Tuesday 7 October 2014

My Golden Thread, and Christianity

I have mentioned before the Golden Thread that runs back through my life into the mythical mists of remembered childhood: a thread of memories and images (snapshots of moments, mostly) drawn from my personal experience over the decades, also the arts and sciences, particular landscapes, and also some imaginations - which carry the sense of a special significance for me.

I call it a thread because there is the sense that these all link-up, and run through the great mass of everyday matters - nearly all of which melt-away (even if they seemed terribly important at the time).

For some periods of my life, there is a lot of detail in the golden thread - in others (many years) there is almost nothing: that is to say I have memories, but they don't enter into the golden thread.

The content of the golden thread feels solidly meaning-full, although I could not say what the meaning actually is.


For obvious reasons I am not intending to reveal much about the specific content of this golden thread, but it will come as no surprise for me to say that there is a lot of Tolkien in it! Things like the memory of reading specific passages in specific circumstances, thinking about particular themes while I was in certain landscapes, and a special feeling about some episodes from the book: for example the cloaked and hooded Silvan (= 'wood') elves sitting on the tree platform in Lothlorien at night, with their arms around their knees.

Before I became a Christian, I think it would be fair to say that of all the content that was not unique to me and my family and friends, and my unique experiences, Tolkien formed the most significant and enduring part of the golden thread - leading back to age 13, and foreshadowed before that in fairy tales, fantasies and myths - for example images from the Marvel Thor comic 'Tales of Asgard', and Longfellow's Hiawatha - things like this linked-up with Tolkien's world.

But if I was to mediate, then these were among the things I felt gave my life significance and a mythic reality - whereas the vast mass of my experiences, triumphs and traumas, school and work and leisure, seemed at best irrelevant and more often a horrible waste.


Since I became a Christian, it has been a recurrent project, desire and hope to link up my new Christian life with the golden thread. My childhood experiences of Christianity had very little to do with the golden thread - they were mostly the other kind of memories: like school dinners, and long car journeys, and reading 'set books'.

(In fact, it applies to people and relationships too: by the test of the golden thread, some were real, others were not.)

The failure of some Christian endeavours to become a continuation of the golden thread has indeed been a major factor in discarding them: if I cannot continue the golden thread by my current Christian practice, then I must be making a mistake: I am on the wrong track; I am trying to force the pace; I am doing things for the wrong reasons; there is some pretence or dishonesty going-on.

As it turns out, there is a lot among the Christian traditions that is utterly dead to me, as measured by the test of the golden thread.


The golden thread is therefore the most important, most fundamental discernment in my life - but it is slow, it is retrospective, it is not very precise. It is more likely to tell me where I have gone wrong, and where I have been on the right track may not become clear for quite some time - when it emerges that significant new material has continued the golden thread.

Why should I take any notice of this golden thread thing, anyway? Perhaps it is just a self-gratifying or self-justifying delusions.

No - the golden thread is real, it is the other stuff that is a delusion so far as I personally am concerned. But what is a delusion for me - a fake, a forced and feeble thing - may be primary reality for another person: part of another person's golden thread.

(Although it looks to me as if many, indeed most people violate, mock, ignore or deliberately invert their golden threads - they are living a lie; unintegrated strivings; nothing deep or continuous but only superficiality and unnatural assemblage; their life has no myth. At least, that is how it looks to me.)


Where does it come from, this golden thread: what is it? I think it comes from and is that tiny glowing coal of my personal essence - the soul, self, agency - that stretches back into pre-mortality.

What is this personal essence supposed to do? Ultimately its destiny (which can be, and sometimes is, rejected) is to grow from experience (experience of the right kind) into harmony with the divine, and with other souls.

The golden thread is my picture of its longitudinal growth.



Adam G. said...

Something like this is why the past can't be wholly dead.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam. No, the past of the Golden Thread is often more alive (and more real) than the present; not always (thank Heavens!), but much of the time.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Hmmm... My love of fugues suggests that a golden thread may be like a single musical line which while meaningful in its own right becomes exponentially greater when accompanied by the contrast and harmony between itself and other golden threads.

The really deep, slack-jawed moments of AWE occur in those moments when this happens with awareness of both the moment and movement. It may even be that seconds before there was nothing; but suddenly all the parts resonate and sing together. Those beautiful periods, being both objectively short and subjectively long are the tonic that I live for. The funny thing is - like happiness - they cannot be pursued, captured and placed in a special cage. Any attempts to do so are futile and decadent. The proper response - as far as I can tell - is to appreciate them without attempting to possess them. And after they pass there is always the after-image of episodic remembrance which like an echo sounds and stirs as other golden threads resonate and strengthen it.

This reminds me of the scene at the end of Tarkovsky's "Solaris", where the water moves the reeds in an undulating movement, and the end ties back to the beginning to create a wonderful and complete wholeness.

Roger Ebert gave a very insightful review of both the film and of Tarkovsky. It is definitely worth the read - see http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-solaris-1972

Cererean said...

Speaking of Tolkien... I have thought along similar lines, inspired by the Ainulindalë. Each of us is given a theme by God, and the freedom to sing along to it.

We can choose to sing in harmony with it, build upon it, elaborate on it. We can choose to instead sing along with Melkor, rejecting our own theme and bringing discord into our lives. Or we can choose to simply ignore it and not sing at all.

*That* is the choice that is before us.