February’s New Directions gave us the headline ‘Nothing happening’ in preparation for the upcoming General Synod meeting. Now that it has passed back into obscurity, may I consider the notion of’nothing’?
In Germany, Erich Maria Remarque observed the horrors of the First World War, and wrote his seminal Im Westen nichts Neues – not, so we understand, on Hitler’s list of favourite reading, as the Nazi party encouraged its burning. The title translates literally as ‘Nothing new in the West’, but an inspired emender created the everlasting alternative All Quiet on the Western Front. For all its memorability, it implied that ‘nothing’, as a concept, was
no more than ‘all quiet’.
Not too many years later, one Samuel Beckett confused us again. In arguably his most famous play, Waiting for Godot, the first line spoken in the original French (after all, Beckett was Irish) was ‘Rien’.
Entirely appropriate, for as one looked around the empty stage set, there was indeed literally nothing, nor the sign of anything. But when he translated his own play into English, the first line became ‘Nothing doing’, and the stasis of the French gave way to the bland inactivity of the English.
As we sit here waiting for God to make his next move in the power of his Spirit in the small matter of a minor provincial
church with its centre at Canterbury, where are we? Is it the ‘nichts Neues’, nothing new yet, that we see?
Is it the ‘nothing doing for the moment’ of Beckett’s English? Or is it the ‘all quiet’ of the peaceful expectation? Or the ‘nothing at all’, the sheer and utter absence of hope, of Beckett’s French?
While all may not be ‘tickety-boo’ (and who wishes to untangle those words?) on our Western Front of the Western church, while it all may be quiet, let us pray that there will indeed be something new. May there be ‘doing’ rather than mere ‘nothing’. He who brought creation ex nihilo is perfectly able to bring his Church in our land to where he wants it -providing we do not stop permanently on the way.