Completing Father Bede's life

I finished Shirley du Boulay's moving biography of Dom Bede Griffiths over lunch sitting on a quiet side street. A gentle breeze dispelling midday heat.

The last years of his life were extraordinary culminating in a series of strokes that were once physiological events and accompanied by trans formative experience that brought him to a new wholeness: a marriage of rational mind infused with spiritual intuition and permeated by a deeper than ever capacity to love. Inward experience was outwardly visible to all who knew him and, paradoxically, as Shirley notes, this deeper holiness allowed him to be more human, even the irritating quirks and twists of his nature, including his anger, found their appropriate place in the life of his last years.

It awakened in me old yearnings for the contemplative life and I wandered up from my table into the streets of Sansepolcro and into the arms of the awaiting cathedral. This is dedicated to St John the Evangelist that most mystical of the four gospel writers, two of whose key texts resonated with Bede at the end. Jesus' prayer to the Father that we all be one as he and the Father are one and that love of God and of neighbour are the summation of the good news. Indeed I would add John's deep commitment to friendship that Bede had in abundance.

And in serendipitous irony on the cloister wall of the cathedral is a fifteenth century wall painting depicting scenes from the life of St Benedict, whose order Bede had embraced.

I sat awhile in the dark peacefulness of the church saying the prayer of the heart and giving thanks for Bede's life - both as told by Shirley and in our lengthy correspondence and singular meeting. The descriptions of his presence in those last years was so resonant with how I found him.

I even 'lit' a candle - one of those electric plug in ones that disfigure Italian Catholic Churches of which both he and I heartily disapprove but forgive!


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