Tag Archives: Edinburgh

Can we have more Doubt and less Certainty, please?

I have long appreciated  Richard Holloway’s deep probing writing on questions of faith and doubt as he looks steadily upon the ever-present gifts and frailties of humankind – admiring his blend of humour, erudition, compassionate feeling and dispassionate analysis. Since this is the Christian season of Lent, I thought the following quote would be an appropriate one to offer as food for thought. 

We are living through a time where fundamentalist certainties in science, politics and especially religion are creating various kinds of turmoil and havoc worldwide. Perhaps the leavening humility of more doubt and less certainty would be of ultimate benefit to us all?

Spiral of Rebirth

The Circle of Life

Because there is such an intrinsic connection between faith and doubt, the Church ought to be big enough to contain both sympathetically… 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… 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…

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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350 words copyright Anne Whitaker/Richard Holloway 2016
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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On toads, work – and writing….

The poet Philip Larkin memorably asked : “Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life?”

That toad –WRITING – has squatted on my life more or less since I was born. The golden thread of consistent attachment to writing, or writing’s consistent attachment to ME, has run through the whole of my life. I have always been true to it, in my fashion, during the promiscuous twists and turns of my vocational quest.

Anne and Friend compose the latest blog post....

Anne and Friend compose the latest blog post….

At school, whilst other kids seemed to dread their composition ink exercises, I looked forward to mine. It was an opportunity to channel into focused black and white the swirling imaginative colours which whirled round my young brain, fed by my six library books a week habit. I read anything and everything.

This voracity had its downside. Victorian novelist H Rider Haggard’s myth-steeped descriptions of his characters’ adventures in Africa last century fascinated me. But da Silva, the Dutch explorer whose frozen body was found centuries after his death in a cave high up Mt. Kilimanjaro, transferred himself from King Solomon’s Mines to the wardrobe in my bedroom, on and off, for a couple of years. Getting to sleep was no mean feat with an imagination like mine!

My ‘real’ life – eating, sleeping, going to school – was incidental to my inner life which was full of the really interesting questions:

“Why are we alive, where do we go after death, do we live on several planes of existence at once, what is happening in other galaxies, if there are x million Catholics and even more Buddhists and Hindus, how come they are all Wrong and Damned and a few thousand members of the Free Church of Scotland are Right and Saved?

What would happen if you unwrapped an Egyptian mummy? I wonder if I could make a shrunken head like the Jivaro people? Why did people paint pictures on cave walls thousands of years ago? “

These issues, fed by reading, preoccupied me for years. I must have written about them, and my essays were often commended. However, attempts on leaving school to obtain my childhood exercise books were met with a bureaucratic “No”  .

During my twenties, spent in further education teaching, I  had a ‘Personally Speaking’ column in a well-known provincial Scottish island newspaper, a copy of which I was reliably informed went to the British Embassy in Peking in China every week.

I also wrote for the local paper in a small industrial town in West Lothian, Scotland, where I had my first English lecturing job in the local technical college. ‘How I was left on the shelf – and found true happiness’ was my contribution to the West Lothian Couriers Spring Brides Feature one year. “Couldn’t you have been a bit more romantic ?” was the Editor’s only comment.

Harrowed in my mid twenties by the realisation that time was speeding on apace without my having yet written an autobiography, I then began the first of what were to be many bouts of journal-keeping…….and so the writing went – on, and on, in a dazzling variety of contexts for the next several decades…..

Any writers out there with amusing writing anecdotes? Do leave them in a comment!

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550 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Praise be! Spring is here….

 I am sure that many readers share my need for connection to the Great Round through immersion in the natural world. Today in Glasgow, Scotland, UK it is a Spring day – and the daffodils are out!

Celebrate it with me!

Fabulous Daffs

Fabulous Daffs

http://www.flickr.com/photos/46097950@N02/4482794780/

I  have a ritual which I’ve repeated for a long time now. From late February each year, I go into the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow  via the Kirklee gate entrance, stroll up the path, and have a close look at the earth border to the left. Green shoots are just appearing. I check them every week, as the stems grow taller and sturdier, and the buds fatter. There is a magic moment when, at last, I see the first daffodil of Spring. Quite often, I punch the air and go “Yes!!”

That moment provides a rush of pleasure which remains with me the whole day.  I call my ritual The Daffodil Run. You think I’m daft? I know it’s an important part of  what keeps me sane.

There are very few clear evening skies in Glasgow. If you’re rushing up Byres Road on the way home on one of those rare nights, especially when you cross the Queen Margaret Drive bridge, look out for a small woman standing still, gazing at the sky. That’ll be me, admiring the wonderful, fragile beauty of a new crescent  moon.

Even in the city, in the increasingly hurried pattern of 21st century life, it is possible to maintain a connection to the cycles of the seasons and the rhythms of nature. It’s increasingly recognised that regular contact of this kind is an important component in establishing and maintaining the kind of inner balance and peace that promotes happiness.

One of the many advantages of living in a small country like Scotland is that access to the great outdoors is not difficult – half an hour out of Glasgow, for example, it is possible to disappear into lovely countryside and forget the existence of the city very quickly. Try it ! It doesn’t matter how stressed you are, how much angst you are carrying. A couple of hours of  tramping across the hills, often in rain and wind, focusing on nothing more complex than  where you put every footstep in order to avoid disappearing up to your waist in a bog, is guaranteed to purge out at least some of it.

Over many years of  walking, I have offered the hills both my joys and my sorrows, and  have found validation for the former and solace for the latter. In homeopathic medicine, broadly speaking, you treat an ailment with a very dilute form of the toxin which caused it. I have found the homeopathic principle works very well with bleakness of the soul or spirit. That condition can be effectively treated by choosing weather and landscape to match your mood, and immersing yourself in it for a few hours. Meeting bleakness with bleakness has a powerfully cleansing effect.

Complementary to this is the powerfully life-affirming effect that natural beauty can have.

Standing on top of a favourite hill on a sunlit day, looking at stunning panoramic views, listening to the joyous song of a skylark, feeling at one with the wind and the landscape, has on numerous occasions made me feel so glad to be alive that I have wept for joy.

These experiences may fade in the face of the rigours of an average life. But if you repeat them often enough, you develop a sense of being part of the great round of nature, where joy and sorrow, youth, maturity, decline, death and rebirth all have their part. You also learn, slowly, the importance to being a happy person of being able to ” grasp the joy as it flies”, celebrate the moment, “seize the day.”

( First published ( as “Happiness and the Healing Power of Nature”)  in “Self & Society”(The Journal of Humanistic Psychology) (UK)Vol 27 No 5, November 1999, then http://www.innerself.com : Innerself Magazine (USA), and most recently – March 09 –  in ‘ The Drumlin’, the Newsletter of Glasgow Botanic Gardens. )

700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page