Friday, July 1, 2016

Holiday reading



Off to the west coast of Scotland - oysters, midges, rain and castles - and a suitcase with books.


I am reading, as I depart, Roger Lipsey's book on the relationship between Thomas Merton and his long standing Abbot, Dom James Fox, "Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down". It was a fraught, fruitful, sometimes disabling relationship and Lipsey (whose biography of Dag Hammarskjold is outstanding) has decided to tell the story from both sides, not only, as is usual, through the lens of Merton.

Already in the first few pages it has upended my assumptions about Fox (through multiple Merton biographies and his journals) always thinking, as I did, of Fox as folksy (he would end his letters, 'All for Jesus through Mary with a smile') and not as Merton's intellectual peer. But Fox went, on a scholarship, to Harvard for a humanities degree, focused on history, graduated exceptionally well and subsequently went to the business school. I am expecting a fascinating account of a fellowship, a duel, a relationship framed by community and common purpose and their mutual status of contemplatives drawn to the eremitic life.

Since I am going to Scotland, I thought a major novel, by a favorite Scottish author, the one not yet read which is Neil M Gunn's 'The Silver Darlings' set in the context of the herring fishery that was his father's living (though within a earlier time frame). Gunn is the social realist, shot through with increasing spiritual (even metaphysical) insight and I love both his descriptions of community, its essentials and trials, and the sight of something yet other, a unifying way of seeing that pierces the world and makes one doubly at home in it. He is an author of 'setpieces' too - I will never forget one such - a young farmer, struggling to bring all his sheep home in a terrible blizzard, on which his livelihood and his very identity depends. You taste the tiredness, the renewing desperate energy, the elements being unintended cruel and the final justifying triumph.

Given that there will be a lot of trees about (one hopes), I next thought of Colin Tudge's 'The Secret Life of Trees'. Tudge is a wonderfully clear and enthusiastic writer able to convey complex scientific concepts in accomplished, accessible prose; and, this is a book I have been meaning to read for a while to better understand the lungs of the world and what Jung poetically called, 'thoughts of God'!

Meanwhile, on God, I decided to take along the clinical psychologist (and lifelong mystic, to quote his own description), Wilson van Dusen's 'Returning to Source: The Way to the Experience of God'. I read his book on Swedenborg with great admiration years ago, purchased this and neglected it!

Finally, 'More Than Allegory: On religious myth, truth and belief'' by Bernardo Kashtrup, a person I have never read before, but comes recommended by my 'religion scholar of the moment', Jeffrey Kripal, and rests, as far as I can see, on that fascinating point of intersection between religion and science that is an open dialogue rather than a closed conflict; and, where our deepening understanding of consciousness, the quantum and the anomalous is turning us towards a world that is a lot weirder than we thought (or, at least, have thought in these past three provincial centuries as Yeats described them).

These should keep me busy among the companionship, the cooking, the walks and the really cool spa with an infinity pool!

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