Back in church this morning; good to catch up with people; and excellent to go out unexpectedly for lunch with a bunch of people from the service to chew the fat and laugh together. I wondered over pizza and peronis which of the morning gatherings was more spiritually useful....
I'm now listening to the new Dylan album - Tempest - and reckoning it's the best thing he's done for more than a decade. He'll never make albums of the game-changing kind he made in the sixties and early seventies (the world is a different place now). But Tempest has lyrical edge and musical verve and is worth paying attention to. There's not much music you can say that of.
So, I reckon lunch fed my soul more than the morning gathering to sing and listen (which had lots of good bits). Conversation is essential, everything else seems optional.
I'm reading Paul Auster's New York Trilogy at the moment. The writing is brilliant but the stories are strange and possibly too clever by half. The first seems to be a laboured reflection on authorial presence and the truthfulness of stories. But I didn't find myself empathising with any of the characters and when Auster himself turns up as a character, I felt I was being manipulated, however good the writing is.
As we talked about books over lunch, there was agreement that stories really engage us when we can empathise with a character, when we care about what happens to them and those that matter to them. I read Conrad's Shadow Line and Heart of Darkness while I was away and was yet again drawn into narrative worlds where people made choices (good or bad) that had consequences for them and those around them that I cared about. Heart of Darkness always leaves me wrung out and on the edge of despair about the human condition - except for Marlow's world-weary concern for the feelings of others; he reminds me that for all his outward cynicism, like so many of us, he has a heart that beats with compassion for those caught up in life's trials and mishaps, a heart of shadows and light rather than impenetrable darkness.
So, as we shared about books and our reactions to stuff happening in the world around us - near and far - I was touched by the compassion of my lunch companions and strengthened to be more empathetic in the week ahead. It wasn't just my waistline that expanded over lunch; my soul was filled and fattened to - and that always needs to gain weight.