Friends for the Journey
As part of my training to become a priest in the church of England I was set the challenge of making a short video in which I speak about the spiritual life, the life of faith, in a way that makes sense to people both within but also beyond my own tradition. You can watch my attempt, which lasts just under 6 minutes, here: https://youtu.be/VEXqSVU1iZ4
Do let me know your thoughts. My key questions would be
- Did it make sense?
- Did it provoke thought?
- Did it seem authentic/real?
This blog is more or less the same, only in written format for those who prefer to read or who want the details.
Because I think that one of the truths of any spiritual path is that it is not lived in isolation but always in companionship with others, I chose to speak about one of my friends on the journey. This is not somebody I have ever met but a twentieth century writer called Elizabeth Goudge
I first encountered her work as a child. She wrote a book called The Little White Horse, (Goudge, 1946) which I adored. It was a simple story full of rich characters and, in particular, wonderful animals. I found it, without quite knowing why, profoundly comforting. Looking back I would now say that perhaps that was because it is full of goodness and courage and forgiveness and, above all, hope. It was a really hopeful story.
Later, in my twenties, I read her adult novels. At university, for the first time, I had started going to church regularly and exploring Christianity in a serious way. Sometimes that was a source of joy and hope but sometimes I found the certainty and even the arrogance of some religious people and some religious views really off putting. I didn’t do certainty about the things of faith then and I still don’t.
And, had that kind of certain and rather superior Christianity been the only kind on offer I think I might have rejected a Christian spiritual pathway altogether. But the novels of Elizabeth Goudge showed me a very different way of being Christian, a gentler, more contemplative way that didn’t divide people into us and them, good and bad but saw God at work everywhere and in everyone. Her characters were flawed, real human beings trying hard to live lives of simple goodness and even the ones who had faith struggled with it. The Christian pathway was presented as challenging, never easy, but ultimately joyful and life giving. It was a way of being Christian I could relate to.
In particular she had a profoundly respectful view of the spiritual lives of children that has stayed with me. She treated the inner lives of children with the utmost seriousness.
For example in her book, The Rosemary Tree (Goudge, 1956) there is a 5 year old girl who remembers what she calls ‘the other country’ – the place she came from before she was born. The author gently but indirectly invites her readers to see that this is also the place to which, she believes, we will ultimately return.
The little girl is able to visit it sometimes, when she’s alone or at times of stress. But the older she gets the harder it is to return there and she fears there will come a time when this world is too inviting and she will no longer remember ‘the other place’ at all.
In one passage she describes it…..”she never quite knew what it would be that cradled her there. It might be golden praise, or the blue of purity or scarlet courage or just light or just darkness. It depended on the day and the time. They were all good but the light was very good because it enabled her to see right to the horizons of the country where the mountains were. The darkness was best of all even though she saw nothing and did nothing in it, because it loved her”
There have been dark times in my own journey of faith when I seriously doubted whether there was a place for me in the church, and whether I believed anything at all, much less in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Mary’s son. And when that happened it was my friends on the journey, friends like Elizabeth Goudge that kept me going, that keep me searching for a mystery that is beyond words, but which, as the little girl in the reading says, loves us.
God bless and thanks for reading.
Goudge, E., 1946. The Little White Horse. 1985 ed. s.l.:Hachette Children’s Group.
Goudge, E., 1956. The Rosemary Tree. 2017 ed. London: Hodder.
The title ‘Words as windows on the eternal’ was inspired by a quote from Magdalen Smith’s Steel Angels: The Personal Qualities Of A Priest