We Search For a Softer World.
Notes on the St Michael’s Day address by Dr Francis Macnab,
27 September 2015. By John Abbate.
To prevent violence, destructiveness, and waste; to promote harmony, health, and wellbeing—everyone who does their best in this regard engages the great themes of St Michael’s day, summed up by Dr Macnab as “the search for a softer world.”
“Our task is to negotiate this paradox: to cope with the heavy pains and problems of life, yet to remember to search for the softness of life’s gifts, possibilities and promises.” The rocks in the garden at St Michael’s are “the symbols of life’s heavy loads.” During the beautiful Ceremony of the Rocks held on St Michael’s day each year, flower petals are scattered over the stone and throughout the garden, signifying the softer things that exist alongside the heavy burdens of life.
Martin Buber, whose “humanity and wisdom touched many during his lifetime, and probably many more after his death,” spoke of what happens when people meet each other with true acceptance in their hearts, in the non-objectifying relationship of I and thou. “We saw that the infinity of creation is revealed to us when people truly meet each other,” wrote Hans Trub of his encounter with Martin Buber. “In such good meetings we touch a softer world,” said Dr Macnab.
On St Michael’s Day this year, people were invited to enter Mingary after the service, to touch the raw, ancient stone of the central sculpture, and hear the restful sounds of a harp being played live from a corner of that quiet place. Here again we were witnessed contrasting hard and soft elements coalescing to shape an experience of uncommon beauty. Once the crowd had dwindled, I thanked the harpist for her playing; she spoke of her joy at the rare opportunity to perform in that sonorous, acoustically rich space, and expressed a wish that her daily practice could only be like that.
The famous French artist Matisse created his vision of a black Icarus while bed-ridden and needing help to hold a brush. In flat colours, the painting depicts a black figure against a deep blue sky studded with large yellow stars. Icarus is painted without defined hands or feet, perhaps to convey the limitations that we all must carry. Within the black mass of the figure’s chest, Matisse has painted a bright red spot—the active heart of our hero. Icarus is “alive in joyful readiness, reaching for the stars,” said Dr Macnab. “Even though severely limited by what had happened to him, [Matisse] showed that we all need a little help from those around us, and perhaps together we can build a softer world.”