Sunday, May 13, 2012


From the Garden by Hermann Hesse.

I remember reading it a second time the night I awaited my A-level results. I was unable to sleep not because there was any prospect of not securing my university place (I had been given an unconditional offer - the first, apparently, in the lifetime of the College) but because I might have failed my own pride, my own exacting standards.

'It' is Hermann Hesse's most celebrated novel, 'Siddhartha' that on re-reading yesterday evening I re-discovered has much to say about 'pride' - how it conditions the young Brahmin and shapes both the impulse  underlying his spiritual search and the barrier to its attainment. Pride is both necessary for believing in one's chosenness and the barrier we break through to freedom. It is a happy 'blessed fault'. What my first spiritual director, the delightful and rigorous Sr Amelie, would have called 'holy pride' - our faults, seen aright, are instruments of our liberation.

His pride is slowly dismantled by a combination of life and grace until he achieves his final, enlightening surrender - love is at the heart of the world and love is a great leveller - ultimately in brings you to a unity with all things, in all their modes of being: wise and foolish.

I was struck reading it this time that the novel is a hymn to grace, not for nothing was Hesse born a pietist (and remained one all his life though in a different guise). Grace as both the ultimate giftedness of the world: a divine offering in its completeness and in specific moments when it breaks into our attention and offers hope, a new way forward out of our dilemmas.

At the heart of receiving of both comprehensive and particular grace, Hesse suggests, is the art of listening. Siddhartha learns it from the ferryman, Vasudeva, who, in his turn, had learnt it from the river - that being that is ever-present and always changing.

How challenging is that art - fathoming the sounds of our self, the depths of others; and, how to listen, in listening to others, to their unasked, unacknowledged needs as well as to what they say. But it is Hesse suggests a 'key' - the one thing needful to allow ourselves to be apprehended by the truth of things. We cannot, Hesse suggests, think our way into truth, we must listen our way, surrendering our positioning on the way, to be liberated into a place where our position is gifted to us, continually, by the stream of life on which we dance.

It is an exceptionally beautiful book: each re-reading changed by your seeing and by it seeing you in one or more of the many ways implanted in its poetry.

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