Saintly advice on mindfulness

When the novelist and journalist, Arthur Koestler, visited Japan in the late 1940s, one of the people he wanted to meet was Eugen Herrigel, author of the spiritual classic, 'Zen in the Art of Archery'. This beautiful account of the cultivation of attention within a meditative path is justly acclaimed so it came as a shock to Koestler that Herrigel appeared not to have renounced his profound sympathies with National Socialism in spite of the stark, post-war revelation, of the human costliness of its essential depravity. Without a framing intention and a guiding telemetry towards a transforming goal, the practice of diligent mindfulness can sharpen your awareness to no necessary good effect!

My brief in giving a day to the regional gathering of Christian Meditation groups, affiliated to the World Community for Christian Meditation, this Saturday was to help people think around - what is it that support and sustains the direction of our meditative practice and what meaningfully …

Learning to pray with the Russian pilgrim

When I was at university, there was a 'mission' - three evenings - the first the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, the second the 'double act' of Archbishops Sheppard and Warlock and, finally, third, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. All three days were interesting, the last was compelling; and, as was my way, I wrote to Metropolitan Anthony and found myself sitting in his kitchen, drinking tea, and receiving instruction in the Prayer of the Heart (or Jesus Prayer) that sits at the centre of Orthodox Christian spirituality. The Metropolitan helped to 'baptise' my meditational practice that ever since has been an exploration into the mercy and compassion that is at the heart of silence.

I had been made aware of the prayer by reading 'The Way of the Pilgrim' that is an anonymous text, published in Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century, that is probably best known (outside of Christian circles) for being placed as a central &qu…

An invitation to the examined life

This is Claude Houghton a selection of whose novels have been re-published by Valancourt Books part of whose mission is to allow over-looked authors a second run at being noticed and (re) appreciated.

For it is undoubtedly true that Houghton was appreciated in his time (the1930s-50s) most especially for his early novels where psychological insight and a sense of metaphysical inquiry unfolded against a background of mystery. He was praised by such as Graham Greene, Henry Miller and J.B. Priestley and, I think, now having read two - 'I am Jonathan Scrivener' and 'This was Ivor Trent' deservedly so.

Ivor Trent is a novelist who on the cusp of starting a new work tells everyone that he is going abroad to write but, in truth, goes to a lodging house in Chelsea, where he keeps a quiet upstairs flat. It is, he finds, the only place he can write - a 'superstition' that proves self-reinforcing. On hi…

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…