The Whale in the Bath

Is mass communication like a background noise that is just loud enough to catch our attention and make it difficult for us to concentrate on what we are doing and yet not loud enough so that we can hear clearly what is going on? Are musicians lighting fires because they cannot compete with the beat, blast and bounce of modern promotional videos; and, therefore, they need a “sensation” to give them a bubble of free publicity — as if to open a brief passage for a message to tear through the media like an ambulance through congested traffic? Where, in all this, is the dialogue about what “is” and the truth-in-action which follows on from it; indeed, do we miss the possibility of communicating with a wide audience because of the technical nature of ethical discussions? This brief piece, then, considers the challenge of finding a way to address a kaleidoscopic snapshot of familiar ethical issues from the point of view of imagery which falls short of their shocking reality and yet, at the same time, is like the space of grace: a moment in which the truth taught through the Holy Spirit can be made present — turning our vague wonderings into the pointed words which abruptly precipitate a decision to act as if we have been asked: “Will you marry me?”

We need imagination, then, to recognize what is obvious; indeed, a kind of “imaged” apprehension of what exists. Thus “out there” are many possibilities for the imaginative exploration of “in here”; and “in here” is never about loneliness but about being alone in God the better to be in the company of others. We need images to help us to understand what is otherwise self-evident but invisible. At the same time if there is something we do not understand, it is helpful “to image” and to ponder what it is; and, hopefully, finding the help we need will help others too. There follow, then, thoughts on phone and action, a present, the un-common good, the God-connection, growing, freezing or uprooting, “un-fertilizing” the earth and spiritual recycling.

Instant Communication and “Quantum” Developments

What is faster than a digital text, an email or even the speed of light? What traverses the universe in an impossible to define instant — in a moment less than anything else and even goes beyond it? What, in fact, can be sent from anywhere, anytime and by anyone? What will always be received, welcomed and answered? What, in a word, is the most incredible kind of communication known to human beings? What, in other words, contradicts the most profound loneliness, breakdown or threatening extinction of life? Prayer! We are as vulnerable as balloons to bursting! It seems that when there is a problem in relationships, especially between young people but perhaps more generally too, there is a kind of implosion and the possibility of suicide. We are often without the insight to enter into the meaning of suffering and to experience being sustained in the search for the help we need. Prayer is like breathing and, therefore, the more demanding the times we live in and the more challenging the experience of life — the more necessary it is to breathe steadily; but, at the same time, if we live without getting out of the exhaust fumes we are in danger of death — we need a word which opens our lives on the history of salvation and the God who comes in the midst of life to meet us!

If, practically, raising money towards five out of our eight children going on pilgrimage is always a challenge to be met, remember the last time God acted. How people complained the last time that I shaved to raise money (as the children had never seen me without a beard) that I did not shear my head. This time, then, I announced the Gospel with “Baldness and shaved my head, raising more money and eye-brows than last time — even if a few asked about shaving my beard to go with it. Maybe next time I will shave both head and beard!

Be Present to the Gift of Yourself

A gift is complete, well wrapped, attractive, a thoughtful expression of the giver and ready to be given; and, at the same time, there is a “moment” to give: a birthday, an anniversary, or on getting married. The present is “within” and, at the same time, the outward expression of it is of a promise of what is good. There is, in the words which express our giving, a natural “liturgy” which celebrates an irrevocable “opening” in the giving and receiving of the gift. Each one of us is a gift: a wholly unique expression of the human race. Just as there is a “moment” in which giving and receiving are one, so there is a “moment” of our first beginning. We have received the gift of ourselves from God; and, at the same time, we are given into the hands of others. Pondering the fact that each one of us is a gift, leads us to think of God as “Gift from Gift.” Just as the Father gives himself wholly to the Son and the Son, together with the Father, give themselves wholly to the Holy Spirit, so God gives himself wholly to us; and, in God giving himself wholly to us, He brings to life the possibility of giving ourselves wholly to Him and to each other in the mystery of marriage.

But just as God does not take back the gift of himself, so the giving of Himself in Jesus Christ and his Church renews the original gift of man, male and female; and, in the renewal of redemption, lies the renewal of the celebration that each one of us is a gift to be given: a gift to be irrevocably given.1

The Un-common Goal of the Common Good

When the flashy care is dumped, recycled or starts its journey between going in and out of fashion, in or out of the category of a prized piece of junk, when the house loses its pristine look from the wear and tear of daily life, especially if there were children running to and fro or the mop is getting caught in the corners and generating stains, when our clothes were once so important and yet are now losing their glitter, not to mention qualifications and all kinds of goals that have a dim glimmer of the glory they once possessed, if they ever did, or our bodies begin to look like the misshapen fruit so often rejected, it seems, from the shelves of our shops — then we might begin to see that there is only a world of relationships and the home we globally share: that the ultimate destination of all of us is to get on with the other and to help all to succeed where, in reality, none of us can make it alone.

If a coal fire is scattered then each coal, while keeping its warmth for a while, slowly but surely loses its “life and heat and, growing duller and duller, dies into a lifeless black; and, by contrast, the coals on a fire have a more natural life span and keep each other warm, alight and connected. Just as a coal cannot put itself on the fire, so we need the help of one greater than ourselves. Thus a well-kept fire is there for others to benefit from in so many ways. So the different cells of society function to keep people connected, together and active. What keeps you “alight? Whether it is marriage, the family, the Church, a cultural group or association based on an activity, we need to be together to keep the warmth of humanity alive among us. Are we a scattered coal or fuelling a fire? Are we an isolated being or a being-in-relation to others? Are we bringing people together or driving them apart?

Connecting with God

Does a washing machine design itself? Did the computer grow out of static electricity? Was the puppy its own parents? What begins itself? In other words, when does what does not exist cause itself to exist? Can what is not there begin to be? Therefore that which causes what to exist has a responsibility for what is brought to exist. God expresses a responsibility for loving Creation into existence through the Son of God’s work of redemption and sanctification; and, implicitly, expresses His responsibility for the coming into existence of each one of us. The natural conception of a child respects the rights of the child to a mother and a father; the intra-uterine dialogue with his or her mother and, by implication, the presence of the father; and, therefore, the parents contribute the psychological dynamic of their relationship as the basis of the “experiential environment for unfolding the child’s relationships to others. God, the ultimate parent, continues the unfolding of His help through the very Incarnation of the Son of God who comes to “connect with us”: ‘For, by his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man’ (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

We are in the sight of God as beings-to-be-saved but, increasingly, we are under surveillance to be saved from others until it is our turn to be turned in.

Growing, Freezing, or Uprooting

A seed is dry and inactive; indeed, its very dryness is a kind of inertia. Plant a corn of the cob, tomato or onion seed, all of which were hard and dry, in moist soil on a windowsill in the sun. If the corn seed is good, it softens in the moist soil and germinates: it begins the transformation of growth — from inert seed to the corn of the mature plant. The planting of the seed vividly illustrates the seed is not the soil; and, as such, begins to open a vista upon a way of understanding conception. If you are going by transport then you get in a car, an airplane, a bus, a lorry, a helicopter and, in due course, you get out. If you come to the border of a country you go through the process of expressing who you are and pass through to where you are going. When you put on well-made clothes, no matter how simple or smart, flashy or scarcely suitable, they generally last until you outgrow them. If you are going to grow a vegetable plant, flower or indeed anything from a seed planted in soil, you learn what it needs to grow and, in so far as you can, you help it; and, if it was grown in a plant pot, it can be transplanted elsewhere to continue its development. We are not the transport, the place we enter or leave, what we wear or wear-out, just as the seed is not the soil through which it grows; but, if we are the vehicle or its driver, the clothes supplier or the gardener, we do what we can to look after our passenger, the goods to be sold or the seed that grows and can benefit from our help.

Tragically, however, we are immersed in a many-peopled-implicated culture which is coming into the beginning of human life and, instead of helping, is turning us over into labelled objects to be un-made, mixed, or delayed in innumerable freezers — as if the writing on the container changes who is in it. How many men are collaborating with women and are drawn into discarding what has been begun or who have unfolded, further, a wonderful manifestation of who was there from the beginning — but are then letting the person be rubbished as if the relationship is not as indelible as the person is forever? If we are shocked by the ruining of a picture how much more terrible is the reality of what really happens to many of our children? How many branches have been chopped out of the family tree? Why do many of those who pass through the richest pastures shut the gate on those who would follow? How impossible it is to communicate this truth in today’s culture: that each of us is equally a gift; and, therefore, what resources of imagination do we need to draw upon to awake us to the tragic irony that we use the gift of life to take it from others?

“Un-fertilizing” the Earth

The whale in the bath, however, is that amidst the welcome and almost universal recognition of how to improve the planet through recycling, alternative fuels, recourse to previous methods of food wrapping, such as banana leaves and paper bags, there is a shattering silence about contracepting the fertile earth: pouring through human beings an unpreceded amount of sterilizing solution which is destroying the fertility of the seas and, by implication, many sources of food and, possibly, unleashing what ends up boarding the food chains too. In other words, in an unprecedented onslaught on the human race, there is often a spend on staving off people coming-to-exist at the expense of people, the planet and the meaning of a common home; indeed, instead of the mentality of a large family fully occupying a house, economising on travel by using vehicles and accommodation to the maximum, recycling clothes and sharing work and talents with the others — there is a tendency to multiply houses into flats, each with a car, washing machine and whatever is possible in terms of manufactured goods — without scarcely a garden, flowers or vegetables growing in tubs.

The Ultimate Recycling: Conversion

More generally, it is one of the signs of a coherent world that wondering about the stars opens up many “images of human interiority: enter the black hole of a collapsed star. Over-reaching ourselves, like a gangly object that comes within the range of the gravitational crush of a black hole, there is a tendency for us to be caught and to be spun around and to spiral down in a process, if not instantaneous, of being crushed. Just, then, as the force that pulls us down is greater than our own power to resist, so we need a power greater than the force that is crushing us down. If God acts in the course of our going down, then conversion is like the turning of a spiralling down into a spiralling up and opens up the possibility of bringing others out of their decline or even catching them as they come to the edge of the abyss.

Rags are the remains of what was once clothing and indeed may well smell and be very unsightly, stained and full of holes; and yet rags, trashed clothes, almost completely rubbished, can express the exhausted living of an all but totally wasted life. But a lamp made of rags, when lit, transforms what was worn out, ready to be wasted or bordering on the useless, into the light that helps those around us to see what we can see: that the grace of God is the original and ultimate recycler!

  1. This section on chastity was taken from Conception: An Icon of the Beginning, published by En Route Books and Media, 2019: enroutebooksandmedia.com/conception/.
Francis Etheredge About Francis Etheredge

Mr. Francis Etheredge is married with eight children, plus three in heaven. He is the author of Scripture: A Unique Word and a trilogy From Truth and Truth, all from Cambridge Scholars Publishing; The Human Person: A Bioethical Word (En Route Books & Media, 2017), with forewords from eight writers; The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads Through Dead Ends (En Route, 2018); and Conception: An Icon of the Beginning, with contributions from ten other authors, as well as The Prayerful Kiss (En Route, 2019).

Francis is currently a freelance writer and speaker and his “posts” on LinkedIn can be viewed here. A radio interview can be heard here.

He has earned a BA Div (Hons), MA in Catholic Theology, PGC in Biblical Studies, PGC in Higher Education, and an MA in Marriage and Family (Distinction). He is a co-founder of the Donum Vitae Institute.

Comments

  1. God bless and thank you very much for the diversion. My sorrowful heart needed a pick-me-up. God bless. Ginnyfree.

    • Avatar Francis Etheredge says:

      Thank you! Remember: God meets you where you are; God loves you as you are; and God’s love is forever! Peace. Francis.

  2. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    Francis,

    I read it all, fun reading, not sure I got it, but keep up the good work. We need creativity, art in all forms.

    • Avatar Francis Etheredge says:

      Thank you. You kind of ‘got it’: ‘We need creativity, art in all forms’; and, therefore, when speaking of God and His work it helps, sometimes, to explore what is current to open a “space” for meeting Who is Eternal. Peace. Francis.

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