My wife has been working afternoons at St Joseph’s Hospital this week. And so I have been dropping her off and driving back through an area of Hamilton very familiar to us: the Aberdeen area just under the Mountain brow. From 1976 to 1982, Alison and I lived in a second floor apartment on 149 Markland Avenue.
There are many beautiful homes in the area, each with their own character. But there is one remarkable house I had never forgotten: an old home, much older than the 1890s–1910s homes that form the majority of the homes in the area. It is 28 South Street, is set back from the street and has a whitewashed exterior. What struck me about the house in years gone by was the house’s name—I love the idea of naming homes; if I could name mine, I would call it possibly Pantycelyn (after my Welsh hero W Williams) or maybe Haworth (after my Yorkshire hero Grimshaw) or even Olney (after John Sutcliff) or possibly Kettering (after my mentor)—maybe this is a reason I have not named our home—too many good names to choose from.
Be all this as it may, what struck me about the house when I would walk by it in days gone by was the name of the house, painted in large black letters on the whitewash: Linquenda. It is Latin from the verb linquo, and means “Things left behind.” It is a graphic reminder of the nature of all things in this world: one day they will all be left behind. Well, I thought as I was driving home after dropping Alison on Tuesday, I will drive by the house and see it since it had been probably a decade since I had seen it last. To my surprise, the name was gone and there was simply whitewash. No name and no apparent evidence of the name that had adorned the house for years.
As I thought about this incident later, it struck me: it is not surprising. All that men and women of our culture have is the secular, the temporal, the things of this world. The idea that all will one day be gone or left behind is simply too much reality to bear. So, in this case much easier to remove the horrible reminder and paint over the offensive house name. I could be wrong about the reason for the removal of the house name; it might be much simpler and quite other.
But I am not wrong about the deep malaise of contemporary Western culture: it is hollow, flat, or as Herbert Marcuse said, one-dimensional. One sees it on every hand. Belief in another life and another world, another dimension of reality—I affirm unequivocally the reality of that world in which dwelleth righteousness and the saints and where the Lamb is all the glory—gives a richness and depth to life. In the rejection of God and the divine, our secular culture has taken its cue from science and its faith in the phenomenal—and we are much the poorer. O for the recovery of the noumenal and true spirituality!