New Year message from Dr Martin Shaw:

Joe Strummer once told me not to lose a sense of the heroic. Not in some overbearing, strutting, macho manner, but in a quieter, more vocational register. That certain beautiful things needed defending, and that itself was an organising principle in the scattergun chaos of these times. That you figured out what you stood for. You set free a little morality but held back on the judgement.

I’m not someone that peddles in despair or stirs up disorder and claims it as initiation. That’s tedious. It’s an adolescent move and one we could do without. But as I’ve said before, we are in initiatory times but mostly lack an initiatory language with which to decipher it. The messages coming through are not just cultural but profoundly personal. That means we need a symbolic, interpretive response. We need stories not just statistics, connotation not denotation. We have to figure some stuff out ourselves. The move has to be imaginatively active not passive.

You may remember that there’s at least two types of time in Greek. Chronos and Kairos.

Chronos we get plenty of – it’s the facts of the matter. Covid updates, school runs, bill paying, keeping account. We get an abundance of that. Kairos is different, it’s the soul of the matter. The story of the matter. Not just what’s happening but why it’s happening. The grace of what’s happening, even as mayhem abounds. Not just the hour but the moment. We need women and men to speak to the why – and artfully, provocatively and dare I say beautifully.

1500 years or so ago a traveller came to Brendan of Tralee and whispered to him of a land far to the west. A place of herbs in perpetual exfoliation, of trees heavy and happy with fruit. A place of marvels. This was enough for Brendan, and with a small group of hardy ecstatic’s set sale.

Along the way they would be educated in their spirituality by travelling on the back of a whale, by delicate birds that sang them hymnals, by becoming accustomed to sitting in the deep revelling silence of the wildish earth. They located a consciousness that moved between species.

When they arrived at the island of marvels they converted precisely no one, but in its way the journey converted them, deepened them, stretched them. I love this twist. I’ll be telling this story soon.

Through their pluck, steadfastness and wonder they found a place called The Hidden Country. It’s not that easy to get there, and many will attempt to dissuade you from setting out. Pay them no heed.

Brendan listened to the traveller with his Kairos mind, not just his Chronos. He heard the story preparing to reveal itself and took the adventure.

I can’t tell you what your Hidden Country is, or even if you have the coordinates, but I can always recognise someone who heard the whisper, and like Brendan, or Patti Smith, or bell hooks or The Slits or John Moriarty took the adventure. This is a Romantic position I am taking and I don’t apologise. Someone who heard the whisper and curated it has a sense of vocation to them, a quiet grit, a true north. They have gold in their hills.

I need to write far more about this, and I will.

I’ll tell you what the Hidden Country looks like to me, and maybe it will help you brood a little on yours. But at this moment I just needed to send this little invitation.

Unfashionably I still believe in the power of the New Year, that things that don’t serve you can be lain down, and something wonderful can be picked up. Wonderful things often make your legs totter a little at first, don’t be alarmed.

My mum donates her time to a food bank in the town I grew up in. My aunt rides round on a bicycle after the night clubs close, keeping an eye out for kids in trouble. You don’t get more badass than Sally and Jenny, you just don’t. That’s heroic to me, they are two of many heroines I have.

Though modest, they would not mind me telling you they are spiritual women, these two. They are not undisposed to reverie – to attending to The Hidden Country – but the response to that tending is almost always revealed with an active, in-the-world consequence. I’m going to be following these two sterling women’s examples in the year ahead.

Happy New Year.