How to make a tradition

An excerpt from Fateheart: A Starless Seaquel

How to make a tradition.

You will need the following ingredients, some of which may be difficult to come by: time, and in its passing, age. Need. Sunlight, though moonlight will do. Routine and necessity. Eyes, many of them. Tongues, and ears to listen to what they say. Feet, to move the hands, and hands, to do as they have done. And purpose which may warp and curdle as it mixes with time. Rules are optional, authority only needed if the need is weak and the purpose unconvincing.

First you must erect a purpose, fixing it deep in the heart of need. Allow it to rise in the sunlight until the purpose develops into a call.

Once the call is true, and the need has bled through the purpose, then the people will come. Allow the eyes to behold the purpose. Allow the hands to lift and to turn, to pass the purpose between themselves until it begins to harden into routine. Need will flatten into necessity, trampled by the feet as they move, coated in routine, passing through sunlight which marks the passage of time.

Allow the tongues to augment the call. Allow the call to overflow from the purpose, lapping in the ears and multiplying until the call becomes identity, strengthened by routine, hardened by need which has become necessity.

Through it all, age will change the components. The hands will pass, though new ones take their place. Need will vanish from memory until necessity is so embedded that no tongue questions its nature. Routine will be the only discernible shape, though it so resembles purpose that even if the need has vanished it will remain tall.

No hardline is needed. No punishment necessary if the pillar of purpose is strong. True tradition is a foundation sturdy enough for a thousand to become a single self, united in a common purpose born of need.

To destroy a tradition, one need only tear down the purpose – visibly, clearly, finally.

If the purpose falls, the tradition falls also. And the one become many, and the many become lost. They wander through the sun which marks the passage of time, haunted by a memory of a need they were told of by tongues which came before them, of a routine handed to them by hands which came before theirs. They will roam in search of new gravity, awaiting new purpose, remembering the shape they had been when they were part of a tradition.

I have a penchant for tradition. Growing up we had a collection of shells on the mantelpiece, with dates on the back marking a particular beach and time away. Living with the Stilwell’s I encountered their established tradition of the ‘birthday breakfast’. I’m currently in process of forming my own traditions here – flower pressing bouquets that arrive in the house to live on with a reminder of the occasion, amassing a recipe folder of favourite dishes of friends who leave the city.

There is a safety in tradition, a strength in joining what is pre-established. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about a lot during the recent General Synod, in which the latest Church of England guidance on same-sex relationships has been in the spotlight. To live faithfully is to be tasked with carrying forward the purposes of God. At their best, traditions anchor us, call us back to purpose and need, and make us alive to what is happening within, around and beyond us. At their worst, traditions stifle us, trap us in perpetually preserving the past, and keep us captive to nostalgia.

At their best, traditions anchor us, call us back to purpose and need, and make us alive to what is happening within, around and beyond us.

James KA Smith says “the most significant problem with nostalgia is not what it remembers but what it forgets”. I am not suggesting that the discussions of General Synod are at their heart purely about tradition. I am instead calling attention to how the most faithful acts of remembering can require an inspection and destruction of our nostalgias. The speech of Rev Miranda Therlfall-Holmes, ‘No, the doctrine of marriage is not fixed‘, was a powerful reminder to me of the ease with which I can afford something of longevity within my own set of experiences with an authority that it does not truly possess.

I have not long been a member of the established church and periodically go through moments of bemusement, horror and incredulity discovering new corners of church as an institution. There are also times I appreciate the lineage and connection, and where a tradition draws me into an appreciation and understanding of something I wouldn’t have otherwise known; I think of an elderly gentleman in church leading us for part of the service on Remembrance Sunday in a way which brought alive a reverence that undid my own reservations.

In the word association game ‘tradition’ goes with ‘past’ in the way that ‘pioneer’ goes with ‘future’. But the best traditions do not attach us to the past so much as they allow us to unlock the future.

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