In 1954 Iris Murdoch published her first novel, Under the Net. It is about a man who is searching to understand himself and other people. The story is about four people; two men and two women.
A loves B but B does not love A; she loves C who in his turn loves D. And D loves A! It is not a triangle of love but a diamond. The title of the novel refers to the network of relationships of which we are all part – some of them link us to one another while others we use to keep people at a distance. Murdoch wants to get under this net. She writes:
What I speak of is the real decision as we experience it; and here the movement away from theory and generality is the movement towards truth. All theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself … it is something to which we can never get close enough, however hard we may try as it were to crawl under the net.
In 1954 no one thought of ‘the net’ in the way we do today where we can be in touch literally and immediately with people anywhere on the planet and even beyond in space. But are we any closer to understanding ourselves or one another? Do we get ‘under the net’? Has the ease of communication, the thickening of the net, made this harder? Have our relationships suffered as a result of the constant stream?
These thoughts come as we approach Christmas. Malcolm Guite has written in a poem that celebrates the ‘O’ antiphons of Advent, ‘O Word beneath the words with which I speak’. All our words, all our efforts at communication, are expressions in some way of our desire to relate. We want to move closer to people or we want to keep them at a distance. There is a place for chatter, banter and even gossip! Harmless gossip! But these should only be the decoration, not the substance, of our relationships. It would not be good if our constant chat ends up being ‘normal’ and our only way of communication. Our chat is the surface of the well. It hides the clear still waters of our depths. These waters are there for us to draw and quench our aching hearts in times like Covid and economic struggle as well as personal difficulties.
The glitter of Christmas is fine but it too is only the surface. We are to go deeper to know the Word beneath our words, to get under the net. Mary was ‘deeply disturbed by the words’ of the angel Gabriel. She could not understand the message hidden in the words she was hearing. She had to ‘ponder’ and come to believe and find her own words, ‘let what you have said be done to me.’
20 Dec 2020 Advent Sunday 4 B 2 Sam 7:1…16 Rom 16:25-27 Luke 1:26-38