Don Cupitt Impossible Loves (Polebridge Press 2007)
Reviewed by Judith Bore
(Reviewed March 2009)
‘This is a very tender book”. I wrote those words several weeks after first reading it and when doing my first draft of this review. As I picked up the book for a final scan a few days ago I ‘saw’ the Cover photo for the first time: a sculpture of two hands – about to take hold or let go? – I cannot finally discern. I was delighted with the resonance between the photo and my response to the text.
Impossible Loves is about human desire and its stubborn resistance to the reality principle. It sketches in, mistily, the shape of one life as it has turned out, all the while referring to the ‘what ifs” that would have given it a different trajectory and pattern.
So it could have been about regret but it is mostly about enjoyment and acceptance – acceptance of loves found to be wanting but not let go of, the enigmatic, apparently aimless loves, deep appreciation of the routine love of marriage and family life. This is your life human being, so full of the desire for growth, communion and freedom; you are forever pushing at the boundaries of yourself. And of course acceptance of the one-way street of human life and its bitter, bitter sweetness.
The book has some reflections on the possible value of these ‘impossible loves’: the way we go on loving dead parents is a preparation for our own death? It is an additional dish on Don’s most recent project of making more substantial his reinvention of religious thought which began with the basic meat of his ‘solar ethics’: a reinvention, I hasten to add, in everyday language. It contains very useful summaries of the menu so far and has no-nonsense definitions of religion such as something that “calms us down and allows something good to happen”. To find out which extant human institution best provides this nurture, you’ll have to read the book.
Don speculates that this emotional milieu where we dwell on, mourn and finally enjoy all our impossible loves – including the lives we might have lived – may be viewed as similar to the ‘supernatural realm’ in traditional religious language. It is part of the ‘add-on that makes us human animals.
And here I take over the speculation. Perhaps this inner milieu can be thought of as the ‘house of prayer’ where we may dwell more and more as we approach the end of life but one which we have been building, and making more hospitable throughout life, around the core of our essential loneliness.
The religious task today is to renovate this ‘mansion’ or ‘dwelling place’ for future generations. Without refurbishment this ‘house’ becomes a place of fear and trembling where the sickness-unto-death lodges. With care and attention it is a place where we can quiet the din of anxiety and learn to savour the “bitter, bitter sweetness of life”.