R.S. Thomas

The Other

There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl calling
far off and a fox barking
miles away. It is then that I lie
in the lean hours awake listening
to the swell born somewhere in the Atlantic
rising and falling, rising and falling
wave on wave on the long shore
by the village, that is without light
and companionless. And the thought comes
of that other being who is awake, too,
letting our prayers break on him,
not like this for a few hours,
but for days, years, for eternity.



ask grace, not instruction
ask desire, not understanding
ask groaning of prayer, not diligent reading
ask for the Spouse, not the teacher
ask for God, not man
ask for darkness, not clarity
ask not for light, but fire”

Meaning and Purpose

In sloppy everyday speech we sometimes use purpose and meaning interchangeably as if they meant the same. But remember how we go about a given purpose and how, in contrast, we experience meaning. The difference is striking. In order to achieve our purpose, whatever it may be, we must take hold of the situation, take matters in hand, take charge of things. We must be in control. Is this also true of a situation in which you experience deep meaning? You will find yourself saying that you were touched, moved, even carried away by the experience. That doesn’t sound as if you were in control of what happened. Rather, you gave yourself to the experience, it took hold of you and so you found meaning in it. Unless you take control, you won’t achieve your purpose; but unless you give yourself, you can’t experience meaning.”

The passive voice in the English language went out of style around the first half of the twentieth century and for some reason the perspective has stuck. George Orwell spoke out against it in the late 1940s. And now, in the most common word processor on the planet, if you write a sentence in the passive voice, a little green squiggly line will appear underneath with the bland suggestion: “consider revising.”

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The Handshake, The Hug, The Kiss

What meaning does physical touch have for us? After enjoying coffee with a friend the other morning, we found ourselves at our cars, parked right next to each other, ready to bring our time together to a close. This girl seems particularly keen on the half-open ‘side-hug’. Personally, I am not very accustomed to this side-hug, though I have experienced it most commonly, I suppose, with the wives of some of my married friends. Still, as I was driving away, I began thinking about the layers and hierarchies of different kinds of physical touch that we use in our culture to communicate various things to one another.

I thought of my time living for six months in Hungary a few years ago. There, as with many other European cultures, one greets and bids farewell to one another with two, or sometimes three, kisses on the cheeks, alternating with each kiss. This is the common and cultural greeting for first-time introductions, greeting one’s mother, father, siblings, close friends, or strangers that you are being introduced to. Sex, or gender, is here irrelevant. Occasionally, the handshake would be used between myself and an older professor, for example, with whom there was not much familiarity, a relationship connection we did not intend to see again. But the cheek kisses were almost entirely consistent and present. One had not said “hello” or “goodbye” without this.

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