Friday, 31 October 2008

Moeraki Boulders


On Koekohe Beach, just north of the small hamlet of Moeraki, there are a few dozen large, perfectly spherical boulders scattered along the tide line: the Moeraki Boulders. Tourists on the road between Christchurch and Dunedin stop for a while to stand around and on them and to take photographs. I drove up there today and took a few snaps myself. The boulders are unusual but not unique. There are several other sites in New Zealand where similar rocks occur, and, so I have read, they are found in other parts of the world. They have been fairly extensively examined and the process by which they were formed is no great mystery, although their uniformity and large size has meant that over the years legends have accreted around them, in much the same way that calcium and carbonates accreted around some core to form the boulders themselves, millions of years ago.

One of the legends is fairly modern. A few years ago an English amateur historian called Gavin Menzies visited New Zealand intent on proving his theory that in 1421 a large fleet of Chinese junks visited our country. And prove it he did! He had a whale of a time. From one end of the country to the other he found junks and Chinese forts, and lighhouses and goodness knows what else. Not a hillock nor a bump nor a hole in the ground; not a Maori pa site, nor a rock nor a burp from his magnetic resonancing machine passed his notice without being declared a Chinese ruin of some sort or other. And he went ballistic with joy when he arrived at Moeraki. He found not just one but eleven (count 'em! 11!) junks. Squarish bits of sandstone were obviously bits of the concrete lining of old chinese ships, and the boulders themselves were (obviously!) ballast stones.

I won't try and disprove Menzies' theory. It has, of course, been comprehensively debunked elsewhere, but I will note, in passing, two things: That Mr. Menzies is the only person ever to suggest that the Chinese lined their ships with concrete; and the ludicrousness of the idea of trying to use dozens of rock balls 2 metres in diameter as ballast in a small wooden ship. Of course, no matter how much evidence is produced Mr. Menzies won't change his mind: he's a believer. He's a fundamentalist. By 'fundamentalist' I mean that his theory doesn't originate in the world around him, it originates between his ears. In other words, rather than encountering the world and then theorising about what he discovers there, Menzies works the other way around. He begins with his theory and then goes into the world to seek evidence for it. Seek and you shall find. If you start with a strong idea, such as a Chinese fleet in 1421 or a CIA plot to blow up the twin towers or the creation of the world in 6 days, the screening out of all that inconvenient counter evidence comes pretty easily, and the proof is there for all to see.

But then again, in actual fact all of our theories originate between our ears - even the nice broad minded liberal theories of people like you and me. Just like the fundamentalists we see the world not as the world is but as we are. Perhaps the real danger is ignorance of this fact. When we forget that our world view is tentative, provisional and approximate, and fool ourselves into believing that the way we see the world is some sort of ultimate truth then we are well on the way to believing all sorts of plausible tosh about flying saucers or Sarah Palin's pregnancy or 15th Century Chinese admirals.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

So What Are You Reading?


Last time I posted, I said Middlemarch is the greatest English novel of the Victorian era. Katherine replied, and said on the strength of that recommendation she'd gone and bought it. Wow! Power! Who'd have thought it? It's an anxiety making thing, being taken notice of like that. Well, it's a great book, and if she's the sort of person who can settle into the century old language, and can handle big ideas cropping up on every second page, she'll absolutely love it.  It's big, rich, intelligent; a work filled with great characters and an intriguing plot. But, even so,  what a thing to say - the greatest novel. In whose opinion, exactly? Mine that's all. Oh yes, and the guy who wrote the lead review at Amazon.com. And a few others. Read on Katherine, I'd love to know what you think.

Novels are a form of entertainment but they are so much more than that. Novels and films are the two principal ways in which our society deals with ideas. Philosophers are not heard by anybody but other philosophers. Theologians  speak to a narrow subset of a narrow subset of our culture. The ideas of the philosophers and theologians may leak into our politics and commerce over the course of a few decades, and when they do, it will be the novelists and film makers who are the vehicle for those ideas. It is in novels and films that most of the good stuff is gathered, prepared, cooked and served up for the public to digest. If you are not watching movies and reading novels you are out of touch with the culture; so the good books and the good flicks are crucially, life changingly important. 

All over the internet there are lists of 'The [insert your favourite number here] Greatest Novels'. The Modern Library's list features, surprise surprise mostly books published by the Modern Library. Another popular list, the Readers' List, features books voted on by internet users; it is filled with stuff that computer nerds read, so there's lots of science fiction and lots of books books by the objectivist Ayn Rand and the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard. Some of the lists are really very strange, even stranger than The Readers List. This one, for example, includes Roald Dahl's The Big Friendly Giant but leaves out War and Peace. 'Nuff said. 

Which novels move us is largely a matter of personal preference, and the fact that we like a particular book doesn't necessarily make it a great book. To be great, a novel has to handle all the characteristics of narrative well. These are:
1. Time and Place. The environment has to be accurately and consistently presented in such a way that the reader can imagine herself there.
2. Characters. The people must be realistically portrayed, have points of identification for the reader, and show some sort of personal growth/development in the course of the novel. 
3. Narrative Tension. The tensions of the story must be ones that are in some way present in the lives of readers. They must be expertly balanced to keep the right amount of tension in the plot to keep it moving ; too much tension and the novel becomes histrionic; too little and it's a bore.
As well, the novel has to treat with ideas that are worth thinking about, and be written in a style that is aesthetically pleasing. All this must be conducted with such artistry that while reading, the reader is so drawn into the created universe of the novel that s/he is scarcely aware that s/he is reading at all; s/he is, rather, living vicariously the lives of the protagonists. 

To be considered great a novel must also be able to speak across cultures and over time. My twenty year old daughter, for example,  voraciously reads Jane Austen, who speaks to her from the other side of the world and across two centuries. I doubt whether her great great great  grandchildren will be reading Harry Potter in the twenty third century, for all the boy wizard's contemporary popularity. 

There are novels I have read which I enjoyed immensely, and which helped shape my thinking, but which are probably not great novels. The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy for example. There are Great novels, such as Ulysses and The Ambassadors which I couldn't plough my way through.  Moll Flanders and Pamela, are amongst the great novels which I read  purely out of a sense of historical curiosity. I've never much enjoyed Dickens although I recognise the greatness of his work. There are some very popular and well regarded novels which are touted as great but which I thought were absolute crap. The Power of One and Birdsong, for example. There are dozens of excellent novels which I have enjoyed and which time may one day reveal as great. The Life of Pi and Ridley Walker for example

So what would I say are the greatest novels? How should I know? I haven't read them all. Of the few that I have read however, I would list the following as the greatest. Or at least, as the great novels which meant the most to me.

1. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
2. Middlemarch - George Eliot
3. The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky
4. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
5. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
6. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
7. The Magus - John Fowles
8. Possession - A S Byatt
9. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
10. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut Jnr.



Monday, 27 October 2008

Daniel Deronda

Image (c) BBC 2002
Over the last couple of days I have watched the 2002 BBC adaptation of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. I've always admired George Eliot, and always regarded Middlemarch as probably the greatest English novel of the Victorian era. I've read others of her works from time to time but never Daniel Deronda. In fact I had hardly heard of it. So finding this DVD was a little like a Shakespeare afficionado never being familiar with Hamlet, before stumbling onto it via a TV adaptation. Shame on me. 

The principal female character, Gwendolyn is very reminiscent of  Middlemarch's Rosamond. Some of the themes of the book also echo those of Middlemarch: Spirtual wealth vs material wealth; the nature of love; great love thwarted by circumstance and the machinations of others; class; and, pre-eminently, the ability of women to live lives uncontolled by men. Daniel Deronda includes also, as a major theme, the relationship of Jews and Gentiles and it's no wonder the book was controversial when published in 1876. The production was up to the usual standard the BBC manages when making films about people in frock coats who drive about in coaches and four. The casting was superb, direction crisp, lighting and cinematography flawless. It was all very decorative and entertaining in a highbrow sort of way, but there was something more. I found myself deeply moved by the film: so moved that I have found the novel and started reading it. 

The novel ends with the course of true love thwarted. Daniel and Gwendolyn have an instant, deep and passionate rapport. They are, to use an overworked cliche, soulmates. Of course, there would be no story if that was that. To maintain the narrative tension they can't be together. They spend  768 pages (0r 210 minutes, depending on your choice of medium) working through the cruel viscissitudes that keep them apart, and then, when they are finally unencumbered, Daniel goes and marries the beautiful, worthy but somehow rather bland Mira and heads off to Palestine to further the cause of Zionism. Gwendolyn, who begins the novel as a fascinating but spoiled and self centred young woman, ends it by loving Daniel enough to relinquish him to what she knows to be his destiny. Daniel discovers himself enough to be  able to be master of his own fate. And so does Gwendolyn. At the end of the novel she does not need a man - husband, father or brother - to define her identity for her and she is in charge of her own life.  

I think this is what moved me. That George Eliot was courageous enough to abandon novelistic convention and show that real growth and real peace came from self knowledge and not from acquisition - whether of things or of people. At the end of the novel both Daniel and Gwendolyn are seen as whole people both  of whom are of some emotional and spiritual stature. Like their creator I suppose, who risked her considerable reputation to present to Victorian England a hero who doesn't get the girl in the end and, to boot,  has the audacity to be Jewish. I'm only part way through, but I may yet have to revise my opinion of the greatest English novel of the Victorian period. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Body Mind and Spirit


Brian Broom is a medical specialist in allergies and a consulting psychologist. His book Meaning-full Disease describes a phenomenon he has seen countless times in his professional life: that people's diseases often seem to follow a pattern and history that mirrors what is happening in their lives. Illness often seems to be a bodily metaphor for the underlying issues the person is dealing with. The book is filled with intriguing examples, such as a woman "putting a brave face" on her husband's depression (her words) developing a chronic rash on her face.

The model of disease underlying Western medicine has no time for this approach. Broom describes the Western medical paradigm as "the body is a biological machine. Body and mind are separate entities...and it is appropriate to deliver healthcare by focusing solely on the body. 'Real' disease will be adequately and completely explained by physical mechanisms; thus, mind, soul or spirit aspects are peripheral or even irrelevant. Disease occurs in the individual's 'machine-body'; thus, disease is more or less an individual's bad luck and/or responsibility." Broom's questioning of this view and his positing of a broader, more holistic model seems to me to be supremely encouraging and hopeful. His model is quite in keeping with the discoveries of Ian Gawler whose cancer treatment, while not dismissing whatever techniques Western medicine might have available, involves a complete revision of lifestyle and the harnessing of the curative powers of diet and meditation.

Talking this afternoon with some colleagues about Christian healing, it strikes me that Christian healing, even at its most "spiritual" operates from the Western medical paradigm. Illness is something that happens in the body for fairly unpredictable reasons. The healer prays and evokes the power of the Holy Spirit to reach in, from the outside somewhere, and effect change in the physical machine of the body. Once the prayer is said and thanks are returned the person is deemed healed- hallelujah!- particularly if there is a temporary diminution of symptoms Seldom if ever are the lifestyle, spiritual, emotional, historical, genetic, familial or other factors that may have given rise to the disease considered, and certainly the long and difficult task of helping the sick individual make changes in these things is never attempted. I suppose it is the Western separation of body mind and spirit which lies behind this attitude. I think this inability to see people as multi-dimensional wholes keeps us repeating the patterns of illness in out lives and stops us getting well.

An early forerunner of Brian Broom's, Georg Groddeck said, "In the first place - I claim the validity of this sentence for all illnesses, every form of illness and at any age - the meaning of an illness is the warning "do not continue living as you intend to do." We are, according to Groddeck, symbol making beings whose existence is simultaneously expressed in the physical world via our bodies and in the world of thought and meaning via our minds. To Groddeck, and to those who came after him, such as Luis Chiozza, Body and Mind are not so much separate entities as different representations of the same underlying core reality. I will get well by knowing who I am and making the adjustments necessary for the health of my whole being. In contrast the approach of mechanistic medicine seems like the workshop advice "Don't force it. Use a bigger hammer."

Saturday, 18 October 2008

In The Midst Of Life We Are In Death


This has been a long and busy week, dominated by death: three deaths in particular.

On Wednesday I conducted the funeral of Diane Campbell-Hunt. Diane was about two weeks younger than me; a still, secure, beautiful woman who was a musician and singer and mother and academic and wife and friend. Look up the word Greenie in the dictionary and there is a photo of Diane. She was passionate about the planet and the life that grows on it in all its forms. She was also passionate about people: about her husband Colin and their melded family of six extraordinary children; about her many friendships; about people who are oppressed and disadvantaged. Ten days ago, she was tramping on Mt. Taranaki with her daughter Katherine. A vastly experienced and sensible mountaineer, she was swept away by a swollen river in one of those absolute accidents to which no blame could ever be set and for which no explanation could ever be given. The shock of her death was, to me, an almost physical blow; she was so alive, so vital. So on Wednesday, with our little church and its two adjacent halls crammed to bursting with similarly shocked people who had gathered from all over the country, we celebrated her and wept.

Later in the week I visited the family of Gwen, an elderly woman I have known for about a decade. Gwen suffered many life threatening illnesses: diabetes, heart conditions and, recently, kidney problems. On Monday night I took the eucharist to her in hospital where she had been rushed earlier in the day. She was very ill, but Gwen had been very ill many times before, and recovered. I left soon after we had prayed together, fully expecting that her quiet strength would pull her through yet again. Not this time. She died early the next morning, and her funeral will be held early next week. She will be surrounded by friends because, as it was with Diane, she was one of those people whom many others admire and trust.

Yesterday the same hospital sent me a letter with an appointment to see yet another medical professional and talk about my options for treatment. I have been reading about prostate cancer which is a complex disease, and the consensus seems to be that with the particular combination of factors my illness has presented to me, the issue is not so much cure as management of symptoms. I have a high Gleason score, the cancer had spread outside the prostate and after radical prostatectomy I have a measurable PSA level. In the giddy world of prostate fashions, this is not a good look. The good news is that, often, the symptoms can be managed, quite effectively and for many years. This is, though, a disease of the urinary and reproductive system and the symptoms are ones which will strike at my self esteem and dignity and sense of manhood. Given the certainty that it will accelerate the advent of these issues, do I want them blasting away with external beam radiation on the off chance that it might - but only might - increase my life span a bit? Should I rely on the diet and meditation which are already having a measurable effect on my waistline, at least? Are the trinkets of my self esteem and dignity and sense of manhood heavy enough to weigh against the real treasures which an extended life might give me?

I have had a recurring fantasy all this week. A blood red Ducati. Panniers in which a minimal amount of belongings are stashed and a stretch of winding open road. I know it is escapist nonsense. I know that I haven't been on a bike for so long that 1100cc of highly tuned Italian motorcycle engine would probably see me off within the month. But I know that given my choices I would rather go like Diane than like Gwen: passionate, full of life and doing something rich and real, rather than having my body fall to bits slowly over the years.

This week I minister at the deaths of two people and say what I know to be true. In the midst of life we are in death, and the choice of when and how is never ours. Knowing this fact, that death is close and unpredictable, and accepting it, is what both Gwen and Diane, in their own ways, managed to do. It was, I think, one of the things that made both of them the compelling people they were. I hope that I, in my turn, can manage it also.

Copyright unknown.
This is a 2006 ST3, a true work of art and the object of lust and fantasy. It is a simply lovely sports tourer, but unfortunately they don't make them any more. Mind you, a Multistrada, ugly though it might be, would do just as well. Better maybe.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Tino Rangatiratanga


I was at the Titoki healing centre recently to provide input for a retreat held for the clergy of Te Hui Amorangi O Te Tairawhiti. This is the Maori diocese which covers the East Cape area, and the tribes of Ngati Kuhungunu, Turanga-nui-a-kiwa and Ngati Porou. The New Zealand Anglican Church has been divided, since 1992, into three parallel divisions, called Tikanga: Maori, Pakeha and Pasifika. This arrangement is in keeping with the founding document of New Zealand, The Treaty of Waitangi, and is an attempt to provide equal partnership for the three cultural streams which make up our church. The congress between the three tikanga is patchy at best. We meet together in our national synods and committees but at a congregational level, churches are generally fairly independent of each other. So, although I have been guest speaker and led workshops and retreats and ministry schools all over New Zealand, and although I havebeen present at many Maori events, this was the first time I had been officially invited to contribute within Tikanga Maori

It was a small group and fairly tight knit; these people have known each other for a long time and many of them are, in fact, related. I was the stranger, the Pakeha from Dunedin who had come to talk about the parables and about the Kingdom of God. They treated me with the usual hospitality and courtesy of Maori people, going out of their way to make me feel welcome. For example the worship services for the event were all conducted in English, an innovation made entirely for my benefit. No one complained. No one so much as hinted that this was a sacrifice they were making, or even suggested that they usually had any other practice. I was grateful for the gesture, and I didn't let on that I was a bit disappointed to lose the opportunity to improve my liturgical Maori. We all fitted amiably in together on got on with things.

There is a different rhythm about things Maori. There is a soft flow to the language; a different pattern of starts and finishes, rises and falls than English. After a long time in Dunedin where English is the only language heard, except when some academic speaks French or German or Latin, it was a joy to be in a place where I could again hear conversational Maori; where people switched unconsciously from one language to another, sometimes in the middle of sentences. At a Maori event there is a different flow of time; people rise very early and the timing of events usually follows the needs of the task in hand rather than the needs of the clock. There is an easier acceptance of spiritual realities than I am used to in the Pakeha world, even in the church.

Before I went to the retreat, I'd met only one of the people present. Over three days of close contact they got to know me and my my story just a little, and as they began to know me, began in turn to let me see the real people who lay behind their offering of gracious hospitality. We found that we served churches with similar challenges and problems. We found that behind the different patterns and rhythms of our respective cultures there were the same life issues to be faced. Just as the breath is shared in a hongi, we learned that we shared much the same spiritual and ecclesiastical air. And I started to wonder whether our three Tikanga structure was really serving the partnership it was intended to protect.

All over our country small Maori parishes struggle to survive. They are under resourced and often scattered thinly over large tracts of land. Beside them often, are small, under resourced thinly spread Pakeha parishes. People like to worship in their own language and in accordance with the mores of their own culture, and so they should be allowed to so choose. But in terms of administration, support and resources I'm not sure dividing things up into three makes the most sense. In fact it even seems a bit daft. A system of support persons, competent to work across both cultures and adequately resourced seems to me to be a better idea than an under resourced ministry enabler and an under resourced Kaihautu working essentially the same turf.

The people thanked me for my contribution with their customary generosity and at the end of the retreat the reserve had melted. I was driven to the airport in a large four wheel drive, proudly flying the flags of Te Tino Rangatiratanga and The Maori Party. My driver's husband has the same disease as me, and the three of us were so engrossed in conversation we missed the airport turn off and I only just made my flight. I flew back down the country to Scottish Dunedin, away from the warmth of the Bay of Plenty, away from anybody who is likely to have the Tino Rangatiratanga flag attached to their car. I've been here in Dunedin ten years now, and by and large I love it. But today I was reminded that there are some things which I very much miss, and foremost among them is hearing the Maori language spoken around me, and learning from the ancient culture of those who got to these islands first. So, if you don't mind, just for today, I too would like to fly a couple of flags. The one above, and this one:



Kia ora tatou.


Friday, 10 October 2008

Titoki


Titoki healing centre, where I spent the last few days, is set in farmland just out of Whakatane. Titoki began in the mid 1970's when Don Ferguson, the Vicar of St. George's, in Tauranga left his parish to set up a healing centre. Don had been interested in the healing ministry after a dramatic answer to a healing prayer early in his priesthood. Later, a time in the Solomon Islands convinced him of the link between physical health and mental and spiritual states. He regularly held healing services and sought to deepen his understanding and expertise in this role. Gradually, he became convinced that he needed to set up a healing centre similar to Burrswood in England. In 1975 he found a suitable property, and taking an immense leap of faith, abandoned his regular stipend to found Titoki. Thirty years later the centre is flourishing.

The original farm house has been added to over time, so that now, accomodation wings sprout out of most of its sides and modest houses for staff nestle discreetly under trees around the back. A small chapel sits apart, the large picture window over the altar giving a view of the surrounding countryside. There are ten acres of well tended lawns and gardens whose openness and flatness add something to the spacious spirituality of the place. The accommodation is clean, neat, homely, well maintained and comfortable without any undue pretension. It is a pleasant place to be. There is space for 30 people to stay in rooms, most of which are twin share and most of which have ensuite bathrooms. The staff are largely voluntary, living as part of a small spiritual community, maintaining and running Titoki as a retreat and healing centre, offering spiritual support to the guests in return for board and lodging. They were attentive, discreet and someone among them certainly knows how to cook.

Titoki has a close link with the Diocese of Waiapu, although it is now run and administered by an ecumenical trust. Most of our Anglican dioceses - except, unfortunately ours - have retreat centres associated with them. These places of rest and prayer (and, in the case or Titoki, of healing) generally sit slightly to one side, set by necessity in some quiet place away from the rush of diocesan life. I can see why this should be so, but it is a pity that they are often marginalised and pushed for funds. It might be imagined that an organisation such as the Anglican Church which is founded for the sole purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ would have a place of prayer at the very centre of its life, in much the same way that the prayer community of the Cathedral cloister once formed the centre of English dioceses. Instead, in all our dioceses, the centre of our sharedlife is the diocesan office. True, we have cathedrals as "mother" churches, but I can't think of a single instance where the cathedral is popularly regarded as the very heart of diocesan life. Say the word diocese to most Anglicans and you will evoke a mental image of the office and of committees. I guess it's a symptom of what we have become. Or perhaps a cause.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Christian Healing?


Today I got to the point in Ian Gawler's book where I am on quite familiar territory: the bit where he explains his theology of healing. It's a theory I know well in various guises, a theory that crops up time and again in various Eastern and/or esoteric philosophies. He says that we have seven bodies, only one of which, the physical body, is accessible to the senses. The other six - the emotional, intellectual, intuitional, spiritual and astral bodies - are of varying degrees of subtlety and while some people can "see" some of them they are invisible to most of us. Illness happens when the energies of two or more of the bodies are conflicted and healing occurs when coherence is restored between them. I'm not sure what I believe about this theory: I'm probably too steeped in my Western world view to embrace it fully but it's  disconcerting  that some practices based on this idea, such as acupuncture,  seem to have real, measurable effectiveness, as does Ian Gawler's method of healing cancer. 

Gawler's method is quite logical given the theoretical framework he is working from. Everything in his programme, including the diet, the meditation,  the positive thinking, the exercise, is done for a reason: it is a method of bringing harmony to the seven layered reality in which we live. And, while it it seems to work it does present me with an interesting issue. I have been ordained in the Anglican church for almost 30 years. I have, many times prayed for healing, and sometimes to my great surprise seen those prayers answered. I have myself experienced and witnessed healings that might be described as miraculous. Yet I, personally, do not have a coherent Christian theology of healing, neither do I know of anyone else who has one. In the Christian church our healing practices involve praying and laying on of hands. We trust God for healings and sometimes God delivers. But we don't quite know why. We anoint with oil and we fast. But again, we don't quite know why. I don't know of a working theology of illness which seems to me to be a necessary precursor to a working theology of healing. Why do we get sick? What is going on, spiritually speaking? Why do we pray for healing, but continue in lifestyles which are unhealthy? Why have we no Christian theology of nutrition, exercise or balance? Why are so many of us unhealthy, unfit, overweight and ill? I remember as a young man being present at the conversion of  a devotee of the Hare Krishna faith. Once he had said the sinner's prayer and given his life to Christ, we took him out to a restaurant and gave him a steak, so that the "bondage" of vegetarianism could be broken. We thought that in Christ we were free to eat or not as we pleased, and that a sign of our spiritual maturity was to stuff ourselves with food that others thought was tainted. How arrogant we were, and how lacking in any sense of the connectedness of body mind and spirit. 

I have no doubt that somewhere there is an adequate Christian theology of healing, one in which I can pray knowledgeably for people, and where I can know what is actually going on when I fast and anoint. In one of those pieces of Providence that continually surprise me, I am going to the Titoki healing centre in Whakatane the day after tomorrow. I'm going to lead a ministry retreat for Maori clergy and to teach on the parables, but I am hoping now for some time with the Titoki staff. Perhaps they will be able to point me in the right direction?  

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Synchronicity


Alden and I were sitting talking a couple of nights ago, thinking that at some time in the forseeable future, we and our respective spouses might like to take a memorable trip. Perhaps a canal boat in France? Maybe bicycle down the valley of the Rhine from Andermatt in Switzerland to Rotterdam? How about motorcycles across the Nullarbor? Alden, being a nautical type, is keen on something involving flimsy craft floating on large bodies of water. He was telling me about the trip from Vancouver Island northwards which can be made in kayaks, and that it is possible to get collapsible kayaks that can easily go into the boot of a car. As he spoke, I was absent mindedly tapping on my PDA, downloading my email. As the words "collapsible kayaks" were coming out of his mouth, an email arrived from my friend Murray Broom whose business is making collapsible kayaks. Murray doesn't email me often; perhaps 3 or 4 times a year. I won't take this as a confirming sign from God on the Kayaks in Canada idea just yet, but it was a bit odd.

Many years ago, I was involved in an internet discussion on evolution. One of the other participants advised me to read the book The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. The next day, I left my office at 3:00 to collect my daughter Bridget from school. She needed picking up at 3:15 and the journey took ten minutes: I had 5 minutes to spare. Passing the Hamilton library, there was that most rare of things: an empty parking space right outside, and on impulse I pulled into it. The parking meter had five minutes left on it. I ran into the library, and up the stairs to the computerised catalogue. The last person to use it had been doing a search on evolution, and right there on the screen was the shelving information for The Beak of the Finch. I dashed to the shelf, and the book was sitting, not with its spine showing like all the other books, but with its front cover facing outward so it could be seen from 10 feet away. I took it to the desk, had it processed and was back in my car just as the parking meter flag fell.

I expected after that, that The Beak of the Finch would be earth shattering. Oddly, it wasn't; although the book was a good read, it was not particularly helpful in forming my ideas. The collapsible kayak thing similarly, does not seem to be of any great significance. It's odd, but not earth shaking. Often, it seems that these synchronicities do not have any meaning outside of themselves other than to remind us of the interconnectedness of the universe. Which is of course, interconnected; and meaningful even on those occasions when the bits don't line up in a nice orderly fashion. I.e mostly.

A Bit of a Breather

The Jetty, Carey's Bay

I heard back from my surgeon yesterday, or at least from the young woman who works for him. He doesn't want to see me until November, which is a pleasant change from the "please come first thing tomorrow morning, and bring your wife" routine which had become a bit of a stuck record over this past few months. I guess it means that whatever he's found down there is not going to cause my imminent demise, and we can all have a bit of a breather. That's OK by me.I've been reading a book by Ian Gawler with a very self helpy type of title You Can Conquer Cancer. Ian Gawler managed to beat a very nefarious type of bone cancer through diet and meditation, so, much as Betty Edwards deserves a hearing purely on the basis of results, so does Ian Gawler. I read his psychological profile of the typical cancer patient which described me with such accuracy that I cringed at every word.

The course of action described in the book seems rigorous at first glance but it's not so bad in practice. The largely vegetarian diet he prescribes, by one of those odd pieces of synchronicity, is pretty much the diet Clemency (though, regretfully, not me) has been existing on for a decade or more. The meditation he recommends is a close cousin to the one I have been using for a while, and all I have to do is beef up (Oh... whoops. New regime, right? Sorry. Tofu up) the frequency and length of sessions. There are other changes required, more profound than mere food, but the transitions have, so far, been easy and I have time to grow into them. It's only been a fortnight but I feel better for it already. I'm very keen to see what a month of it does before my next warrant of fitness.

My friend Alden (aka Tillerman) has been here for a few days with his wife Christine. We had lunch at the Careys Bay pub and a couple of long evenings sitting around putting the world (well, no....actually the Universe) to rights. My brother in law Jonathan has also been. Jon is one of the funniest people I know - a dangerous thing for a companion who has recently had his urinary system poked around with. There was an inexpressible comfort in being with people I have known for decades: people who share a basic worldview and whose opinions on politics, books, food and brands of motorcycle are reliable enough to need no defending; people who have forgotten more about my history than most of those around me will ever know. It has been a strong calm week in which it feels as though some sort of deep tide has turned.

Me, Christine,Clemency, Alden at the Carey's Bay pub

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Tony's Story

I found the following two clips quite moving when my friend Carl shared them with me. They are taken from the BBC series The Monastery, in which five men volunteer to live with the Carthusians in Worth Abbey: a sort of spiritual reality series. The first clip records the moment when one of the men, Tony, has a life changing encounter with the Infinite One. The second clip records some of his reflections, a few hours later. Tony's story is recorded here.




What moved me was firstly the portrayal of God at work; of Tony responding to a call that came from goodness knows where to be at Worth Abbey and led him to Brother Francis. Secondly, I was moved by Brother Francis and his prayerful patient ministry. He seemed to embody all that I hope for and aspire to in priesthood. To forsake the glittering prizes our Church organisation has on offer and to spend oneself in pursuit of the Kingdom; to fearlessly venture with another into the depths of their soul. Here is what I mean by the Hero's quest.