Thursday, July 12, 2007,12:13 AM
SynchroBlog on Utopia: Being Content in the Present
The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receeding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

So this is my first contribution to the SynchroBlog community. I always enjoy reading the posts this group puts out and am glad for the chance to contribute. And as luck would have it (another strange serendipitous occurrence), this month's topic is one that is closely related to my recent musings on sacred places and the longing for home - Utopia.

Back in the summer of 1998, I participated in my college's study abroad program in England and Ireland. Basically I got to spend the whole summer reading great literature, visiting literary places, and discussing literary things. It was in its own indulgent way - heaven. We spent one afternoon wandering around Coole Park - the rich lush gardens where Irish poets (like Yeats) would come to escape from it all. A number of us expressed our delight at being in nature after a few weeks in Dublin. (a heartfelt sentiment from a number of us girls especially, who after being sexually attacked on one of our first nights there decided to remain in our dorms rooms after dark each night. We never got dinner and life was rather dull). Prompted by our expressions of contentment and the nature of the setting, one of our professors sat the group down in the middle of a field to discuss the temptations of Arcadia and Utopia. There are those who long for edenic Arcadia - to return to the innocence of nature and be content in a natural paradise. This of course was the appeal of Coole Park for those poets (and us college girls) wishing to escape Dublin. Then there are others who seek perfection through progress in the creation of Utopia - the master city as it were. We were warned that day of the dangers in either temptation and instructed in the need to place our hope in Heaven alone.

I see the dangers of centering our hope in Arcadia or Utopia, or Nostalgia and Progress as it were, but I can't just sooth such longings with the opiate of escapism. We are rooted beings existing here and now on this earth. That is why I love R.S. Thomas' poem The Bright Field. Perhaps the rugged Welsh landscapes breeds a different sort of poet than the Irish, but Thomas calls for a centering in and celebration of the present. "Life is not hurrying onto a receeding future, or hankering after an imagined past." It is not dreaming of idyllic days in Arcadia or pursuing the construction of Utopia, but finding contentment in living life day to day. That is real life - where the passion, the love, the hard work, and the sorrows commingle. Thomas found that contentment in the present in his role as a parish priest in rural Wales - as difficult as it could be at times.

Instead of seeking God in the past or future, we need to turn aside like Moses to the burning bush and see God in the present. I love how Elizabeth Gilbert describes this need in her book Eat, Pray, Love. She writes, "Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what Buddhists call the "monkey mind" - the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl... [the] problem with all this swinging through the vines of thought is that you are never where you are. You are always digging in the past or poking at the future, but rarely do you rest in the moment... if you are looking for union with the divine, this kind of forward/backward whirling is a problem. There's a reason they call God a presence - because God is right here, right now."

I remember in my youth being taught that certain parts of the Bible (like the sermon on the mount) didn't matter because they would only be fulfilled in Heaven (the Kingdom of God). My whole worldview shifted when I encountered emerging thought that paid attention to the "kingdom of heaven is among you" verses. If God's Kingdom is a present reality, life become so much more than a longing for the past or future (Arcadia or Utopia). Living in God's presence is an everyday occurrence. We don't have to wait for a future perfect Utopia, but can live in the Kingdom now. It's an overwhelming idea.

The difficulty of course is understanding how exactly that plays out in each person's life. There are places on this earth that do seem like an Arcadia (fewer that resemble Utopia). Are these sacred places just meant to be places of refreshment and respite? And what about being content in one's present place? Is it just a matter of the will to find contentment whatever one's circumstances, or is the longing for "home" actually God calling a person to where she can serve God best? Are all of our desires for Arcadia and Utopia just a longing for a far off heaven, a call to follow God's kingdom now, or God pushing us to where we are meant to be?

Read other SynchroBlog Entries at -
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
John Morehead at John Morehead's Musings
Nudity, Innocence, and Christian Distopia at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Utopia Today: Living Above Consumerism at Be the Revolution
Nowhere Will Be Here at Igneous Quill
A This-Worldly Faith at Elizaphanian
Bridging the Gap at Calacirian
The Ostrich and the Utopian Myth at Decompressing Faith
Being Content in the Present at One Hand Clapping
Eternity in their Hearts by Tim Abbott
Relationship - The catch-22 of the Internet Utopia at Jeremiah's Blog
U-topia or My-topia? at On Earth as in Heaven
A SecondLife Utopia at Mike's Musings
Mrs. Brown and the Kingdom of God at Eternal Echoes

Labels: , , , ,

posted by Julie at 12:13 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 7/12/2007 06:13:00 AM, Blogger Steve Hayes

    Do you know Auden's poem Vespers?

    When staying at a retreat house in Gateshead, County Durham, I wrote in my journal:

    I thought also of the argument I had had with James Moulder and Pandula -- on Pelagius.

    James said he had written an article on Pelagius, for Prof Maxwell, entitled "Pelagius was right", and then prefixed a perhaps" to be on the safe side. I believe firmly that Pelagius was wrong, but then I do not accept the Augustinian/Calvinist scheme of the
    atonement, which James rejects, but in rejecting it he is still bound to its terms and concepts: the legal/philosophical notion of
    sin. For James sin is what God punishes us for; for me, sin is what God rescues us from. He does not see the cosmic drama. But I look at Vorster, and see little else but man helpless in the face of evil. Eden and the New Jerusalem. Auden, in his longing for Eden, his fear of the New Jerusalem, expresses the atmosphere of England -- the love of the archaic, the wanting to go back. Perhaps there is some connection between Pelagianism and the English form of longing to return to Eden. I too have something of it in me.

  • At 7/12/2007 09:54:00 PM, Blogger David

    Great post. It takes the Dualism out of Christianity and puts it right here and now.
    After all, didn't God say we was the Great I in now?

  • At 7/13/2007 06:02:00 AM, Blogger Pastor Phil

    Hey Julie,

    I left a post yesterday, but it did not show up here. So, I came back to say welcome to synch - great post!

    Steve - I'm a not so secret fan of Pelagius - actually I think we really don't what he believed, the winner always gets to define history, and so we only know what his detractors have to say about him. Aside from that...

    Julie, I am even a greater fan of Wales, and am on my way there in a few weeks. In Welsh there is a word for longing for the homeland - "Hiraeth." I have that hiraeth always with me, and long to be in that rugged countryside of my ancient forefathers, but that is just a hint of deeper longings you touch on here, and the contentment in the present is perhaps the greatest Utopian dream we can acheive in this present condition.

    Gwyn dy fyd

  • At 7/13/2007 09:38:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Thanks for the comments all.

    I've read a bit of Auden, but know very little about Pelagius.

    Thanks Phil for the Welsh lesson - I love that this longing is so common to the human experience that many languages have distinct words for it.

  • At 7/13/2007 04:44:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    "For James sin is what God punishes us for; for me, sin is what God rescues us from."

    Very well said. Can I borrow this? :)

  • At 7/14/2007 07:33:00 AM, Blogger Jeremiah

    In "The Empire Strikes Back," Yoda spoke of Luke - "...Always looking to the future - this one. Never his mind on where he was; what he was doing..."

    I think it's good for all of us to be prescentists at times - not being "too heavenly minded" so that we are "no earthly good..."



Links to this post:

Create a Link