Monthly Archives: March 2010

Favourite Quotes: Richard Holloway on Doubt

Along with most people in Scotland who have more than a passing interest in matters spiritual, religious and theological, I have known about Richard Holloway for a long time. (see below this quote for biographical details) However, until recently I had not got around to reading any of his writing.

I had, however, listened to a eulogy for my late mother-in-law, written by Richard Holloway for her funeral service ten years ago. She had been a Samaritan volunteer and churchgoer in Edinburgh for many years and as such knew Richard Holloway, then Bishop of Edinburgh, quite well. I was struck by the straightforward fluency and honesty of what he wrote, delivering an admiring and affectionate word portrait, but not shirking mention of the more problematic aspects of her character.

I have always appreciated honesty which avoids unkindness, but values truth more than comfort. That is what came across during the eulogy, revealing itself again as I work my way through Holloway’s deep probing writing on questions of faith and doubt as they thread themselves though the ever-present gifts and frailties of humankind – admiring his blend of humour, erudition, compassionate feeling and dispassionate analysis.

If  you appreciate and are challenged by this quote, join me in reading through his books!

Light - and Dark....

Light - and Dark....

Because there is such an intrinsic connection between faith and doubt, the Church ought to be big enough to contain both sympathetically.This is the kind of theological magnanimity that is important for itself, but it is also important for secondary reasons. Since it is possible to believe and to doubt for the wrong reasons as well as the right ones, and we don’t always know the one from the other, we need the constant challenge of the other tendency to keep us honest. This will make life uncomfortable, of course, but the work of our purgation demands it. Growth is painful, but no element in our nature is exempt from the process of  sanctification. The Church….should be as inclusive as possible. It should be big enough to hold Thomas the empiricist, as well as John the mystic, and Peter, who was often baffled and confused…..the paradox of justification by faith is that it is God’s faith in us that ultimately matters, and not our faith in God. There is a faith beyond faith, which is deeper than trust in our own trustfulness and is an abandonment to the ultimate graciousness of the universe….This is the trust beyond trust that says ‘yes’ even to the night.It is close to the dereliction of Good Friday….

Light - and Dark....

Light - and Dark....

(from Anger Sex Doubt & Death by Richard Holloway, SPCK Publications, 1992, UK, pp 81-82. I realise this is quite a lengthy extract! Should Richard Holloway or SSPK object, please let me know how many words I can quote and I will edit accordingly….)

Richard F. Holloway (born 26 November 1933) is a Scottish writer and broadcaster and was formerly Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church. To read more about him and his writing, click HERE

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Richard Holloway 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Six things I love about astrology (for World Astrology Day 21.3.10)

(i)

“Six thousand years ago, when the human mind was still half asleep, Chaldean priests were standing on their watchtowers, scanning the stars.”

( from The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler )

I love knowing that the rational, mythical, symbolic and empirical art of astrology has been around for at least six thousand years. Our increasing contemporary awareness of the interconnectedness of all things was well known in antiquity: the ancient maxim “As above, so below” still applies. Astrologers operate on the margins of our fragmenting, reductionist culture. But we represent an unbroken line to a time which in many ways was wiser than ours is now. Being a tiny thread in that weave gives me a deep sense of pride, connectedness and rootedness.

(ii)

I love being able to look out at the night sky, seeing the beauty of the lunar cycle and the visible planets in their ever changing, ever repeating patterns, knowing that being an astrologer offers one the privilege of perceiving not only astronomy but also symbolic meaning out there. I can still recall the exhilaration I felt on a freezing cold, clear night in January 1986 on a visit to the Outer Hebrides. My brother, a Merchant Navy captain, was able to point out Saturn to me – the first time I had ever seen that venerable planet with the naked eye. Saturn’s meaning was also present that night; we were on our way back from the wake for an old uncle who had just died.

(iii)

I love the fact that I started out as a dismisser of our ancient art, and ended up its devoted practitioner – having set out to confront my embarrassment at the inexplicable fascination I had developed for a subject which I considered to be beneath my intellectual consideration! This is the typical position of ignorance combined with arrogance from which many people dismiss astrology, not realising there is a subject of great depth and power beyond the Sun Signs of astrology’s public face. I embarked on a course of study with the Faculty of Astrological Studies in the early 1980s – to prove to myself through study rather than ignorant dismissal that there was nothing in astrology – and have kept up an unbroken interest since then for nearly 30 years. If you want to read the strange story of how my astrological career began in a launderette in Bath, England, UK, check out the link below!

Not the Astrology Column

11th Century Horoscope

11th Century Horoscope

(iv)

I love how literal astrology can be. Saturn met Neptune in November 1989 and the Berlin Wall came down. There was a Jupiter Uranus conjunction in Libra in July 1969 when a huge co-operative effort of unique scientific endeavour put the first human on the Moon. The day Pluto first went into Sagittarius in January 1995, there was a massive earthquake in Japan and the city of Kobe went up in flames. At that same time, John Paul, the best-travelled Pope ever,  preached to an open air audience of over a million people in Manila in the Philippines. To lower the tone somewhat, I was having lunch with a bank manager friend of mine on the day Saturn turned retrograde on my Scorpio IC. For no apparent reason (being sober at the time!) I passed out, just as another bank manager and friend of my friend was passing the restaurant window. They both ended up carting me home between them.

(v)

I love the impossibility of ever getting on top of, or to the end of, one’s astrological studies. I have never applied myself to eg Chinese or Hindu astrology, not yet feeling I have enough of  a grasp of the Western tradition into which I was born….and you can do hundreds or thousands of horoscope readings, teach hundreds of classes with thousands of students, and someone will STILL come up with a  manifestation of eg Venus combined with Saturn or Mercury combined with Neptune, which you have never before come across or thought of.

(vi)

I love astrology for the help it has given me (and countless other people who are willing to look within and try to be honest about themselves) in understanding the quirks and complexities, the gifts and pains of my personality and life pattern. My studies began as the next step in a lifelong quest to prove that our existence has some meaning, that we are not just butterflies randomly pinned to the board of fate, that we are each here because we have something unique to contribute to the Big Picture. Astrology has provided me with that proof. For that, and to that unbroken line of students and practitioners of our great art stretching right back to those ancient Chaldeans on their watchtowers, I will be forever grateful.

Thank you.

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800 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Granddad the Bold: Swimming in a secret sea (ii)

During 2006-8, in the final stages of my recovery from a long bout of  burnout and retreat, I wrote a short memoir recording some of the early influences – via significant people and experiences up until the age of thirty – which had been important in determining the direction of my particular spiritual quest. I’d like now to share some of those episodes, which might very well trigger my readers’ own reflections on the early influences shaping their spiritual lives. If they do, it would be great to hear from you either via comments or email!

(i)

Grandpa Donald

It was a very stormy day, as is frequently the case in the Outer Hebrides in winter. The ferry was tossing alarmingly, the passengers were very scared. Some were lying being sick in the toilets. Others, white faced, were on the cafeteria floor, clinging to the table legs for comfort and support.

Grandpa Donald’s nerves were steady. Despite being over seventy, he was  dapper, and had never lost the sea legs he developed sailing between South America and his native island before the First World War. He made his way with a calculated stagger into the cafeteria full of screaming children and whimpering adults, serenely advancing to the serving area. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a cup of tea?”

He was on his way to South Uist to do a spot of lay preaching, and saw no reason why a force nine gale should come between him and his afternoon cuppa.

Donald died when I was eleven and he was eighty three. Typical of the man, chasing hens up the street was the last thing he did before taking his leave of this world, serene in his faith that he would be re-united with his departed loved ones in the Life to Come.

He used to babysit for me. I have no memory of those occasions, but according to my mother he used to say, every time my parents returned home, “My goodness, that child. What questions she asks, what questions!”. About the stars, and God, and where we all came from, and what life was for, apparently.

I do remember his serenity and good humour, and his kindness. I adored him and was devastated when he died. Donald had always made me feel safe, secure and valued. No one else in my childhood years had done this for me in quite the same way, as I struggled to grow up and get away from my parents. They loved me, but were too damaged in themselves and their unhappy relationship to support me in the ways that I needed.


After Donald died, I asked questions only of myself and my books.

Night Sea Journey

Night Sea Journey

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The next episode will be

(ii)

Seeking

Where does the longing come from?

Early memories may carry clues – tucked up in bed, cosy and warm, safe and sound, I would listen to the winter North wind tearing the world apart. This could go on night after night after night. Other nights were clear – cold and still. I would stand on the concrete garden path, gazing at the luminous  sky above the roofs of the houses at the top of Anderson Hill, awestruck with delight at the blaze of radiance dancing in the heavens. The Northern Lights, heavenly dancers….

to be continued

(note: inspiration for the title of this series of posts was taken from a book which I read a very long time ago but whose haunting title I have never forgotten: “Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle)

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Swimming in a secret sea

“One does not discover new land

without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time”

Andre Gide

It is nearly Spring. It feels at last with March arriving that our long cold winter is almost over. I feel vital, alive, engaged – full of gratitude for my sense of well-being. Setting up and running “Writing from the Twelfth House” from mid-2008 has been very good fun –and most rewarding: this wonderful comment from “Lawrence” came in via email two days ago: ” I really enjoy the spiritual serenity your Blog site exudes.. … your site is a healing oasis….”

Other feedback of a similar nature has affirmed that the site is doing what I hoped it might. So my wish is that those of you out there currently going through dark times may take heart from what I write today. Life has its profound rhythms and cycles, which at times clash brutally with how the Ego thinks it should be.

Going through my “night sea journey”, to use Jung’s terminology, took seven long years. At several points I very nearly drowned, in darkness without any apparent navigation points. But the steadfast love of those closest held my head just above the cold dark sea, and I called for aid to that level which I have learned to trust, but which I cannot name. Every time, my call was answered, one way or another. Every time, the deepest message was  Hold on. Try not to be afraid. Be patient. This is necessary – but it will pass. You will be all right. And I am all right, all right and deeply enriched.

Night Sea Journey

Night Sea Journey

Perspective on a prolonged ordeal which removed me from the world shifted and changed as the journey went on. I reached the heart of my own darkness, understood it, accepted how my life had been both blighted and enriched by conditions in place from the beginning. Quite quickly after that act of acceptance, I returned to being well again.

I recognise now that a lengthy retreat from the world was requisite for the kind of person I am – it is not necessary for most people to go through a mid-life summing up of such drastic dimensions, thank goodness! Having practised as an astrologer for nearly twenty years, I could see from my horoscope, when I was well enough and brave enough to reflect on it again, that periodic bouts of retreat seem to be part of my necessity. One of the great advantages to being an older person is that one has several decades to look back on, in attempting to make sense of one’s own patterns.

Gradually regaining the strength, energy and inclination to lead a “normal” life again, along with a profound sense of gratitude that my good health has returned, I am left awestruck at the sheer power, depth and mystery of the human psyche. The sense I already had of being woven into a meaningful cosmos – tiny thread though I am – has been amplified and deepened by many of the experiences I had whilst on my ‘night sea journey’. These experiences certainly challenged my rational, sceptical self. The added perspective gained by wide reading in spirituality, religion, mysticism, science and cosmology enables me to sum up what I now believe in one sentence:

We live in a meaningful, multi-dimensional cosmos where anything is possible.

The last couple of years of the retreat were spent in a state which I recognised from before, which one might call liminal: not quite having emerged from one life phase, not quite having entered another. This felt uncomfortable and frustrating at one level. But at another, it offered an opportunity to practise the art of trusting to the unfolding process of life, or Spirit’s call, to put it another way; knowing that, in due course, the shape of the next phase would become more clearly defined, the time to take action become evident. As indeed it has. Writing feels like my post-career vocation!

During that liminal time between 2006 and 2008, I felt inspired to begin work on a personal memoir. Not wanting to write an autobiography, I did want very much to track my spiritual development from early years. Thus I recorded key developmental points which remained vivid and significant in an unfolding process set out chronologically, but episodically.When the time is right I will tie it all together into a short book. In the meantime, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of those episodes, which might very well trigger my readers’ own reflections on the early influences shaping their spiritual lives.

Here is a taste of the first one, which I will publish on the site next week:

Origins:

i) Grandpa Donald

It was a very stormy day, as is frequently the case in the Outer Hebrides in winter. The ferry was tossing alarmingly, the passengers were very scared. Some were lying being sick in the toilets. Others, white faced, were on the cafeteria floor, clinging to the table legs for comfort and support.

Grandpa Donald’s nerves were steady…..

(note: inspiration for the title of this post was taken from a book which I read a very long time ago but whose haunting title I have never forgotten: “Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle

– and the beautiful photo illustrating the post comes from http://www.flickr.com/photos/magnusvk/166233536/)

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850 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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