Friday, August 31, 2007

Tribute to Diana: ‘Going Beyond Yourself’

In a moving tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, at the memorial service (31 August 2007) to mark the tenth anniversary of her death, the Bishop of London expressed one of the reasons for the quality of her life:

“The love of Christ described in the lesson read by Prince William contains the essence of the spiritual life. Princess Diana recognized this quality of life in many of those, like John, whose lives she touched.

It was a mystery which resonated deeply with her and for which she reached out.
And the mystery is this - the more you go beyond yourself, the more you will become your true self; the more you lose yourself in loving and serving others, the more you will find yourself; the more you keep company with those who suffer, the more you will be healed.

This is the knowledge which passes all understanding.”

A full script of the speeches at the service can be found at this link: Diana’s Memorial Service.

Image: Diana. “Put simply, she made us, and so many other people, happy. May this be the way that she is remembered.” Prince Harry.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lost in Translation

A new book, written by Australian Richard Woolcott, concerns the perils of translating English into other languages.

A Gulf News article ‘English as an ‘Undiplomatic’ Language’ (30 August 2007) offers a few humorous tasters.

Image: Author, Richard Woolcott, former Australian diplomat and head of the Foreign Service.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Admiring the Bishop of Digne

On a recent holiday in France my wife and I stayed in Digne-les-Bains, which is a good base for exploring the alpine area north of this region or simply soaking in the therapeutic thermal pools.

I happened to visit the cathedral that was nearby our apartment and, sitting in one of the pews, I read the history of this St Jerome’s cathedral. The pamphlet mentioned that behind the main altar a ledger covers a tomb of several bishops, one of which is that of Bishop Miolis “immortalized by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables under the name of Bishop Myriel.”

Apparently Bishop Miolis had been such a kind, forgiving man that his example gave to Hugo the inspiration.

This surprising episode made me want to read about Bishop Myriel again. Here is a summary of the commencement of Les Mis (thanks to Stuart Fernie):

Jean Valjean was an honest man who, through force of desperate circumstance committed the relatively minor crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, and paid a price out of all proportion with the severity of his crime.

Captured and sentenced to a term of five years’ imprisonment, Valjean spends nineteen years doing hard labour as a result of four failed escape attempts. He emerges from prison on parole, a hardened and bitter man, having encountered little kindness in the course of these nineteen years, and having adapted to the company he was forced to keep.

Because of his criminal record he encounters problems in finding employment, lodgings, and indeed any place in society. Exhausted and demoralised, he finds comfort and accommodation at the home of the Bishop of Digne who shows Valjean kindness and compassion. However, during the night Valjean surrenders to his experience and degradation of the previous nineteen years which, combined with a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness he has felt since his release, lead him to behave as he has been condemned to do – he steals the Bishop’s silverware.

He is captured and returned to the Bishop who, contrary to Valjean’s expectations, not only tells the police that he gave Valjean the silverware, but insists that Valjean should take two silver candlesticks as well.

This is the first act of kindness and generosity Valjean has encountered in all those nineteen years. Accustomed to having to fight for his very survival, this act of compassion and understanding (whose existence he has long since abandoned and then forgotten) causes him confusion and bewilderment.

While still dazed by his meeting with the Bishop, Valjean reacts once again in an animal-like fashion, doing what he feels he has to do in order to survive, when he steals a coin from a passing young chimney sweep.

This act, contrasting violently with the kindness he has just been shown, brings home to him just what he has become and how far he has fallen.

With a clarity missing for some nineteen years, he sees he has a choice to make – continue on the path of petty crime and self destruction upon which he is set, or start afresh and follow the example set by the Bishop. He can view people as a means to an end, as potential victims in his quest for survival, or he can live by compassion and understanding, offering help to others, just as he received help from the Bishop.

He determines to start a new life, adopting a new identity and a new mentality in the process.

It is inspiring to consider the influence of the Bishop of Digne in his counter-cultural ministry to those in desperate circumstances.

Geoff Pound

Image: Jean Valjean and Bishop Myriel, as played by members of the Reading High School Drama Club in their 2004 production of Les Miserables.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dealing with Day-To-Day Living

Robert Dessaix in his novel Corfu writes:

“Chekhov’s characters don’t strike me as especially vulgar or shallow. What they are, surely, is utterly unremarkable, worn thin by the unrelieved ordinariness of their lives.”

“Any fool, as Chekhov himself said somewhere, can deal with a crisis—it’s day-to-day living that wears us out.”

Robert Dessaix, Corfu (London: Scribner, 2003; first published Melbourne: Picador Pan Macmillan, 2001), 244-245.

Image: Cover of Corfu.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Deepening One’s Knowledge of People

In an address to a young minister F W Boreham states a qualification and a challenge for all effective communicators.

"The communicator must have a vision of humanity. How little people know of each other!

I watched a postman sorting his mail. How little he knew of the contents of the letters he handled! He saw the envelopes. Here one had a black border that gave a hint at sorrow. There was one with a silver edge that whispered to him of gladness and festivity. There was one marked ‘Urgent’, that told of important business and of anxiety. And another was registered, and he knew that it carried treasure. And that was all he knew.

And that is how we meet people on the street. A smile here, and a tear there, and a quick step or an anxious face yonder give hints of the thoughts that throb in the hearts of people, but that is all. The communicator needs a deeper knowledge of people than this. The communicator cannot afford to see people as trees walking. One must read more than the envelopes."

Frank W Boreham, ‘The Seer’ The Whisper of God (London: Arthur Stockwell, 1902), 51.

Image: “One must read more than the envelopes.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Espressing Away the Blues?

Mystery writer, Elizabeth George, knows how to grab attention and keep it throughout her books. In Missing Joseph, she begins in this arresting way:

"Cappuccino, that New Age answer to driving one’s blues momentarily away. A few tablespoons of espresso, a froth of steamed milk, an accompanying and generally tasteless dash of chocolate and suddenly life was supposed to be all in order again. What drivel."

Elizabeth George, Missing Joseph (New York: Bantam Books, 1993, Mass Market Edition 1994), 3.

Image: Cappuccino: a bird’s eye view.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Relationships that are Hit and Miss

Anne Tyler, in If Morning Ever Comes, writes about Ben Joe who is a student in New York calling his mother back in the family home in South Carolina.

Following the telephone call Tyler writes:

“… he felt confused and uncertain, as if he and his family were a set of square dancers coming to clap the palms of their hands to each others’, only their hands missed by inches and encountered nothing.”

Anne Tyler, If Morning Ever Comes (New York: Berkeley Books, 1983; first edition, 1964), 20.

Image: “…a set of square dancers coming to clap the palms of their hands to each others’, only their hands missed by inches…”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cultivating the Observant Eye

Christopher Boone is 15 years old with Asperger’s Syndrome. He tells a riveting mystery story that begins with the puzzle of a dog that he finds murdered at the end of his street.

About mystery, detectives and an important quality in life, he writes:

‘I also like The Hound of the Baskervilles because I like Sherlock Holmes and I think that if I were a proper detective, he is the kind of detective I would be. He is very intelligent and he solves the mystery and he says:

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

But he notices them, like I do.’

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (London: Vintage, 2004), 92.

Image: Basil Rathbone playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC rendition of The Hound of the Baskervilles.