Posted in coronavirus, Fragments

Fragments on Fragments 20

For an introduction to this series, look here

Seekers of gold dig up much earth and find little

or

People dig tons of earth to find an ounce of gold

My suspicion is that Heraclitus is intending an unfavourable comparison between gold diggers, and the equally demanding search for truth. But I am also reminded that Jesus used a similar comparison in a more positive way:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

The desire which compels people to give all their time and energy in search of earthly reward, in Jesus’ view, is not so much wrong in itself as directed towards the wrong end. But whereas Heraclitus might be inclined to write off the people who waste their time on such efforts, Jesus’ parable challenges them, and challenges us, to turn that energy towards more lasting rewards than gold.

In theory, when everything changes that should be a good time to reflect on what our real and deepest values are, and whether our lives are really directed towards them. In practice, it’s a time when it feels all the more needful to cling on to what’s nearest at hand and provides obvious security, whether financial or psychological. If, when and whenever the stress begins to abate, that may be the right time to think again about whether our practice is really reflecting our ideals in the things we value. Are we spending our time and energy digging for something which in the end we don’t really need or want? Maybe we’re not even sure what our real, deepest needs might be. Another saying of Heraclitus encourages us not to stop looking:

Lovers of wisdom must be good at enquiring into many things

Detail from Heirloom, part of the Broken Beauty residency in Southwark cathedral, 2018. Photo credit: Alison Clark

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