St Dorothy Day?

When Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress in 2015, he chose to single out four 'morally exemplary Americans'. The first two were obvious, known choices; Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. However, the second two, Catholic choices, probably had many of the journalists present scrambling for Google search. They were the Trappist contemplative monk, Thomas Merton; and, the founder of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day.

None were chosen as moral exemplars of family life but of their social witness grounded in a living faith. This may have been part of Francis's point as he repositions the Church from a focus on the bedroom towards social action. They all remind us that to be an exemplar does not mean for us to be perfect.

Dorothy Day, for example, had, to put it in the vernacular, 'one heck of a life' that is ably told in John Loughery and Blythe Randolph's new biography, 'Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century'.

She was born into a p…

A hairbreadth decision, a lifetime lived under its shadow.

At the risk of turning this blog into 'The Claude Houghton Appreciation Society', herewith a fourth of his novels reprinted by Valancourt Books, 'A Hair Divides'.

Gordon Rutherford is an aspiring writer who in a split moment must decide whether or not to admit to the accidental death, in unlikely circumstances, of a recent acquaintance in fear that he will be accused of his murder. He decides not to, hiding the body, with fateful consequences. For twenty years, his undiscovered act follows him, reaping its ably described psychological consequences until an encounter with a third person, his acquaintance's female companion at the time, the book rolls to its denouement: with its potential for exposure, prosecution, and death - and yet hauntingly, in t…

Harrowing at every moment

"Half way along the road we have to go, I found myself obscured in a great forest, Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way."
So opens Dante's Inferno, the lines echo through the title and the opening pages of Claude Houghton's novel, 'Julian Grant Loses his Way' except in Grant's case the forest is rendered contemporary, we are in the West End of London in the 1930s; and, as we are to discover towards the end of the book, this is not a vision of the afterlife, it is a vision from the afterlife.

Grant finds himself adrift, on his way to a destination, yet unsure which. He stops off in the Metropolitan Cafe to drink a cocktail and gather his wits because the world has been behaving unwontedly strange. He has had a crystalline vision of memory - two people stand on a beach in Cornwall, looking out to sea. It is deeply familiar and he finds himself moving towards them to get a better perspective, to aid memory. As he approaches, he realizes that one of the…

A lake bound journey of liberation

On a visit to the monastery of St Naum, on the shores of Lake Ohrid, I remember standing alone in the small side chapel that houses his tomb. I was looking at one of the frescoed images of his life and meditating. Suddenly, an adjustment was made to the pattern of my breathing, and its association with the mantra, as if an instruction had been given from without, though silently. It was a micro-adjustment, so gentle and subtle, but one that gave me then, continuing now, a renewing focus. I only have to stand there in my imagination again to receive the helpful 'nudge' once more, to go more deeply into the breath of things.

It is that kind of place for those who recognize or are recognized by it, as Kassabova does, is.

It is at St Naum that Kapka Kassabova finishes her journey in her remarkable book: 'To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace.' It continues and extends her reflection on borders of her previous book: 'Border: A Journey on the Edge of Europe'…

Yoga's surprising journey

When I learned Transcendental Meditation in my early teens in the 1970s, I kept it quiet from my peers for fear of appearing weird. A decade later, when helping to found the Prison Phoenix Trust (PPT) to provide opportunities for inmates to learn yoga and meditation, the situation had not greatly improved. The work being fitfully supported within pockets of the prison service and looked upon with varying degrees of suspicion by its chaplaincy service.

Fast forward and the landscape is transformed - yoga is a multi-billion dollar industry and mindfulness is practiced in the boardroom. Happily too, the work of the PPT enjoys widespread support from the Prison Service, it appears to have entered the mainstream.

Yet too there is a legitimate concern with this explosion of interest. After all, is not yoga meant to be an exacting spiritual discipline enabling the practitioner to discover their fundamental, underlying reality as one with the Self that manifests all that is?

Not necessarily …

Love & forgiveness: Reimagining Christianity through a Course in Miracles

In 1944, C.G. Jung had a near-death experience and like many recipients of this experience found returning to the body challenging and was only ‘persuaded’ to do so by the sense that there was unfinished work for him to do. He experienced the subsequent return as a case of felt imprisonment. This sense that the everyday world we inhabit is seriously out of step with a deeper underlying and freeing reality is a common one. It is one of the key drivers of ‘religion’. We are not as we are meant to be. The world, as currently perceived, is, at best, awry, at worst, an imprisoning entrapment. Is this simply a misplaced uncertainty? One that should be dispelled from our minds with a healthy, materialist reminder that this is the only world that there is, or could possibly be. Purposefully enjoy it until the end comes, and all is finished. Learn to love your transiency! Yet, as Richard Smoley notes, in his recently published erudite, well-constructed and thoughtful book, "A Theology of Lo…

Priestley at Kissing Tree House: An author remembered

It is fitting in the year that I read the 'Good Companions' and 'Lost Empires' for the first time and re-read the magical, 'The Magicians' again that I ended the year reading the newly published, "Priestley at Kissing Tree House: A Memoir" by his long-time secretary, Rosalie Batten. Priestley hoped she might write a book about him, knowing him better than anyone who might undertake such a task, and she did. She started it in 1986, two years after his death and it was only discovered at Batten's death by her daughter. It now appears in an edition by Great Northern Books.

It is an overwhelmingly affectionate portrait but does not spare the author his vanities nor his contradictions. He was most insistent, for example, that people spelt his name right, "Priestley" not, as often rendered, "Priestly", he was overly concerned, at the time, that he was being forgotten just as B…