Who is Jonathan Scrivener? Who am I?

All the protagonists (except its narrator) have met him, all imagine, even if the acquaintance was brief, to have understood him but do they and what is the meaning of Scrivener appointing a man he has never met as his secretary?

This secretary, James Wrexham, is the narrator of Claude Houghton's imaginative, beautifully paced, and ultimately mysterious novel: 'I am John Scrivener'.

Wrexham trapped in a 'dead-end' job and enfolded in a lonely life sees an advertisement for the job of secretary to a man of means. He applies, is appointed without ever meeting his employer, who has gone abroad, and takes up residence in Scrivener's London flat, soon he finds himself immersed in the lives of four people, all meaningfully different, (two women, two men) whose lives have been influenced in unsettling ways by interaction with Scrivener and all of whom want to see him again.

The novel unfolds in the London of the 1920s as Wrexham's pursuit of understanding Scriven…

Mystics of the Imagination

Does consciousness evolve and, if so, in what way and with what implications for our understanding of, say, a religious tradition’s development over time? A tradition that, in this case, is, at least, from a Western’ perspective, atrophying? Either retreating to the redoubt of a cognitively dissonant ‘fundamentalism’ or flattened out to a thin liberal version of the secular with morally ‘uplifting’ stories attached. Can it yet be something other than these two alternatives and can a re-imagination through the lens of an evolution of consciousness help?
Owen Barfield thought it could. Barfield was one of the Inklings that remarkable group of Christian intellectuals and authors of whom C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien were the most famous members. They sought to renew a living sense of Christian tradition that would stand the test of its times and for whom the critical keys were rigorous thought and compelling imagination.
Barfield’s discovery was that our collective experience of life change…

The Gifts of Mary

"Soon after Mary's Assumption (of 1830) I visited Father Seraphim. He was alone in his cell. He began to speak about the lives of saints who during their lifetime have been granted different graces, including visions, and had even shared in appearances of the Queen of Heaven.  Unexpectedly he asked me, 'Have you a handkerchief?' I handed him one. He spread it out and placed some small biscuits in it, of a whiteness I had never seen before. 'I have had a visit from a queen, and that is what was leftover.' He said that so merrily and cheerfully, and his face had a transfigured expression such as I could never describe. Then he knotted the handkerchief, gave it to me and said, 'Go home, father, taste a biscuit, and give some to your wife and when you go to the 'orphans' (the sisters at the mill) give each of them three biscuits."

Seraphim is Saint Seraphim of Sarov and this is one of Fr Vasily Sadovsky's, who was chaplain to the community of…

The Story and the Fable: The imaginative journey of a poet

The Orkney visionary poet, Edwin Muir, subscribed to the image of childhood enfolded in the work of Thomas Traherne,  Henry Vaughan and Wordsworth - that there is a time of prelapsarian innocence when the world is seen whole, holy, when the differentiation between self and environment, I and world has not become fixed, me in here in my bag of skin, it out there, that, however, beautiful and necessary, is yet not mine. We come, said Wordsworth, bearing clouds of glory and for Traherne all the world is my possession, as it is of every other immersed soul, until that is the vision fades. Inevitably for Wordsworth, provisionally for Traherne believing, as he did, it could be recovered anew.
Muir owed this commitment to his own magical childhood on Orkney, growing up on a succession of rented farms as the youngest child.  It is a world memorably and beautifully evoked in his "Autobiography'' that I have been re-reading. As Peter Butter points out in his introduction, this vis…

The Chymical Wedding

Edwin, a once promising, imaginative poet, burnt out by Bohemia and myriad false trails and trials; and, his assistant, companion and much younger lover, Laura, find themselves on a quest at a country house in Norfolk.

Over centuries, a family, the Agnews, had a penchant for, and compelling interest in, the Hermetic quest pursued through the medium of alchemy but this tradition for reasons not understood had died out in the nineteenth century. Sir Henry Agnew's poetic account of the mysteries had stalled, unfinished at his death, and then disappeared and his accomplished daughter's text though published had been mysteriously recalled and burnt presumably at Sir Henry's request.

Was there a key to this mystery and could the line be reawakened and re-imagined? For Edwin believes that the spiritual tradition that is the Hermetic is a vital clue in reawakening humanity to its rightful understanding of itself - god bearing beings enfolded in a living and gifted creation and ta…

Lighting a candle, dispersing darkness.

Surprisingly it has taken me a while to read this memorial volume for Kathleen Raine with particular regard to Temenos both as the journal and the Academy she was instrumental in founding It leaped into my hand, nudged by the bookshelf angel, one morning having woken, bathed in gratitude, from a dream where I had been taking tea with the four most influential women in my life: one of whom was Kathleen.

Both book and dream brought back those memories that ripple through you capturing precisely how you felt at the time and challenging you to recapture their implicit challenge now that they carried then - to live towards your best self, the self that dwells in but is greater than the productions of time. carrying the face you had 'before' you were born.

As a teenager, I found myself reading William Blake. I read unknowingly in T.S. Eliot's manner for sense before meaning! The meaning was continually elusive, baffling. I needed help so I went t…

The Brooklyn Crucifixion

Chaim Potok wanted to become a painter but life intervened and it was a road not traveled. Instead, he became a writer primarily of well-received novels. He was unusual, as a major Jewish writer in North America at the time, as he was fully immersed in his tradition as a believing, practicing Jew, rather alienated from or even antagonistic to his tradition.

He wrote from within yet not unaware of or ungenerous towards the secular, the intrusion of modernity. It is, in many of his novels, a creative tension between the enclosed but unfolding and sustaining world of Hasidic or Conservative Judaism and the American world beyond that gives his novels their life. It comes alive in the struggles of his characters to make their way - faithful to both tradition and the new.

This is wonderfully depicted in Potok's 'My Name is Asher Lev'. Asher introduces himself at the novel's opening as the crea…