Thursday, 15 March 2012

Things fall apart

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” (Yeats)

Do all of us not feel this, live this, at times?

Things fall apart. People fall apart. Communities fall apart. Our minds and hearts fall apart; our families and relationships and jobs and marriages and hopes and dreams fall apart.

One moment all is spinning nicely; we feel ‘together’; everything fits and works and makes sense.

The next, everything seems to spin suddenly and noiselessly out of control, as if one of the solar system’s planets has somehow gone out of orbit, causing a ripple effect of chaos and destruction.

But even when things don’t fall apart, how often do we live in dread that they are and will? Sometimes I can almost see the white knuckles around me as we all hang on for dear life on this ride called life, trying desperately to keep ourselves together, our worlds together, our loved ones together. As if we are the glue and if we don’t do what we do – or not do what we don’t do! – then everything will instantly collapse. And I’m not talking here about those things that life and love require that we simply get up and keep doing every day; I’m talking about all the extra ways we contort, twist ourselves out of shape, and take on burdens and responsibilities that are not ours to carry, driven by this nameless fear of imminent disaster.

I still vividly remember one of these personal moments of spin and swirl many moons ago. It wasn’t that my life was actually falling apart. In fact, externally, things seemed to be coming together, falling into place. But internally all was spin, and I felt as if this swirl was going to break out of my insides any moment and explode into my world.

I had to get out, get away, find some peace.

I took a walk down the quiet country lane that led away from the house where I was living. The rough grey tarmac wound gently ahead of me between high, dense Devon hedgerows; and behind the hedges great, ancient trees soared, stretching their branches into a canopy above the one lane road. Disturbed by only the occasional car, I could walk right down the centre of it on the sparse green sprinkling of moss and grass that wheels never touched. The silence was pierced only by the sounds of hedgerow birds and distant traffic; and glimpsed through the branches overhead, clouds swept by in their endless cycle.

The world spun on. In its spinning, it was holding together.

And it was holding together without my help.

Into my mind spun the one thought that could save me from all of my internal spin and swirl:

“In him all things hold together.”

And, right there and then, I knew this to be profoundly true. I couldn’t see it, but at that moment I could sense its truth with every fibre of my being. This holding together, this cohesion, was realer than the road beneath my feet, the hedgerows, trees, clouds, birds; realer than my own swirling thoughts and emotions. And these, too, he was holding together – infinitely tender and infinitely strong.

As a friend and I discussed this week, scientists know that molecules are held together by something, but they still don’t know what it is. I love that. And whatever they discover and whatever they name it, for me this mysterious cohesive force of love is Christ, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” who is before all things, and for and through whom all things were created. “In him all things hold together." (Colossians 1)

He is the glue. Not me. Not you.

We can’t be the glue for ourselves or for each other. Though, when we truly realise this, the miracle is that we can be Christ for each other, embodying his ‘holding together’ for each other with love and care that are trusting and releasing, rather than fearful and controlling.

But, how to realise? How to remember?

Sometimes we simply need to get out of our little enclosed worlds – out into this wide, whirling, water-marked world – and open our eyes to ‘see’ and sense and know how true and firm and loving his holding is.

And sometimes we need to let go of a few of the planets we are trying to juggle, let them fall, let some solar systems seemingly spin out of control when we loosen our grip... and watch and wait. We desperately need to get free of the powerful illusion that we are the centre, or we will never see and experience what is true and real: In him all things hold together.

Sometimes, we have to allow things to fall apart in order to discover that the centre CAN and WILL hold, and that the centre is not us.


  1. This reminds me a lot of a passage I love from Wendell Berry's Memory of Old Jack: Words come to him: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death... Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” – the words of the old psalm that Nancy had made him repeat when he was a boy until he would remember it all his life. He had always been able to see through those words to what they were about. He could see the green pastures and the still waters and the shepherd bringing the sheep down out of the hills in the evening to drink. It comes to him that he never understood them before, but that he does now. The man who first spoke the psalm had been driven to the limit, he had seen his ruin, he had felt in the weight of his own flesh the substantiality of his death and the measure of his despair. He knew that his origin was in nothing that he or any man had done, and that he could do nothing sufficient to his needs. And he looked finally beyond those limits and saw the world still there, potent and abounding , as it would be whether he lived or died, worthy of his life and work and faith. He saw that he would be distinguished not by what he was or anything that he might become but by what he served. Beyond him was the peace and rest and joy that he desired. Beyond the limits of a man’s strength or intelligence or desire or hope or faith, there is more. The cup runs over. While a man lies asleep in exhaustion and despair, helpless as a child, the soft rain falls, the trees leaf, the seed sprouts in the planted field. And when he knows he lives in a bounty not his own, though his ruin lies behind him and again ahead of him, he will be at peace, for he has seen what is worthy.

    1. Ooh, I love this, Walter, and remember it (don`t I? from early sevice?!), and am so happy to have it on here for me to read and access. "While a man lies asleep in exhaustion and despair, helpless as a child, the soft rain falls, the trees leaf, the seed sprouts in the planted field." Mmm.

  2. Yes, it was in the early service about a year ago. Good memory. I suspect it wouldn't work for everyone, but there's such a deep peace in that closing bit for me.