A Mysterious Message from Avebury

Last night, I had occasion to share my postcard collection with a room of some twenty people.

“Find me a picture that speaks to you of God,” I asked them.

At the top of the first cluster of cards I picked through was this:

Avebury
Avebury

Although this wasn’t the card I chose for myself in the end, it struck me how the sacred stone circles of Britain have played a part in my own journey towards Divine Mysteries. I flipped it over …

The back side of the card brought a flood of memories from my 18-year-old self, who sits like a lodestone in my consciousness and frequently pulls at my internal compass needle.

05-09-2014 11;38;03AM
Dear Seymour, We are sitting in a pub with our local draughts, (beer not women!) having journeyed to the sacred stones – and halfway back. Meeting bearded bards and chalkened travellers, Listening to tails From near and Far. Met the sacred guitarist of Avebury, Played a beautiful song to me as the moon danced upon the clouds and shone incandescent against the stones. LUV Owain, Meic, Rob Surtees 🙂 Robin.

I include a scan of the original to show how my messengers clearly passed the card around, each adding their own lines in the true spirit of the bards of old. They would have been excellent company: one of my English teachers (the biggest single influence on my education), his two sons (companions on many woodland adventures) and another pal from school (an occasional co-conspirator in mischief).

Ahhh … the summer of  ’95.

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Review: Descent into Hell by Charles Williams

Descent into HellDescent into Hell by Charles Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the back cover of this book, the Saturday Review states, “Reading Charles Williams is an unforgettable experience.” Its true. Coming away from one of his novels, the world always seems intensified, as mediated through his vision. He gives me a taste of reality that rings true and reawakens my deepest convictions about the way things really are.

I am sure I held my breath for entire paragraphs during the unfolding of this novel, almost afraid to break the spell of the words.

In Descent into Hell, Williams uses a play within a play, within a setting that is itself merely a shadow of the cosmos, to build a story that simultaneously pierces several layers of heaven and earth and pulls them into each other. The characters are recognizable and, as a reader, I was constantly trying to work out which one was me. This had the effect of the best kind of fantasy literature, enabling a vicarious exploration of all the “what ifs” of our possible selves and their choices that is both instructive and therapeutic.

If you like a story that processes your soul and opens your eyes to the darkness of dark and the lightness of light as well as the blueness of blue and the redness of red, dive in.

This is one of those few books I expect to revisit – just after I’ve read everything else he’s written.

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Choose Your Path for 2014

I’ve caved in to blogging expectations and decided to publish a New Year post. This is actually slightly recycled from my Analog Photog Blog (which is in currently in the doldrums) and relates to an ongoing photographic project.

I have a question for you, dear reader: As you look ahead into 2014, and the year stretches before you, which of these paths best represents what you see ahead?

Path
Bright, open and straight?
Woodway
Wide yet disappearing quickly into the woods?
Frosty
A frosty uphill?
Meandering Footsteps
Heck, I’ll just make my own meandering way over this field of snow?
Path
Dark and threatening?
This Way
Just one little hump, and I have no idea what’s on the other side?
Woodland Path
Winding shady groves?
Dewy Fog
Journeying into a bright dawn?
This Way
Took a wrong turn somewhere?
A Slice of Middle Earth
Full of mystery and promise?
Deep Summer
Going deeper?
Long Light
Haunted by my own shadow?
Tarka Trail
Entering a dark tunnel, will there be light at the other end?
Brent Tor
Pilgriming towards the sacred?
Down There
A slippery descent?
Path
The shining tranquility of my autumn years?
Stairway to ...
Emerging from a prison?
One Leading Nowhere Just For Show
The only way is up but how am I going to get there?
Waldridge Fell Path
Taking the high road?
Somerset
The ancient track?

What will it be?

Just for the record, If you were to ask me, I’d probably say “All of the above.”

Barter Books, Alnwick, Northumberland

Some 18 leagues due north from my front door lies one of the largest second-hand bookstores in Europe: Barter Books, lodestar of literary pilgrimage and home to the original “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster as well as an impressive mural of authors.

Ah, you know, between those shelves it is possible to forget the passage of time; I can’t remember the last time I was so distracted by the present. Here are a few of the things I saw this afternoon on my voyage along the platforms of the old train station that houses the shop.

A glimpse of an old pal
A glimpse of an old pal

Biographies are front and centre as you walk into the main part of the store  and this volume was on display. The author is a friend; I had the pleasure of getting to know him a bit while he was training as a minister in the Church of England. Tom fed me westerns and frontier-flavoured theology, warned me off crappy writing gigs (said I’d be be happier going back to nursing) and encouraged me on every level in a series of conversations that are burned into my soul. Seeing this reminded me that I still have not followed up on his recommendation to read more … Raymond Chandler.

Kipling and his "swastika"
Kipling and his “swastika”

Now here’s something you won’t find on any editions of Kipling’s work these days, nor even any editions later than 1935. Rudyard Kipling adopted the symbol, which is an ancient Sanskrit symbol for wellbeing, long before the Nazis got hold of it.

Two of Kipling’s books stand out in my life as a reader. I read “Kim” when I was about 12 and it proved an extremely significant influence on my unfurling spirituality and lead me into further reading and an early exposure to eastern philosophy and religion that has coloured everything that has happened since.

When I was much younger I read a wonderful collection of Kipling stories told from a dog’s point of view, called “Thy Servant a Dog”, which was easily one of my favourite childhood reads. I’ve never been able to find myself a copy of the book, but I keep my eyes peeled in second-hand bookstores.

An untellable treasure
An untellable treasure

This was the hardest book to replace on the shelf: the price tag of £39 was more than I’ve ever paid for a book, but if any book were to come close to having that kind of value to me, this would be it.  GM is the brightest burning star in my literary galaxy and “Donal Grant” (quoted on this page) certainly my favourite of his “novels”. His shadow has presided over a latter unfurling in my spirituality but, apart from his “Diary of an Old Soul”, I have read very little of his poetry. Ahhhh … well … another time, perhaps.

Woodcut by Nora Unwin
Woodcut by Nora Unwin

The woodcut illustrations by Nora S. Unwin were just the icing on the MacDonaldian cake!

The Bible in Gaelic
The New Testament in Gaelic

Merely four books sat on the Gaelic shelf, including this New Testament. I don’t read Gaelic (yet) but feel as if I have had a lot of exposure to it in recent weeks through getting deeper into celtic music. I’ve given some serious thought to studying the language because it sounds so beautiful when spoken and I’d really like to solve once-and-for-all the ongoing dispute in my band over the correct pronunciation of the names of tunes like  Chi Mi Na Morbehanna and An Phis Fliuch.

Wesley and Swedenborg in reformed spelling
Wesley and Swedenborg in reformed spelling

This ranks among the most curious finds of the day. A book on Swedenborg and John Wesley is coming from left field to begin with, but this one uses “reformed spelling”! Yes, published in the earlier part of the twentieth century before two world wars gave us something more serious to think about than spelling reform.

Something more suited ...
Something more suited …

After about three hours of browsing, I walked off with this in my rucksack. At £1:50 it was kind of in that sweet spot of providing a decent number of hours of rewarding reading of something I knew I’d like at a price I could manage. I’ve been on a D.H. Lawrence kick since Xe Sands reawakened my dormant interest in his poetry with some of her readings. I’m hoping this will bring a dose of bygone  English summers to the remaining days of winter for me.

The Wisdom of Things Found 4: The Eraser

January 2013, next to the river Derwent (Durham)

It has been a while since I listened to the message of a found object, let alone blogged about it, but this one nailed things on so many levels that it has brought me out of hibernation.

The river Derwent has burst its bank a few times in the last few damp months, destroying low-lying vegetation, pulling rotten trees up like spent teeth and retreating into newly worn watercourses, leaving a new geography of sand and silt and folorn scraps of debris in the lower branches of trees. The scouring effect of the flood always unearths another layer of history, old colliery bricks and pipes and pottery – rich pickings for the found object philosopher.

WP_000770This caught my eye, looking like a rectangular pebble. In fact it is a very old and hard eraser. As soon as I held it in my hand it spoke:

THE OLD STORY CAN BE RUBBED OUT AND A NEW ONE WRITTEN IN ITS PLACE …

Well, dear reader, I don’t know if those words are as sweet to you as they were and are to me. The last two months of silence on this blog has been due to things being tough. I’d dearly like to rub them out and write something else there. I pray I’ll have the objectivity to blog about this shortly, but in the meantime there are such gracious comforts as this eraser spoke to me.

Later that evening, I took out my find for another look, and that was when I noticed the face.

wisemanJust from a certain angle it looks like a wise old bearded man (who reminds me a little of my father) with his gaze turned towards the heavens … to the light of a Star, perhaps?

After all, it was the 6th of January, the night of Epiphany

Click here for more “Things Found” posts or listen to the Story of  “The Wisdom of Things Found” at Stories from the Borders of Sleep.

Going Public with Thomas Carlyle: “Know Thy Work”

Thomas Carlyle

I like Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). He’s one of my rugged 19th Century romantic existentialist individualists. I don’t buy the whole package of his thought (women never seem to get a mention, for instance), but he can be forgiven for being a man of his time as much as I will need to be if any of my thoughts survive me.

Apart from anything else, Carlyle wrote 21 volumes of the history of Freidrich II of Prussia; and he didn’t even have the Internet! This suggests that he had one thing nailed: he knew how to knuckle down and get on with his work – probably because he didn’t have the Internet.

So, as my contribution this week to the #GoingPublic audio project, here is an excerpt from Book III of  Carlyle’s “Past and Present” that gives us a clue about the root of his productivity, his attitude to work. It amuses me, the way he dismisses “Know Thyself” with a disdainful sweep of his hand and then goes on to expound “Know Thy Work” with increasingly dizzy conceits. But I also find it invigorating. How about you?

The full text is available here.

Check out a wealth of other great audio clips from the Going Public Project.

Review: 3-2-1 Stop Running and Start Living by Lorilee Lippincott

321 Stop Running and Start Living 321 Stop Running and Start Living by Lorilee Lippincott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are anything like me you have a vague sense of desperation about how cluttered and busy your life is and an equally vague idea that at some point you will go about simplifying it. The problem is knowing where to start. I have found myself wishing that someone would just take me by the hand and lead me through each room in my house in turn and help me to rationalise and minimise. So, Lorilee Lippincott’s book 3-2-1 Stop came along at just the right moment.

In fact, Lori’s approach goes a lot deeper than just de-cluttering the material environment, she takes the reader by the hand through the attitudes and aspirations behind our desire for simplicity, too. This is not simplicity for its own sake but simplicity with purpose that is rooted in our dreams. It is about making emotional as well as physical space in your life.

I think it is Lori’s conversational style and her generous and candid revelations about her own journey that make this book such a pleasant trip. It is exciting, too, because right from the first page you catch her infectious expectation that things can and will change for you. Beginning with some ground rules about attitude, Lori tackles the problem of “stuff” in the first section of the book. She gets down to brass tacks within a few pages. It’s not rocket science, it’s not merely theory, it’s common sense seasoned by experience and practice. Most of her practical recommendations are things I have half-heartedly attempted at some point in the past but I have benefited from having someone saying, “do this” then “do that” – once again, small steps. She even makes you take a step back and think about furniture. She then goes on to look at some of the typically problematic areas for simplification, and this includes personal areas such as money and past regrets.

These words come from someone who has actually walked every step she takes you through and that makes them personable and authentic. This book has become my “manual” for spring cleaning this year (and beyond) and it has renewed my commitment to a minimalism that is liberating and intentional.

Visit the website for 3-2-1 Stop Running and Start Living. 

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