Most philosophy concerns words and meanings, arguments and debates. But wisdom is also a matter of perception and intuition. Images can sometimes convey what words cannot. We see in order to understand; intuit before the rational explanation becomes clear. And sometimes - best of all - we just stop and look, perceiving without any need for words.
Here are my reflections each month on a particular image. I hope you enjoy them and use them as a basis for your own reflections. I'd welcome any brief comments you'd like to send, and will hope to include them alongside my own.
The classic view from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, California - one of the many amazing sights from our recent trip to the USA - is at its best in early morning light. Not only does it give a classic lesson on erosion, but also emphasises the wild beauty of a place that is also utterly inhospitable to life. It is almost as if one is looking over the surface of another planet; this is a world without the usual film of blue and green that sustains human and all other forms of life. We, and the biosphere within which we live, is vulnerable and subject to change - a good starting point for any personal philosophy, and also the starting point of Buddhist thought.
March & April
The pollution of the seas by plastic and rubber rubbish, discarded on beaches or in the ocean itself, is illustrated by this rather artistic display overlooking the North Sea in Norfolk, England, of stuff collected from the local beaches - a sad reminder of our routine treatment of the environment.
From early in the 20th century, this photograph shows Miss Langford outside her shop on North Hill, Little Baddow, Essex. She sold a range of general goods, food and - as remembered by my mother, a regular customer as a little girl in the 1920s - sweets wrapped in a cone of old newspaper for half an old penny. Just opposite her shop, the pub (as it is now) also provided freshly baked bread and local fruit and vegetables. You only needed to walk a little further up the hill to find a butcher, a post office and another general store. Haircuts could be had at the back of a house a hundred yards down the road, and your chimney could be swept by the local sweep who lived just a few houses up the road from Miiss Langford's. A village carter made regular trips to town - you simply put a sign in your window, with your shopping list and money ready for him, and he would return with your goods at the end of the day. Even in the 1950s, a baker and an oilman drove round the village on a weekly basis, calling on their regular customers and suggesting what they might like. You could survive in such a village, without ever needing to go even into the town of Chelmsford, seven miles away.
Now only the pubs remain; all the shops have gone. The nearest you get to local supplies are the various on-line supermarket delivery vans bringing you 'freshly clicked' food. For most people now, the village is a commuter hideout, convenient for London and set in superb countryside. With the exception of the Women's Institute (backbone of the nation!) most local organisations stuggle to survive, relying on the small percentage of the inhabitants who want to be involved in such things. Village life, as such, is in gentle decline, and with it will go that wonderful sense of being rooted in a physical location. Friendship groups remain - especially through facilities for babies and todlers, and via the society at the school gate - and long may they thrive, but I can't help but feel some nostalgia for the intensity of village life, for all its factions and gossip.
This photograph was taken at Verdun in 1916 (copied, for purposes of comment, from 'The Teilhard Album'' Collins, 1966). On the extreme right is the French Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He spent the war years serving as a stretcher bearer, and his experience of the horrors of Verdun in 1916 was to transform his idea of God and of the future of humankind. By coincidence, another great religious thinker of the 20th century, Paul Tillich, arrived on the opposite side of that same part of the front as a Lutheran chaplain to an German artillery regiment. He too was shaken by his experience of Verdun, describing it as his personal 'kairos'. In this centenary year, I am working on a book, exploring the way in which the place of religion, the idea of God and ideas about the future of humankind were shaped by the Great War, based on the writings of those two men who inspired me to take an interest in Theology back in the 1960s. It's 90,000 words at the moment and still growing - serious pruning lies ahead before I plan to self-publish it in the summer.