Showing posts from July, 2015

A Sunlit Absence

In the well-trodden path of Hollywood sequels, Fr Martin Laird's 'A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness and Contemplation' is not as riveting as his 'Into the Silent Land' This is, I think, one of the most exemplary introductions into the contemplative life, from a Christian perspective, that I have encountered.

Thinking as to why on the plane home this morning, I was struck by its opening Introduction, subtitled, Hedgehogs and Foxes. This is a reference to a famous essay by the philosopher and intellectual historian, Isaiah Berlin, on the philosophy of history in Tolstoy, that invokes the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Fr Laird proceeds to suggest that St Teresa of Avila is indeed a hedgehog, knowing one big thing, revisiting it continuously from different perspectives in her writings, with regards to the relationship between G…

Founding archetypal psychology

Dick Russell, a journalist, who co-writes the volumes of Jesse Ventura, former wrestler and independent governor of Minnesota, maybe an unexpected author of a (first volume) biography of the founder of archetypal psychology, James Hillman, but his style, structured conversational, with a fine line in interviewing key figures, including Hillman himself, works beautifully (if lengthily, we are only half way through his life, at his key transition of returning to America, after over 600 pages)!

It is gifted at sketching the background - especially of a boyhood spent in Atlantic City and studying in Paris and Dublin in the 40s. You taste the ferment of existential Paris down to the compulsory black turtleneck sweaters and the exaggerated characters of Dublin that you might think imagined yet truly existed. I had thought that it was an exaggeration until my first trip into Dublin (from the airport) on a bus (in the 80s) and found myself in a spontaneous conversation with an elderly gentle…

Poems at bedtime

It is fascinating how habits form unawares. I cannot now remember when I decided that before sleep I should read poems and that I should slowly work through a collection yet it has become established. The timing determines the poems to be read seeking shorter rather than longer and if not simple with a translucence of image that can enter in, rest and abide.

My present bedside reading are the Collected Poems of Frances Horowitz (shown here) that are gems in themselves and perfect for the moment.

She died at 45 and, it so happens, the only poetry workshop I have ever attended was with Roger Garfitt who was one of her two husbands.

The volume is slim, only 120 pages, but of crystalline beauty. She writes of nature, of myth saturated history and the complexity of human relationships. There is a heart breaking poem from visiting her father, hospitalized, towards his end, when father and daughter confront each other in mutual perplexity still not knowing what word might be spoken that fre…

St Ignatius advises the Labor Party

When was it I wonder that politicians decided that a defeat meant that they should resign?

Nixon was serially defeated for the Presidency of the United States but did not resign himself to obscurity (though perhaps you might have wished he had)!  Gladstone, Churchill, even Harold Wilson kept bouncing back, returning to win, sometimes after monumental defeats - the Labor landslide of 1945 in the UK, comes to mind, booting out Churchill  even after he had 'won the war'! Why have politicians come to take defeat so personally (and why have we come to expect it)? All three 'defeated' parties in May's UK General Election immediately announced their resignation (though Nigel Farage recanted) plunging their parties into contests before even the dust, let alone the shock had settled.

It especially came to mind watching the Labor Party in the UK scrap over who its next leader should be and how 'everyone' in that party's establishment has taken fright at the pros…

Maurice Nicoll and the work of truth

I first 'met' Maurice Nicoll anonymously. He was the unnamed psychotherapist to whom the editor of 'The New Age', A.R. Orage sent the poet, Edwin Muir, to on Muir's arrival in London. It was an analysis that Muir vividly describes in his own 'Autobiography' that prompted him to a series of extraordinary waking visions that sourced his poetry and gave him a lifelong attention to the revelatory nature of the dream. Nicoll, however, was more circumspect and suggested they discontinue the analysis, after all Muir was highly sensitive, and given the trauma of his adolescence, fragile. It was a decision Muir wondered at ever afterwards but, on balance, may have been wise.

Nicoll was a neurologist, who did important work on 'shell shock' in the First World War, and was an early follower of Jung. His book 'Dream Psychology' was one of the first books to introduce Jung to the English reading public. He is best known, however, as a student of Gurdjie…

The fragility of common homes

I recall a conversation with the then Archbishop in Skopje that proceeded on wholly civilised lines until a gear shifted and we found ourselves talking about Greece and the ongoing dispute about Macedonia's name. 'There are a million of us in Greece (Slavic speaking Macedonians) that is why they fear us,' he declared, eyes stalked, composure gone.

At the same time, an American friend holidaying on Patmos, tried sending me a postcard to my flat in Skopje. At the post office, the card was flung back at her: 'We do not send anything there!'

In the same period, buying a train ticket in Thessaloniki instead of asking for a ticket to Skopje, I said 'Macedonia' (the train only stopped once in the country on its way to Budapest). I obviously, realising my mistake, went pale but the ticket seller smiled and said, 'Do not worry! I am one of the few who do not care'!

I was reminded of these reactions reading Mark Mazower's 'Salonica, City of Ghosts, C…

Beauty sits in imagined places

Ledbury Angel by Andrea McLean
The painter, David Jones, used to be invited by his patron, Helen Sutherland, to visit her in Cumbria. Her house was in a prominent but wild place as greatly removed from the passages of human history and story as it might be possible to imagine in England. He found it a difficult place in which to paint because of this absence of human history touched by myth, and both woven into the fabric of a nature shared.

I am reminded of this each time I see one of Andrea McLean's beautiful, luminous paintings, so intricately are they woven of the givenness of a place - that is both of a natural patterning and a place of human dreaming and story. They are imaginative maps and both of those terms are essential. Imagination as a seeing through the threshold of nature into another world which is, as yet, enfolded in this one, and a map because anchored in the particularities of a place. As here, an angel hovers embracingly over a place, Ledbury, that is not just…

John, the beloved, long lived disciple

We meet them on a forbidding island, in banishment, as Diocletian's persecution flows around the Roman world. They are a band of exiled Christians, led by a blind man, once visionary, now ebbing tired. He is the Apostle, John, the beloved disciple. His followers cling to the hoped for coming of Christ but the waiting takes its toll. Alternative beliefs, skillfully manipulated, grow up to challenge John's leadership and schism occurs, Matthias leading most of the younger men into a gnostic cult, with him conveniently at its head.

Niall Williams' novel, 'John' grapples with the core question of how does love endure through the hardship of a necessary disillusionment - when Jesus fails to appear in the manners expected either in small miracle or grandiose Second Coming - and how does faith develop around story and community. Why is love shared ultimately enduring in spite of people's continue seeking of sign and confirmation?
Though it is not, of course, for ever…