Friday 29 November 2013

When was I happy? Not when I used to think I was


When I look back on my life, I find that since being a Christian my memories have (mostly involuntarily) undergone considerable, radical re-evaluation - so that things I used to regard as happy events or happy times may now have been reallocated to a very different category: things I repent.

Contrariwise, that slender golden thread of personal memories which always went through, and referred to private and family things, solitary contemplation, a few writings and musical moments, mostly everydayness and seeming-triviality but seen in a numinous light.

Since I became a Christian, this thread has become clearer - more prominent, more luminous to memory - and following it back, I see that the happy times have a very mundane quality such that they are of essentially zero-interest to other people - and indeed inexplicable.

This perspective is very subversive of the way we talk about happiness  in which happiness is linked to doing certain types of event such as holidays, successes, the sepcial treat, the foreign and the spectacular.

Seldom do I read or speak of anything which captures the mundane reality of the deepest and true-est happiness.

But here is one, from Living at the End of Time by John Hanson Mitchell - 1990:


Whenever I crossed the meadow with my children on summer evenings the year I lived in my cottage, we would select a few stones from the ground and thrown them in front of... bats and watch them dive to investigate.

Sometimes it would seem to me, standing there in the pale evening while my children tossed stones to the sky, that this was the way the world should be-- a simple life without praise or blame, casting lures to bats on green evenings.

I know just what he means...



The Crow said...

After very nearly dying, an acquaintance sought me out, and against a clear blue, sunlit sky, made it clear to me, that somebody, somewhere, who was not my dear wife, actually and truly did care very deeply for me, while tears poured down my grateful cheeks.
Whatever it was, it is a memory I shall cherish the rest of my days.

Bruce Charlton said...


Of course, I know virtually nothing about you, Crow - but from what you write and the way you write, you do seem like a loveable kind of person - so I expect there are more than two people who feel that way.

Adam G. said...

That is what I try to capture, without much success I fear, in my series on the Sweetness of Mormon Life.

I think its also what CS Lewis was getting at when he said that among friends, jokes were an excuse for laughter and not the source of it.

Joy comes from outside mundane things and small ways, but somehow it is also most stronglyh associated with them, like the God of the universe being born in a stable.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Your blog series is often very successful at depicting such moments - I highly recommend it!

David said...

Interesting. This sounds a lot like an example of mindfulness or how an intense, immediate awareness of the present moment -often mundane - can be transporting. Eckhart Tolls refers to these experiences as 'portals' or perhaps they are transient connection with the transcendental or divine?