Friday August 17, 2007
Yesterday I took the bus from Plovdiv and then walked up to Bachkovo monastery (see my post on my personal blog) where I had been hoping to spend the night. I arrived at not long after three in the afternoon, and left at around six, not having managed to persuade them to give me a place to stay.
Bachkovo is a busy monastery. It is neither particularly isolated nor particularly peaceful (although there are some beautiful walks through meadows and hills in the surrounding nature reserve), but the afternoon I spent sitting in the cloister was a contented one. There is something that I love about cloisters: the sense of seclusion, the feeling of being apart from the world (there are walls, after all), but also being a part of the world (it is open to the sky and to the elements). They are places that it is possible to sit and think – or not think – for hours on end. It is not so much a matter of some kind of spiritual air hanging over the place. Indeed Bachkovo seemed to be a more clamorous and perhaps a no less unkind place inside the walls than outside on the road leading up to the monastery. It is just that this kind of building – human sized, sitting well in the landscape, both separated from and set into the landscape – is a good place to think in.
And as I was there, I found myself wondering: where are the secular cloisters, the places where the godless and those without religion such as myself, can go and dream and think (or not think)? This may seem an odd question, but it is a question that leads towards something I’ve been feeling increasingly strongly lately, and that is that the idea of secularism is one that is without much in the way of poetry.
My own metaphysics is almost entirely materialist, I think, and could probably without too much violence be termed secular. And I have no desire to add some kind of rosy, spiritual glow to the world. The world is as the world is. But I do wonder if those of us who count ourselves as secularists or materialists have only begun to understand the needs of the human heart, the pleasures of silence, what we truly need (and I do not mean religion!) to create, so that we can be fed and nurtured. Materialism and secularism have often presented themselves as heroic destroyers of myths and delusions. This is all very well. But the task of creation is much harder. It is a task always in process, one that is never completed once and for all. It is, perhaps, a task that has only just begun.
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