The necessary simplicity

Following Jacob Needleman's recommendation, I bought a copy of Thomas and Olga de Hartmann's 'Our Life with Mr Gurdjieff'.

It reminded me of another encounter between a sophisticated author and a holy man - St. Pavel Florensky's 'Salt of the Earth' - Florensky's bare, simple, moving account of his staretz: Father Isidore.

There are many, no doubt, who would think the comparison invidious - Father Isidore is secure within a recognisable tradition, that of Orthodoxy whereas Gurdjieff: who was Gurdjieff?

It is a mystery - from whence he came, with what traditional understanding - a mystery that the book deepens rather than dispels but what comes through both texts is that a genuine spirituality imposes a simplicity that ultimately costs not less than everything. It asks us to follow it with an unerring attention and conscience - and it eludes us precisely because of that simplicity.

You cannot think your way to salvation, though thinking may help, you must surrender to a deeper force: an attention that gathers up all your faculties and that transforms them - an attention that allows for a different, sacred presence to become present in your daily life and leads you to be present:-

"I am" (as St John's Gospel radiates) is the signature of the spirituality that lays claim to a Christian descent: that vivid reality of being gifted into being.

Both books are marked by it.

The irony is that the authors were to suffer diametrical fates - the one (the de Hartmanns) with the help of their teacher made their escape from revolutionary Russia and the latter (Florensky) was destined for its centre: the Gulag and martyrdom.

Meanwhile, the de Hartmann book gives tangentially a vivid impression of the challenges of that revolution and the skilful way Gurdjieff's guidance led them through - even if partly coloured by the celebratory embrace of the pupil, his skill was preternaturally in evidence.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Coleridge and his Ancient Mariner as our companions

Exploring the roots of and the routes to empathy

A remembered Quaker dwarf fights slavery and provokes justice.