Category: God


A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh (First published, 1934)

dustIn his chosen career as a novelist Evelyn Waugh has to write about human beings but you get the strong feeling from this cynical and morally vacuous novel that he didn’t like people much. He became a committed Catholic soon afterwards and presumably he took comfort from an organized religion that takes it for granted that we are all born sinners.

Its title comes from a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” – an allusion to death given that someday all of us return to dust.

Like a vindictive deity or grim reaper, Waugh moves his sad characters around like someone idly engaged in a game of chess with himself. None of them are presented in a flattering light and their actions are mainly driven by apathy, ennui or spitefulness. They are well off, comfortably placed and bored out of their skins.

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new_skin_for_the_old_ceremony As a gift to a friend of mine who is retiring soon, a group of friends and colleagues have been asked to write articles about a poem or song.

These texts will be connected by the themes of one, or more, of the four elements – fire, earth, water and air.

I have chosen to write a piece on Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire which, as you may know or recall, goes like this:

And who by fire, who by water,
 who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
 who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
 who in your merry merry month of may,
 who by very slow decay,
 and who shall I say is calling? Continue reading 

A good God is hard to find

A PRAYER JOURNAL by Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2013)

flanneryMy favorite joke about praying is by the surreal American comic Emo Philips (although it’s also been attributed to Al Pacino) and goes: “I asked God for a bike but I realized it doesn’t work that way, so I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness”.

I think the Southern Gothic novelist Flannery O’Connor would have appreciated this witticism. She was a staunch Catholic but she also had an eagle eye for life’s absurdities.

As an atheist I am biased, but surely even believers can recognise that praying ought to consist of more that than reeling off a wish list to some kind of celestial Santa.  Continue reading

pathwayDuring an anti-clutter purge I came across a card that has been missing presumed lost for the best part of three decades. This ‘Picture Meditation’ is entitled ‘The Pathway and is No.8 in a series published by Mirfield Publications, House of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire.

The Mirfield Monastery  and its fund-raising publications are still going strong and a Google search reveals that this card is still available for purchase online at a modest price of £0.50. I can’t recall where I bought it but I probably found it in a cathedral bookshop.

As an atheist this is not something I would normally spend money on but I found the text attractive because it accurately describes the state of self-doubt I often feel when contemplating change in my life. Once you exclude the  entreaties to God (addressed as ‘Lord’) it is remarkably secular and plain-spoken. Here is the full text with [—-] in place of ‘Lord’ to exclude the Christian slant:

[—-], I seem to have somehow lost my way. I keep trying to follow the old familiar ways that I have known for so many years, and now they no longer lead me anywhere. Most of the time I find myself back where I started. I want to move out from where I am, and I just seem to be going round in circles. Continue reading

Walking the Green Mile

THE GREEN MILE by Stephen King (1996)978711

This is a curious hybrid of a novel combining horror, crime fiction, social realism and fantasy.

There’s even a hint that it is intended as a religious allegory.

King himself admits that the novel is an experiment. It originally appeared in six installments in the New York Times with each part needing to end in a way that left the “constant reader” wanting more.

This is the way novels of old, notably those of Charles Dickens, were presented to the public and King was curious to see if he could get modern-day audiences hooked in the same way.
It helps ,of course, that he loves to surprise and shock in fictional works that are always strongly plot driven. Continue reading

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