The New Man (Person)

'The New Man' is Maurice Nicoll's book that interprets some of the parables and miracles of Christ, first published in 1950. I own a copy that belonged to the novelist, J.B. Priestley and his archaeologist wife, Jacquetta Hawkes (who was a governor of my school).

It is a remarkably compact book that in its 150 pages probably says more and more of value than many commentaries that weigh in at many multiples of its size (and weight).

It shows the evident influence of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (Nicoll was a pupil of the former and a friend of the latter) but, more importantly, like the Church Fathers, Nicoll reads the Bible for its inner, esoteric not its literal meaning. If it has a weakness, it is that it wholly devalues the literal meaning, a devaluing that the subtler minds of the Church Fathers recognised as having an important influence on our outward behaviour and dispositions, even as they saw that the ultimate meaning lay elsewhere. A text can have multiple layers of meaning, each valuable in its own space.

My favourite chapter, on this reading, was 'The Idea of Prayer' that in a mere ten pages gives you a lifetime's programme of practice!

Prayer must be persistent and sincere and its focus is on establishing a bridge to that higher world that is the source of our evolving transformation.

Christ describes its persistence as like a widow who asks for justice from a judge who only acts because he is forced, in order to save himself trouble (Luke 18, v 1-5). It reminds me of my dearest friend, Ann Wetherall's, research on answers to prayer that demonstrated a connection between persistence (intensity) and being answered. In the gospel of Luke the word translated 'importunity' (Luke 11, v 8) means literally 'shameless impudence'. It is with 'shameless impudence' we must ask and not ask for 'ourselves' but out of love of neighbour, that place in us that is beyond self-regard.

You immediately see how difficult it is to pray from the 'right place' and yet we can always catch ourselves at it, unawares, as I did driving home today. I am passed by an ambulance and whilst pulling aside find myself offering a prayer for those travellers, carers and cared for, without 'thinking'. Such is the importance of habit - the perseverance of a certain regard - so you can fall into it and ask for your neighbour out of nothing, no self, and trust that God will answer.

And the difficulty, the desire to praise oneself for doing it subsequently... but you keep on habitually practising so as to become so regular as to achieve a normality beyond any desire for self-praise!

And in that paradox you live!


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