers of behaviour that collect and deepen, like Philip Larkin’s ‘coastal shelf’, and engulf that core of goodness, separating us from the divine nature of the world. Although I believe this, I find it extremely difficult to actually connect deeply with these invisible notions — the spirit and the soul.
Personally, I need to see the world through metaphors, symbols and images. It is through images that I can engage meaningfully with the world. The personalising of this invisible notion of the spirit is necessary for me to fully understand it. I find that using the word ‘Christ’ as the actualising symbol of the eternal goodness in all things extremely useful. The Christ in everything makes sense to me — I can see it — and helps me to act more compassionately within the world.
It feels to me that sometimes we practise a kind of conditional compassion and reserve our goodwill to those we think deserve it. To practise a form of universal compassion, I find it of considerable value to remember that our love is a lifeline thrown to that pure essentialness, the Christ deep within us, entombed, suffering and yearning for our assistance.
Acts of compassion, kindness and forgiveness can ignite this spirit of goodness within each other and within the world. Small acts of love reach down and bring succour to that animated spirit, the beseeching Christ, so in need of rehabilitation.