Tag Archives: Good Friday

An Easter Meditation

 ‘…Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery…’

Easter Eve always finds me in a meditative, introspective, usually melancholy mood. The powerful metaphor of crucifixion as Good Friday approaches seems even more grimly appropriate this year, as we contemplate the terrible suffering of the people of Ukraine with horror and disbelief – and reflect on that which has brought those of us fortunate enough not to be caught up in war and persecution, nevertheless to our own personal pain: for Life crucifies us all, one way or another. If we are fortunate, we eventually emerge, hopefully deepened and strengthened.

Leaf with Lights…

This year, I have returned for solace and perspective to a favourite book “Women in Search of the Sacred” by Anne Bancroft, from which that wonderful header quote by Annie Dillard is taken. Where lies the sacred, in which our deepest solace is to be found? What are the ways that lead us to its discovery? To some, organised religion is the path to a spiritual life, while to others the natural world reveals the transcendent within the everyday, the holiness of what is. This fascinating book surveys the careers of ten very different women and examines the ways in which they have developed their spiritual lives.Those skilfully and sensitively interviewed by Anne Bancroft include Iris Murdoch, Susan Howatch, Sheila Cassidy, Vivianne Crowley, and Annie Dillard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and nature mystic. The book, though published in 1996, is still available…I truly recommend it as an inspiring read this Eastertide.

I can also still clearly recall the profound, uplifting impact many years ago of reading Annie Dillard’s account – in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ – of what is, essentially, a mystical experience. She was only 27.

“…..Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.  Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared.  I was still ringing.  I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.  I have since only rarely seen the tree with the lights in it.  The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam…..”

–Annie Dillard, ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’ (1974).

‘….I’m still spending the power….’ I know what she means. I was fortunate enough to have a mystical experience myself once, at the age of 24 – out of the blue, on a clear, starry autumnal night with Venus rising over the Perthshire hills in the Scottish Highlands. It has sustained me through many difficult experiences, and in Annie Dillard’s unforgettable words,‘…. I’m still spending the power….’

Leaf with Lights…

550 words ©Anne Whitaker 2022

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see About Page 

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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