Chris McDonnell, UK

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February 14, 2018

Looking two ways now


A beautiful song from the Sixties, ‘Both Sides Now’, sung in a deeply haunting manner by Joni Mitchell, reflects on two options. The recurring theme is summed up in the line I've looked at clouds from both sides now’ The lyrics talk of two perceptions, of seeing things from both sides, even though ‘clouds got in my way’

This first month of the year, January, is named after the Roman god Janus, the keeper of the doorway, a place of importance, a place of exit and entrance. Hence January looks in two directions, over its shoulder at the year we have left and hesitantly forward to the unknown year to come. Our calendar reminds us of a journey we undertake whether we like it or not, the passage through space of our Earth round the star that is our sun.

Now we have passed into this New Year, 2018, and maybe a time of brief reflection on what has been and what might be.

It has been a year when moral values have been a matter of public debate, when people of high profile have had their attitudes and actions examined in the public square. And there have been consequences. Too easy to write off as a trivial issue, as some have tried to do, for our relationships are fundamental to the quality of life that we share and the respect we show each other.

For many, looking at both sides of an issue is too much trouble. Their own position is obviously right and cannot be challenged. Those who try are rubbished and their opinion dismissed. One such person has dominated the US, and by implication, the world political stage since this time last year. His inability to keep on the right side of truth has been spectacular and has degraded his Office.

Our own political wanderings, seeking a doorway out of the European Union, have been confused and disjointed. There has been a significant ‘economy with the truth’ there as well. The Good Friday Agreement came after a high price had been paid on the island of Ireland and on mainland Britain. Border issues North and South are sensitive and require with utmost care.

Within our Church, there are two sides to many issues that presently occupy us. But one thing should be different-the manner in which they are approached. The top-down imposition model died with the Council as the Easter People were recognised. It will not return. But in its place there must be open, honest and sincere dialogue. By all means, like the mythological Janus, look both ways, back to where we came from and forward where it is our intention to travel. One informs the other, but go forward we must.

Francis has shown immense courage and  firm faith in the manner in which he has approached his task of caring for the Church, precisely because he has placed his teaching at the service of people at the expense of structures. The courtesy of compassion has replaced the rigid exposition of legalism. He truly has looked at both sides and clearly indicated the path we should follow.

Much as we might look ahead and try to read the runes for future events, that is not a practical proposition. We are aware of many real dangers that face us, yet we cannot make accurate predictions. It will be a matter of where our big feet are placed or where someone else walks on our behalf. The phrase from Passover of ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ is admirable in so many ways but in our troubled world must be spoken with caution.

Towards the end of this year we will be marking, with fine words, ceremonies and pledges, the hundred years since the conclusion of the Great War in Europe. It was followed by a century of further hideous conflict, fuelled by greed and anger. Now in our time we have yet to understand that a peace process has two sides, a settlement is reached only when both view points are considered. The oft quoted ‘two-state solution’ in the Middle East is aptly named for two states have to agree the terms of living together.

All somewhat prosaic, all been said before yet pertinent to the future of our planet and our continued habitation of its land.

In spite of the clouds, we need the confidence of hope that is at the source of our faith, the vision to trust for  ‘without hope the people perish’.

Let’s finish where I started, with Joni Mitchell from 1969. She concludes her song ‘Both sides now’ with these words

‘I've looked at love from both sides now, from give and take and still somehow it's love's illusions I recall I really don’t know clouds at all.’

Be good to each other this year.

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