Walter Brueggemann explores the Psalms through the experience of orientation, disorientation and reorientation. The same approach can at present be applied to my study. The painter is half way through decorating it, and I've decanted books to various surfaces around the house, and sit here with abandoned bookcases, bare windows, painter's sheets with a few years of paint drippings draped around the place, sets of steps standing at the door, the pictures removed - and a sense of inner disorientation to match the mess around me.
Remember - this is the guy who likes his books in neat rows on the bookshelves, the same distance from the front of the shelf, arranged in a system so familiar I can tell my PA at College exactly where a book is - bookcase, shelf and roughly where. Same at home; except tonight my study suffers the first two of Brueggemann's rubrics - orientation has given way to disorientation. It will be Saturday before the painter returns, and probably Sunday before there's a hope of reorientation.
No big deal to most folk I suppose. And I'll survive. But moving 23 metres of shelved books is an exercise in dismantling the familiar which raises questions of attachment, comfort zones. Moving around the furniture reminded me of the elderly couple who first gave me somewhere to stay in Glasgow when I started University. Lily was one of the most unassuming, generous and open people I've ever met. Well into her sixties and seventies she went to the chapel next door to 'the jigging', while Bill stayed in the house and watched the telly. When I first met them and we agreed I'd be staying with them Bill warned me,
'Son. When ye come in at night, put the light on before you get into bed. She's aye shifting furniture, an' yer bed might no be where ye left it'.
And true enough. Lily was an experimenter with space and furniture. She was a tireless exponent of orientation, disorientation and reorientation.
Bill painted the ships with red lead, and worked alongside Jimmy Reid. Lily served in the newsagent and grocers downstairs. She smoked like a chimney and always apologised for some of what she called her 'bad adjectives'. They never referred to me as anything but 'the boy'. They were at our wedding, and some years later, within a couple of years of each other, I took their funerals. And the two years I spent in the four up two room flat in Dumbarton Road made it possible for me to afford being at University. We had several arguments about what I should pay. Not how much, but how little - she was mortified, embarrassed, annoyed, when I paid the first week's rent. In the end she agreed to take a fraction of what they could have asked. I look on their friendship as one of those gifts that teach us the connections between hospitality and humanity, and demonstrate the sacrament of unselfconscious generosity.
But Bill was right. Several times in those two years, I put on the light before getting into bed - to make sure it's where it was when I left it! May they rest in peace, whose home was a place of reoritnetation for a young man whose life was going through that disorientation that is an inevitable consequence of hearing Christ's call, and following.