Pippa Passes - John Butler Yeats
...a quaint notion, minted in the early years of the 19th century as a uniform hierarchy for the ordering of society in Britain. Some may argue that, strictly speaking, it belongs to centuries before the English Reformation.
Or, to put it another way: God's in His Heaven, All's right with the world. So sang Pippa, the little silk-winder from Asolo in Robert Browning's poem, Pippa Passes. I sometimes think he should have made that a qualifying clause: When God's in His Heaven, All's right with the world.
I was reminded of this some years ago by an online article entitled The Power of Words. Marsha Hansen revives the convention of giving honour to God before a public address. She feels that only African Americans of a certain age will know where she's coming from. At the time, I couldn't help wondering what this practice might signify to Barack Obama, or John McCain. Doubtless, it would be as mystifying to Donald Trump as the customs of Ancient Mesopotamia. Few will have been taken in by his charade at the Western Wall of Jerusalem.
Time was, when before a meal, with all family members assembled (simultaneously!) around the table, the head of the household would say 'Grace', a prayer of thanks to God for providing their food, but not only that, a blessing upon it that it would nourish the body and do no harm if it were contaminated. It was a kind of domestic Eucharist. The tradition survived through WWII and into the sixties when a certain degree of affluence and taking things for granted began to permeate social life. Today, it is observed only in religious orders, in academe and at (some) public functions. Even among Christian and other Faith families, it has become an overlooked habit.
This was a way of being for all parties, no matter how wealth and opportunity were redistributed from one term of office to another. A broadened franchise came with the understanding that governments were there to enact policies on behalf of voters, as expressed in general terms through the ballot box. The democracy we prize does demand leadership. Whilst it spares us the tyrants, it exposes us to the tyrannies of our own limitless expectations which, in turn, paves the way for the autocrats we dread. The idea of a democratic free-for-all and the overweening reverence for personal choice in every aspect of our lives creates noise in which the weakest voices are drowned out and the vulnerable get crushed.
It seems this template is in our very DNA, an image of our relationship with the Creator, from which we can’t depart though we may allow other powers and passions to occupy the territory and reconfigure it in their own interests. In the past, it was recognised that divine wisdom was needed in the making of decisions, and in the striving to live them out faithfully. If you prefer, you could say it was to accord an Intelligent Universe its due. Thanks and appreciation really can change our perception of the world and our destiny. What Tennyson articulated was once widely held belief and therefore had a very real charge: More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.
We live in an age of glib sound bites, rhetoric and empty promises, but in the beginning was the Word. If we believe in its everyday ability to focus the intentions of the heart and mind (down to memos on the fridge door!) then prayer and the sending of healing thoughts borne out by actions that enable them, must improve the quality of life for everyone, near and far. The extent to which it does so depends on our perseverance and how widely the energy takes fire.
As things stand, the cosmos is in crisis, the nations ungovernable. The rising generations are left bewildered by what life on this planet entails. They have no sense of where they've come from or where they're going. In Britain, they have no systemic connection with their cultural heritage, thanks to spurious interventions in education.
The old framework was as aspirational as it was formed. Yes, it was instinct with nostalgia for what never wholly existed. History lays bare the legacy of corrupt Popes, self-serving kings, disaffected peasants and revolutions that replaced one kind of despotism with another. But does that make the reaching for it misguided and the effects of reaching for it redundant? Politics and Faith in God have never wholly mixed, yet everyone has a blueprint for living in the gentle Beatitudes given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Honouring that 'policy' would go a long way to changing the climate of politics and delivering truer leadership.
Isn't it precisely because of the excesses of human nature that we lose our way and need such a model to get us on track?
This post was prompted by Stephen Evans' On Rolls the Old World, an excerpt from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson