Chariot of the Soul - finding ways through transition

To join or not to join the continent of  'Europe' in the form of the Roman Empire resonates with Britain's current question of whether to leave or remain in the European Union. The theme in its own particular way runs through this accomplished new novel by Linda Proud, 'Chariot of the Soul'.

Togidubnus is the son of a British king and his Druid wife. It is a doleful marriage, born of the king's abduction and rape. He grows up in the light of his mother and in the shadow of his father before he is sent into exile to Rome, aged ten, as a hostage for Verica's, his father's, loyalty in pre-invasion Britain. He grows up in the home of Antonia, sister to Augustus, watchful of the unfolding family tragi-comedy that is the birth of the Empire and as a friend to Claudius who, exaggerating his infirmities, survives to become Emperor and the conqueror of Britain. Togidubnus is, also, friend and student of Seneca, Roman senator, and Stoic philosopher and one of th…

Climate: A new and regenerating story

In the week that the IPCC published its latest report on climate change accompanied by apocalyptic soundings from some and widespread apparent indifference from many especially mainstream media and politicians, I decided to read Charles Eisenstein's new book, "Climate: A New Story".

Upfront I will confess to liking Eisenstein's work and loving his 'voice' - clear, engaging, balanced with that rare quality, humility, standing among people rather than apart or above, trying to figure life out in its complexities and compromises. A place from which hard-won wisdom comes.

Let us imagine, he asks, we buckle down to tackling emissions. We accelerate the renewable energy revolution, up go the panels, the windmills, the dams. We plant trees, lots of trees. We eat less meat and tuck into all the varieties of soya cunningly disguised. Will we arrive at where we want to be?

Maybe not. The world may end up disfigured, the beauty we sought to preserve sequestered under &…

Living between worlds

You can imagine why Frank Waters, the noted author of the American South West, holds an unsettled reputation since he occupies the very place that his literature faithfully explores: the people who do not quite fit in and, thus, must find their own reconciliation with and pathway through life.

He was of native American heritage, his father was Cheyenne, his mother Caucasian and he grew up in the 'white world' yet sufficiently exposed to the indigenous to be able to move within it successfully (if not always inclusively).

Like the protagonist of his finest novel, 'The Man who Killed the Deer', he could not inhabit a native American tradition as a 'traditionalist' but neither could he slip into 'white America'. Waters own way was to seek reconciliation in a 'mystical' centering where both worlds offer something to a emergent whole. This perception was deeply influenced by his reading of Jung; thus, the intuitive, communal primordial 'Indian&#…

Poetry, Ecology & Faith in Christina Rossetti

The nineteenth century in Europe is often depicted as a time of rapid secularisation. Matthew Arnold's sea was withdrawing over Dover beach and religion was under sustained assault - historical criticism roughed up the Bible's integrity, Feuerbach begat Marx and Darwin begat Freud. However, alongside these challenges, the century was also a time of religious renewal and experimentation both with and alongside the dominant Christian tradition.

In England, one of those renewals is represented by the Tractarian Movement that made explicit the continuing Catholic strand with the Anglican Church. It was grounded in both reflecting on the continuities between Anglicanism and Catholicism and on a re-discovery of common roots, most especially in the Church Fathers - of both West and East.

One of the people deeply influenced and shaped by this Movement was the poet and religious writer, Christina Rossetti, whose brother, the painter and poet, Dante Gabriel, was one of the founders of …

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I was a very factual child who read mostly history and studied maps (and watched Westerns and documentaries). It was not until I was sixteen or seventeen that I stumbled into 'the arts'. They came along in a series of individual encounters, some of which excite me still, others of which have faded. The novel was 1984, the poet was W.H. Auden, music was Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring', art cinema was Luis Bunuel, painting was J W Turner; and, opera was The Magic Flute. Each incidence opened a door that, passed through, meant a world never the same. Imagination had been ignited and enriched.

This meant, however, that, on the whole, I had never encountered the classics of children's fiction (unless possibly adapted for television and not scheduled against a documentary or a Western)! In my twenties, I spent a happy fortnight at a friend's house in the south of France where I discovered shelves devoted to the literature of childhood and lay for hours under the o…

Learning to meditate

A piece I wrote recently for the next edition of the Prison Phoenix Trust newsletter and resonant with this recent article in The Guardian on the value of yoga and meditation in prisons

"When I was thirteen, my mother learnt to meditate and she changed. She was calmer, more resilient, increasingly willing to learn new things like learning to drive; and, most importantly less likely to go off the handle at something I or my brother had done! I was impressed, so much so that, when she suggested I learnt, I did.

I sat there, twice a day, practising diligently, waiting to notice a similar change, I was going to burst forth from my anxious shyness, bloom in confidence, become popular, shoot to the top of the class; and, win my first significant other!

It did not happen quite like that. I enjoyed the actual practice. I quite enjoyed having a secret since back then you did not re…

Evolving desire: the life of Rene Girard.

If you have ever stepped into a room that has young children, a range of available toys and an ongoing dispute because every child's focus is on possession of a particular toy, you have stepped into the orbit of the works of Girard.

Desire is primarily shaped by imitation. The desirable is what is possessed by the admired other. That mutual admiration sets up rivalry. The rivalry can lead to conflict. How we manage that conflict, in multiple contexts, becomes Girard's primary theme. In the case of the nursery, it might be as simple as the adult drawing one of the children aside with a competing object of their admiration or, if the object is shareable, their admiring of the virtue of collaboration that wins, for the time being, the children's approval.

What if, however, the admired object is indivisible such as Helen of Troy who triggers and is yet not the source of the conflict between Greek and Trojan or where the desired admiration is a whole social order that must be…