Grayson and Rowan
Even or maybe especially, at our age, it’s important to continue to ask the big questions. So this autumn we have been glad to participate (face to face or online) in the lecture series from St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, London. The series had the title, ‘What am I living for?’ and involved responses to that question from a number of public figures – priests, politicians, campaigners and journalists answering the same question.
The final lecture, last Monday, was given by the flamboyant artist Grayson Perry – dressed in a pair of frilly pink dungarees and red shoes and often cackling hilariously. Predictably, his answer to the question, ‘What are you living for?’ was…art. But that was the only predictable thing about the lecture! It was an exploration of an artistic way of looking at the world. His talk was hilarious-serious, iconoclastic, fresh – and concluded with a solo song from the musical he is writing. He suggested that a creative way of life needed to be brave and not to fear making mistakes. ‘Your personal style is the collection of your mistakes,’ he said! Be vulnerable. Be prepared to be disappointed. Do what you really care about. Don’t pretend to like stuff just because others do. Don’t be too self-conscious. Be dedicated. Muck around sometimes, have fun – it’s an important part of creative life. Finally, he advised, ‘go to therapy and find out who you are’.
The week before, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams gave the lecture. Dressed from head to toe in priestly black he chuckled quietly through his lecture! But somehow there were echoes of each other in the two lectures. Williams said what he was living for was a ‘new heaven and a new earth’. He wanted to suggest something beyond the traditional Christian understanding of that phrase which, he suggested, could be narrow, fearful and constraining.
He, too, was looking for new ways of inhabiting our world. He wanted to develop a new way of seeing and a different less materialistic way of relating to the people around him – without being concerned for profitability or exchange or usefulness. He wanted to ‘attend to what is’ and regularly be brought back to who he really is.
It’s difficult to imagine two men who look or sound more different from each other, whose way of speaking is so different – one very measured and thoughtful, the other tumbling out ideas. Whose senses of humour are so different – slapstick and irony.
But remarkably they came to answers which were very similar. Living meaningfully is about letting go of our carefully manicured image of ourselves. Our habitual ways of thinking, seeing, relating and taking the risk of singing a new song!
Maybe Grayson and Rowan are just naturally ‘larger than life’ characters. But both speakers inspired us to search again for new perspectives. Both of them wanted to work out the meaning of life exactly where they were.
Interesting, energising stuff. It certainly beats attention-seeking politicians crying, ‘I’m a celebrity - get me out of here’.