Showing posts from June, 2011

Beach reading

I remember sitting on a beach with friends in Normandy.  One was reading a primer on the philosophy of religion, one was reading Karl Barth, another was reading a weighty tome on the future of Christian Democracy in Europe. I was reading Dostoyevsky - the Devils - which I subsequently threw across the room in a momentary frustration at the endless, spiraling emoting! Only Margaret appeared to be 'holiday sane' -she was reading Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth'!

I was thinking on this as I pack for summer vacation in Montenegro. Somehow taking my new acquired 'kindle' feels like cheating. I do not have to sit down carefully thinking what to bring - except, of course, I am taking 'real' books as well.

I am continuing to work my way through the works of Neil M Gunn - the next novel is 'The Key of the Chest'. I am haunted by his work with their blend of realistic evocation of Highland life, woven with the complexities of particular character, shot thr…


The drama that is unfolding in Greece is an exemplar of that cliche, 'a slow motion train wreck'.

Everyone 'knows' that a sovereign default is high likely but everyone is in denial.

As you push back the likely default, it both becomes more likely and its consequences become more awful to contemplate; thus, you push it further back, trapped in a vicious circle or, more likely, a downwards spiral.

I have every sympathy with the protesters at one level - this is not a crisis directly of their own making. The political class of all persuasions has conspired to have Greece live beyond it means and with entry to the euro make it less possible to escape the consequences through devaluation.

But at another level methinks they protest too much - anyone who knows Greece knows the collective collusion of a bloated state and a tax evading public. If the British sin has been easy but expensive credit and a mass religion of shopping, Greece's has been imagining that you can be e…

A forest of peace

Osage was founded by my friend, Sr Pascaline Coff, modeled after Shantivanam, the Christian ashram in India, established by Fathers Monchanin and Le Saux and carried forward by Father Bede Griffiths. Fr Bede christened Osage the 'Shantivanam of the West'. It is a located in a beautiful setting - acres of woods in rolling hills near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I fear my only image of Oklahoma, before I visited, was forged by Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath': all flatland and dust bowl. This landscape, however, was a delight. You live in your own wood cabin and can walk out into trees and bluffs that look down at a distant, quiet Arkansas river, green-grey in the distance.

It has recently been reinvented as a lay community, after being a community of Benedictine Sisters, and I hope to visit in the autumn.

The central building is a combination of library, communal space, kitchen and wonderful chapel that on three sides is window opening out onto th…

Balthasar's Feast

Wittgenstein once remarked that 'the difficulty was knowing when to stop'. He was referring to 'argument' - knowing what counts as an explanation and when that explanation cannot be improved upon.

I was reminded of this when listening to Walton's First Symphony driving home from my mother's. Walton appears never to know when to end!

Sir Michael Tippett once said of Walton that, 'he failed to renew himself'. I have always had a sense of what he meant. He does not have the depth or invention of Britten nor that capacity that Vaughan-Williams had to enter wholly new territory as he does in his 'bleak' later symphonies. Walton's music carries an instantly recognizable sense of itself including a certain sense of limit.

Yet how glorious it is at its best, after the symphony, came the oratorio, Balthasar's Feast that must contain the most beautifully joyous explosion in music when the king falls, found wanting by God, and the Jews can return h…

One Foot in Eden

One foot in Eden still, I stand And look across the other land. The world's great day is growing late, Yet strange these fields that we have planted So long with crops of love and hate. Time's handiworks by time are haunted, And nothing now can separate The corn and tares compactly grown. The armorial weed in stillness bound About the stalk; these are our own. Evil and good stand thick around In fields of charity and sin Where we shall lead our harvest in.
Yet still from Eden springs the root As clean as on the starting day. Time takes the foliage and the fruit And burns the archetypal leaf To shapes of terror and of grief Scattered along the winter way. But famished field and blackened tree Bear flowers in Eden never known. Blossoms of grief and charity Bloom in these darkened fields alone. What had Eden ever to say Of hope and faith and pity and love Until was buried all its day And memory found its treasure trove? Strange blessings never in Paradise Fall from these becloud…

A Life Together

By one of those happy coincides (or by synchronicity), the weekend after my first real experience of community after several years, I find myself reading Bishop Seraphim Sigrist's 'a life together: Wisdom of Community from the Christian East'.

It is an extended meditation on the word: 'sobornost' that appeared, as he writes, newly minted in nineteenth century Russia and appears virtually untranslatable precisely because, as the Bishop suggests, it indicates a future hope yet to be realized and yet that lures us on.

It was a word coined by that strand of thought called "Slavophil' that wished to demarcate a place of community that navigates between the twin poles of 'individualism' and 'collectivism'. It is a vision of community that delights in the difference of persons and sees in their journeying together those differences as complementary, we…

Biographies of surprise

Reading biography is always an exercise in surprise.

The first is usually to discover a biograophy that manages to strike the right balance between narrative and detail: modern biography apparently wants to drown the former in a tsunami of the latter until you expert the inevitably thick volume to be supplemented by appendices of laundry lists and itemized daily expenditures (I did have a chemistry teacher at school who did the latter - detailed notebooks of every expenditure, stretching back to the 30s lined his office)!

The second that manages to meaningfully address the subject's inner life in ways that are illuminating (rather than merely speculative or, worse, psychoanalytic)!

Anne Chisholm's life of Rumer Godden is achieving both though occasionally you would like a touch more depth...

Reading today of the making of the film, 'The River' a transformation of her book of the same title by Jean Renoir, I discovered, incidentally, that it was Patrick White's fav…

Consciousness Cafe

I had lunch today with a dear friend whose diverse career has embraced psychiatry, interior design and gardening. She spent a period in situ training people from the Caucasus to work with people traumatized by the ongoing conflict and with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, founded by the inspirational and redoubtable, Helen Bamber.

One purpose of the lunch was to invite me to be the guest speaker at the 'Consciousness Cafe': a monthly meeting in Totnes that gathers to explore a broad range of issues around consciousness - what is it? how does it work? what meaning does it carry or possess? How might it be transformed within both personal spiritual quest and social transformation? It sounded a fascinating format and gathering of disparate minds so I agreed for September: to talk about both the work of the Prison Phoenix Trust and the broader metaphor that 'We are all doing time': that we all inhabit different forms of imprisonment that condition…

At Schumacher

A delightful week at Schumacher College exploring complexity theory and its applicability to the design, resilience and sustainability of organizations. A discovery that many of your best intuitions have a supportive intellectual framework and a language to give them expression and a content that moves them forward in practice.

More than the content of the course is the context: the blend of intellectual and practical work is a joy. Yesterday cooking for the group was a delightful experience of creativity in service.

More than this are the walks in the gardens at Dartington especially in the early evening. They are quiet, virtually deserted, with a transfixing stillness.

I stood today at the fountain of the two entwined swans looking out across the formal lawns, the twelve Apostle yew trees to one boundary, out across the Devon countryside. The air was saturated in birdsong to the foreground and backgrounded by the distance toll of church bells being practiced on a Wednesday evening, …

Ripeness rage

As I sit over my breakfast eating my not perfectly ripe apricot (from M & S), I wonder how we allow ourselves to be seduced by a piece of marketing that we know cannot be true given the nature of the business.

We know that you get perfectly ripe fruit if you are close to source and that the fruit at hand has been handled with care and attention and with regard for the appropriate season. We know that at times you will get a surfeit of the same and will have to think of imaginative ways of coping: bottling, jamming etc. We know that a system that disregards this, and hopes to provide the 'same food' all year round (from different sources) is likely to provide a sameness of failure (that may be redeemed if in your fruit bowl long enough but are as likely to wither as to ripen)!

The difference between an apricot ripened on the tree and its pretend equivalent is especially stark - but the foolishness of my hope keeps trumping my experience!


One of the distinct advantages of attending a course at Schumacher College is its proximity to Dartington Hall and its gardens (as an initiative of the same trust, it is 'down the way').

It is a space wedded to my imagination (and unfolding story).

My first visit was to attend the first Temenos conference on art and the renewal of the sacred (though the title should have been reversed: the sacred renewing art).

It was a remarkable gathering - an extraordinary blend of the academic and the practical: the practice of particular arts. Between sessions I could wander the grounds that are a balanced admixture of the highly formal and the wild, breaking out to views over open, rolling Devon hills, with the backdrop of the medieval buildings behind.

The conference forged several lasting friendships and in the on-going reading of Temenos an education in the arts that I continue to return to.

Most notably on that occasion was meeting the artists - Thetis Blacker and Patrick Pye.


Godden's life

Anne Chisholm's biography of Rumer Godden is a vivid account of her life as a consummate story-teller and gives a marvelous account of pre-war Calcutta.

It was a city (as now) of extraordinary contrasts: then a small elite, British and Indian, presided over their separate but inter-locking worlds, over and across a sea of people whose lives they did not share.

One community in particular attracted Godden's attention that of the Eurasians - doubly excluded from both communities - the men squeezed from both sides for not being part of either; the women forced to exploit their often startling looks in various indeterminate roles. Godden herself employed a number at her thriving dance academy (itself a liminal activity on the fringes of the British community, highly stratified as itself was). They are a community that continues a marginal life in India today: a legacy of history and continuing multiple prejudices.

One of her pupils was my friend, Tigger. There is a wonderful stor…