Three visions of living in freedom.

Rowena Farre (in fact Daphne Lois Macready) is an enigma. The author of three highly accomplished books that whilst purporting to be autobiography contain a certain level of fictionalization! Everything has the resonance of truth, well-told yet putting the three books and what little is known of her life together establishes a pattern of inconsistencies that set up a now probably irresolvable puzzle!

Her first book, 'Seal Morning', is an account of her childhood, growing up in Sutherland, Scotland, on a remote croft. A croft acquired by an aunt on retiring from school teaching and shared with a menagerie of animals including a common seal (Lora), a rat (Rodney), two otters (Hansel and Gretel) and a dog (Ben) amongst other animals.

It is wholly and pervasively charming - and pure escapism as its initial reviewers noted. Not escapism that overly sentimentalized the life but offered a refreshing counterpoint of resilience, connectedness, and freedom that any urban dweller might …

Are not all mystics dangerous?

When the distinguished scholar of Christian Mysticism, Bernard McGinn, arrived at London’s Heathrow airport in the 1980s, he was asked by the Immigration Officer why he was coming to England? “I am giving a paper at a scholarly conference on Meister Eckhart,” he replied. “Ah! Eckhart. I have always wanted to get a better understanding of ‘gelassenheit’. Can you explain it to me?” So Professor McGinn, by explaining one of Eckhart’s key terms, got entrance into the country whilst wondering if this was the state of interest in Eckhart in England need he have come at all!
This is in radical contrast to Eckhart’s currency shortly after his death in 1328. In 1329 certain of his propositions, though not the man himself, were condemned as heretical or suspect; and, though his two greatest followers, Henry Suso and John Tauler, bravely referred to him, in passing, both saw fit to adapt, amend and soften his radical stance for the audiences they now addressed. Eckhart sunk into obscurity until t…

Merry Christmas and a Light bearing New Year

The Three Kings arrive to adore; and, what we see is simply the light emerging from the cradle. We presume it is the light incarnate in the child but the indeterminacy, its overflowing, suggests a light transcendent to the child. It is the light that underpins all.

St. Augustine writes that a central feature of the Incarnation was to restore wisdom to sight. The wisdom that we all carry by virtue of being human had become overlaid by the darkness of sin and ordinary knowledge had been set free from its roots. We could believe only what we saw with an outward directed, calculating gaze. Christ came to reconnect this Scientia (knowledge reaped from observation) to Sapientia (truth gained through direct intuition, seeing the whole), peeling back sin, to reveal wisdom once more. The image of God that we all carry could now be reconnected in a living likeness to God. God became human so that humanity might be divinized and become God (to quote St. Athanasius). The three 'wise men'…

The Beckoning Land that is within

In spite of the fact that all three of Rowena Farre's books were in a certain measure autobiographical, she remains a mystery. The place of her birth, her real name and ancestry, whether her first book was autobiography, in fact, or fiction? It is, on reading her last book, a matter on which, beyond a certain notional interest, I find myself wholly and happily agnostic. Whoever she was, she was a person out of sorts with the world she was born into and on, an ever more consciously realized, spiritual quest. In this way, the book leads on from her earlier one about her life with Roma and Traveller communities. There she was following a nomadic impulse that ran in parallel to 'ordinary life' whilst here she is following a nomadic life that enfolds and transforms 'ordinary' life.

In this her third book, she returns to places associated with her childhood, Hong Kong, Ceylon and India, i…

Being transfigured with Jesus - a graceful, beautiful, lucid novel

James Cowan, who died last month, as described here had a casual attitude to publication. Financial resources, a disregard for popularity, a taste for adventure and a focus on the realities of the sacred all conspired to keep him inconsistently before the public eye and on the fringe of the 'literary world'. A world, that in turn, he never evinced any great concern for, I recall.

I have been reading one of his later works, a novel, 'The Deposition'. It is a beautiful work that successfully weaves a credible act of literature with a profound spiritual meditation on the life of Jesus and its impact on the first disciples. It is a meditation that is at once faithful to tradition; and, yet opens up that tradition to a renewed universality.

The deposition in question is that of Rabbi Gamaliel, the grandson of Rabbi Hillel, who was the famous author of three questions: If I am not f…

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 &…