The Wayward Isles | Site Index | John Cowper Powys | Home | Memoirs | Letters & Journals | Miscellaneous Pieces


A Journal from St Michael’s Green, Beaconsfield

Engineering and Angels

"Structure" is an immensely pregnant word, like "pattern" (which has no equivalent in many other languages), "form", "substance" & "style".

Structure is a male word, relating to that part of the brain which does engineering. It’s related to discipline, in the sense that I might structure my day, or my life (which doesn’t sound a good idea—to have the engineer in me taking charge of the big project!) or this book.

[Though it was an entry in my journal, in my mind I was writing a chapter of a book. But I couldn’t decide what the theme of the book is, and I felt perhaps it doesn’t matter: perhaps themes will emerge. Hence my preoccupation, whilst writing this, with structure.]

Yet "structure" is about the relationship of parts to the whole and therefore involves the idea of "relationship" which is a female word. It’s a male idea to stand alone, to be independent, to exist for oneself, but a female idea to be most alive whilst in the state of relationship.

I once played the psychotherapeutic game where you pick out pebbles according to choice and lay them on a surface so that they stand in relation to one another. You identify a certain pebble as yourself, and then by the qualities of the pebbles but principally their distance from each other, you produce a map of your childhood family relationships. Relationship is here the main thing and pattern is merely a side-effect. But the diagram of pebbles will not show structure, for structure is more than pattern. It is a linkage of forces, and it is the forces which give structure its maleness.

But these words "maleness" and "femaleness", so convenient, so seductive—can I use them? A man is not composed entirely of male attributes, nor a woman of female attributes, any more than a black person is black and a white person is white. Indeed, people with awareness find that many of the more "abstract" attributes of being human, observed in themselves and in others, are distributed rather similarly between men and women. Whilst male attributes are more in evidence in men, and female ones in women, the differences between individual men, and individual women, can be much greater than those between the average man and the average woman. Being man or woman is, in the most advanced societies today, a relatively minor aspect of being human. Male and female attributes have become abstract notions detached from their original points of reference!

But from these themes I am pulled to the beauty of the scene in the midst of which I write these words. I’m sitting on a public bench. Behind me is the Parish Church of St Michael’ and All Angels, Beaconsfield, in the County of Buckinghamshire. In front is St Michael’s Green, an acre of grass bounded by the hedges of bordering properties and bisected by a public road. Behind the tall hedges, you can see the upper storeys and roofs of substantial houses. This September sun is hot, tempered by a strong breeze. The sky is exquisite shades of blue, with fluffy clouds, tall and dramatic, being propelled across the firmament. The drone of some garden tool, and now a helicopter, the caressing swish of passing cars; none of these drowns the chirping of garden birds and the chatter of pedestrians who occasionally pass in groups. Though it’s 11am, and hasn’t rained for some hours, the grass is still spangled with raindrops which catch the sun. A jetliner passes low enough above the low clouds for me to see its red logo on the tail fin. And here I am, in contact with this damp bench. I am physically alive and grateful for it.

I see that structure exists in service to individual human contentment, somehow: or else it is nothing.

For I am asserting that individual human contentment is the highest value! Not that this simple idea was my creation: I got it from a Master. There cannot be the "greatest happiness of the greatest number". Each individual creates his own world, which is in constant change, and no one else can judge his happiness. Indeed, when I am not content, I am often in a state of not knowing if I am content or not. But when I am truly content, I know it!

As to the worth of any structure, I suppose you can judge it according to whether it achieves some stated end. So, such and such a bridge design supports a certain load and will resist winds of a certain speed.

But all of a sudden—since sitting on this beloved bench on St Michael’s Green—I see that I don’t care about that. I only care about ultimate ends. And how can I judge whether, in building my well-structured bridge, or writing my eccentrically-structured book, those ultimate ends are being achieved? To repeat, the ultimate ends are the individual fulfilment and contentment of someone.

I’m not a genius and I cannot compute the interactions that determine whether human motivation and effort results in truth and beauty, or their opposites. I’d like to follow my impulses all the time wherever they lead but that’s the antithesis of structure. It must be my education and conditioning which seeks to persuade me that structure is a good thing. Yet my impulses carry authentic creative energy.

A solution offers itself, but it’s arrived at by an extraordinary leap of faith. And a leap of faith, indeed, is one which should not be taken arbitrarily, and never on the recommendation of another. It can only be taken in obedience to an inner certainty, e.g.: "I know this, but I cannot explain why" or "I want to go this way, and I’ll stake my life on it."

So now I will tell you in what this leap of faith exists. It is nothing less than to trust forever more in further leaps of faith! This can be expressed in many ways, such as: each one of us has a guardian angel. In a team with this being of light (that personally I have not seen or heard, for I am not advanced in such powers), I can work confidently for the true value of the universe.

stmicgn5.JPG (143646 bytes)

The Church of St Michael & All Angels. It looks ablaze from within, but the light is reflected from the setting sun

stmicgn6.JPG (162830 bytes)

The bench where I sit surrounded by angels

The Wayward Isles | Site Index | John Cowper Powys | Home | Memoirs | Letters & Journals | Miscellaneous Pieces