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’. I, 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…

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…

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Family Scene by Kahlil Gibran

Stewart J. was the first chairperson of the Prison Phoenix Trust, a Quaker and, for many years, a probation officer in Oxford. He is the only person who 'forced' me to have a pay rise (through getting me, gently, to realize that our fund-raising was bearing fruit, we were on a roll and there was such a thing as being too careful with resources)! 
I once asked him how he lived with the challenges of his work, over so many years, given the space for continuous disappointment. He replied, "I have learnt to hope for everything because anything is possible; and, expect nothing as it may not come to be." To hope for everything in a world in which every person carries the 'inner light within' whilst recognizing that the mystery of the person always remains intact. It should never be foreclosed by his expectations, for good or ill.
I sense that this kind of open hope, itself, creates space for real change. It is an invitation for people…

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…