“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 4 – Cottingley Fairy Photographs and Esoteric Teachings

I want to be a very serene loving being in tune with the universe.

Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society

So said a fellow-member of my study group at  The Theosophical Society, at 50 Gloucester Place, London W1.

She spoke those words in answer to a question from my next inspirational figure. He had asked, “Why are you here? What do you hope to find?”

I’ve remembered her words for decades. And they appear in my romantic suspense novel Mystical Circles. Those words speak to my heart. Why? Because they seem to sum up the spiritual hunger many people feel, well outside the gates of  organised religion.

The Theosophical Society was my next port of call after THE CENTRE FOR SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES.  Ever-hungry for new spiritual experiences, I  alighted upon the Theosophical Society, and discovered the esoteric teachings of Helena Blavatsky, and started attending talks by another inspiring teacher.

His name was Adam Warcup, and unlike me he has sustained his commitment to Theosophy over the years, and still lectures at the Theosophical Society.

So what is Theosophy?

Theosophy, maintains its adherents, is nothing other than a body of Ancient Teachings. And the motto of the Theosophical Society is: “There is no religion higher than truth.”  But the first person who brought those teachings to the West and who managed to convey them in an understandable and accessible form was Helena Blavatsky ( on 21 June 2012 she was, together with Annie Besant, the subject of a programme presented by Melvyn Bragg on BBC Radio 4).

The idea that The Truth was to be found in this body of Ancient Teachings appealed to me strongly, as a spiritual seeker who had already  discounted what the organised religions had to offer.

And so I entered a world in which I heard, for the first time, of the Cottingley Fairy Photographs; of elemental beings; of the Devachan, (the Abode of Shining Beings), of visions of life after death much more detailed and vivid than those to be found in the Bible (as I saw it then). And fluent communicators who sounded intellectually respectable and who were able to express all these things in a way I found compelling.

I was so won over by what I heard at the Theosophical Society that the BBC producer I worked for in the Religious Schools Radio office in Portland Place asked me to go there and make notes on the lectures  for him, so that he might include an item on these “ancient teachings” in one of his programmes about spiritual seeking in London today.

Whilst I may not now, as a Christian,  subscribe to many of those beliefs, I still look at the world through the eyes of someone who understands what the other person believes. (click to tweet)

I think the reason for this is the level of my emotional engagement with those beliefs. I first heard of the Cottingley fairy photographs through a book I found at the Theosophical Society. I believed in the fairies at the time – as of course did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle several decades earlier, whose name will be forever closely associated with the case. Many years later Elsie Wright, one of the girls, confessed to having faked the photos. And yet there are those who insist on believing. And the story has an enduring fascination, as shown by the movie “Fairy Tale – a True Story”.

Fairy Tale - a True Story (movie)
Fairy Tale – a True Story (movie)

I  will always have empathy with all those who seek as I did, and rest awhile in these beguiling teachings.

I may also end with another quote, this time from Shakespeare, through the words of Hamlet to Horatio in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5:

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Whatever you believe, does this ring any bells for you? Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 3 – Sir Laurens Van Der Post, Explorer of the Spirit

We shall not cease from exploration wrote TS Eliot in his poem “Little Gidding”.

Sir Laurens Van Der Post with bushman
Sir Laurens Van Der Post with bushman
(credit: http://www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

These words seem very appropriate for author and explorer Sir Laurens Van Der Post (1906-1996), whom I first came across at a talk he gave in London, and whose spiritual writings had a profound impact on me.

I met  Sir Laurens at a meeting of  THE CENTRE FOR SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES, a group I mentioned in my last post. Based in London, it was run by a lady who seemed to have a talent for booking charismatic spiritual figures as Keynote Speakers at the various meetings.  Sir Laurens Van Der Post was one of them.

Sir Laurens gave a talk, accompanied by a slideshow of his Africa photos, called “All Africa and Its Heart Within Us”.

As I listened to him, I felt that for him Africa proved the touchstone for his spiritual seeking.

We can all be explorers of the spirit and we don’t need to travel anywhere to do it.

Different life-experiences may trigger religious or mystical experiences for us. But Sir Laurens wrote: I was compelled towards the Bushmen of the Kalahari  like someone who walks in his sleep, obedient to a dream of finding in the dark what the day has denied him.

I loved Sir Laurens’ philosophical ideas and his way of approaching the mystery of life. He was a friend and close associate of Carl Jung, another man of wisdom whom I greatly respect and admire. The first book of  Sir Laurens’ which I read was Venture into the Interior. In that book I remember him describing his experiences in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in World War II. He said that as his eyes met those of his torturer, The distance between us was the distance of unreality.

Those words have stayed with me across the years. And they have linked into many areas since then. For instance, they remind me of John Berryman’s poem The Song of the Tortured Girl, in which the girl is clearly spiritually, emotionally and mentally detached from the physical torture she is suffering. And they also link in to Sir Alister Hardy’s research into triggers for spontaneous religious experiences. He found that in the greatest number of cases, Depression/Despair was the trigger.

Sir Laurens’ ideas also link in to a film which I loved. The Gods Must Be Crazy came out in 1980, although I didn’t see it till several years later. Set in Botswana, and made by a South African film-maker, it tells the story of a scientist, his romantic aspirations, and a Bushman of the Kalahari meeting up with the ‘civilised world’. As I watched it, enjoying the comedy but also the wisdom, I couldn’t but be reminded once again of Sir Laurens and his deep respect and love for the Bushmen.

Sir Laurens Van Der Post with a praying mantis (credit: www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)
Sir Laurens Van Der Post with a praying mantis (credit: http://www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)

We can all be explorers of the spirit, and we don’t have to travel anywhere, geographically. As a famous example of this, I like to cite Emily Bronte. She travelled little in her life but she was herself a mystic as her poem No Coward Soul is Mine testifies. What she learned of life she learned in her own home, through her own family members, and through those who lived in the Yorkshire moors she herself inhabited.

For Sir Laurens it was Africa. For each one of us it may be different.

Have you done any spiritual exploring? Did you need to travel far? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit.  Have you been inspired by any books or authors in this way? I’d love to have your comments!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 1: Stirred By A Scientist to Share a Childhood Religious Experience

What’s the difference between nature or music appreciation… and a mystical experience?

Early Morning Mist, Beddgelert, Wales (deryckdillon.co.uk)
Early Morning Mist, Beddgelert, Wales (deryckdillon.co.uk)

When does “being moved by something beautiful” become a religious experience?

Surely the criterion for a mystical experience is that it changes your life?

In my case, it did.

My early childhood mystical experiences ultimately led me on a spiritual journey of many years – which, along the way, bore fruition in my novel “Mystical Circles”, and is now bearing fruit in my new novel  “A Passionate Spirit.”

And for me this spiritual journey didn’t start by opening a book or listening to a clergyman. It started with a direct personal encounter with Divine Reality.

And the person who encouraged me to take it forward was a Scientist.

The name of the scientist was Sir Alister Hardy, Marine Biologist, who wrote the book “The Biology of God: A Scientist’s Study of Man the Religious Animal.”

Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, and winner of The Templeton Prize 1985
Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, and winner of The Templeton Prize 1985

At the University of Wales, Lampeter, you’ll find the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre. Find out about it here if you want to enquire further, or contribute an experience of your own.

Sir Alister found in a study of 3000 contributed experiences that there were 21 triggers for spontaneous mystical experiences. These included such things as childbirth, the prospect of death, illness and crises in personal relations. But top of the list came  depression/despair, and then prayer and meditation, and then, natural beauty.

A few months before my 17th birthday, I wrote to Sir Alister, having read an article in The Times about him.

He appealed “to all those who have at any time felt that their lives have been affected by some power beyond themselves, to write an account of their experience and the effect it has had on their lives” and to send it to him.

I wrote the story of my childhood religious experiences, and sent it to Sir Alister. In his reply to me, he wrote that my experiences were “the feeling of an ecstatic joy in relation to the universe brought on by some particular aspect of nature… what Rudolf Otto called the numinous, the sense of the Holy.”

Thus began a journey of many years – a fascinating journey of spiritual enquiry and research – and several more mystical experiences along the way.

For me, then, University intervened, but after my graduation and return home, I wrote to the R.E.R.U. at Oxford again.

“What can I get involved in?” I asked. “How can I further my spiritual search?”

Edward Robinson, the new Director, replied, and pointed me to this organisation:

The Centre for Spiritual and Psychological Studies.

(find out about more about my involvement with this organisation here)

And thus, with a weekend symposium in rural Gloucestershire and a group of diverse and sometimes eccentric people of many religious backgrounds (celebrated, in fictional form, in my novel “Mystical Circles”) I began my long spiritual journey.

But don’t forget, as T.S. Eliot says in his poem ‘Little Gidding’, the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time (tweet this).

My first childhood religious experience involved a mountain in the early morning. And my journey took me to another mountain at the other side of the world where I was to recapture that same experience, early in the morning.

In this mini-series I’m going to tell you about some of my “glimpses of eternity” and also introduce you to a few of the fascinating individuals who’ve been way-markers on that spiritual journey.

Join me in my next few posts and find out about my roll-call of spiritual guides (saints as well as sinners).

And do share your own experiences with me, if you wish!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 2 – The Curious Case of the Kindly Professor and the Cunning Cult Leader

This sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson, doesn’t it?

"Holmes gave me a sketch of the events"
“Holmes gave me a sketch of the events”

The kindly professor in question is:

Dr Raynor Johnson, Physicist, and Master of Queen’s University Melbourne – scientist turned spiritual seeker.

And the cunning cult leader is:

Anne Hamilton-Byrne,a “self-appointed mystic” who led a cult proclaiming herself to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

I met  Dr Raynor Johnson at a meeting of THE CENTRE FOR SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES, a group which had its base in London.

It was run by a very correct, well-spoken and elegant lady called Alison Barnard who lived in Wimpole Mews, and seemed to have a talent for booking charismatic spiritual figures as Keynote Speakers at the various meetings. We met in the Royal Overseas League, St James’s Street, London. Speakers included the likes of Sir Laurens Van Der Post, Dr Raynor Johnson, and similar figures. I’ll be focusing on Sir Laurens in a later post.

RAYNOR JOHNSON  was born in Leeds, spent much of his childhood in Whitby, read Physics at Oxford University, and later moved to Australia to live where he became Master of Queen’s University Melbourne. He was influenced by the author Ambrose Pratt to study psychical research & mysticism, and he was transformed from “one of the most promising scientists of the age to a spiritual seeker.”

During his life he published many books on spiritual philosophy, psychic phenomena and mysticism. His most popular book is “The Imprisoned Splendour” (published in 1953).

The Imprisoned Splendour by Raynor C. Johnson
The Imprisoned Splendour by Raynor C. Johnson

I remember him as a gracious, kindly, modest man of immense spirituality and wisdom. I was bowled over by him, spoke to him after his talk, subsequently read many of his books, and wrote a letter to him at his home in Australia to which he replied in a letter I have kept ever since.

Of Raynor Johnson I think it would be true to say: I thought what he said was true because I was so enamoured of his personna.

After I read his books – particularly “The Imprisoned Splendour” –  I lived in an elevated state for several weeks. I have a vivid memory of walking up the platform at Charing Cross Station to catch a train, surrounded by people rushing to and fro, and I felt wrapped in a limitless joy and peace.  I understood why things are as they are, I understood the over-arching spiritual purpose of it all, and I felt at peace with it.

It was many years later that I discovered that Raynor Johnson was instrumental in starting the group which later came to be called “The Family” (an Australian cult which kidnapped and abused children,) together with Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the “self-appointed mystic” who led the cult proclaiming herself to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Raynor Johnson provided premises (called Santiniketan Hall) at his home in Victoria (from which he wrote an inspiring letter to me in 1976) and recruited middle class professionals who all subscribed to the bizarre beliefs of the cult whilst adding to its respectability. I knew nothing of this association during the entire time I was enamoured of Raynor’s Johnson’s writings and spiritual ideas, and continued to know nothing until a number of years later.

After one of the children was expelled from The Family, and exposed its practices to the authorities, the cult was raided by the Victoria police on 14 August 1987 – (as it happens, the year of Raynor Johnson’s death). Anne and her husband were arrested in June 1993 by the FBI in the USA. In August 2009 Anne’s grandaughter and a former cult member successfully sued her for psychiatric and psychological abuse and “cruel and inhuman treatment”.  She was also sued for misappropriation of money, and made a secret out-of-court settlement with a victim as recently as August 2011.

I believe that this kindly professor was exploited by a cunning and manipulative person who later went on, using his cloak of respectability, to commit evil acts  – but none of us are proof against being exploited or used.

However, if you follow the links and read of the case, I hope it will serve to help you understand why people do become deluded by self-appointed mystics, why they join cults, and why they become drawn in by false teachings.

Some of these experiences and reflections have played into the characters you will meet in my novel “Mystical Circles” – as well as those in my current novel “A Passionate Spirit”.

And perhaps the best postscript to this lies in these words: Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them.

(New Testament: Matthew 7:  15,16)

Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey. Do you identify with it? Have you ever been drawn into beautiful philosophical teachings by a charismatic figure? Have you been inspired by any books or authors in this way? I’d love to have your comments!

The Novels of Susan Howatch, Love, Miracle Wine and the Language of Invitation

Image
The Trinity – icon by Andre Rublev

Do you want to be well-integrated, do you want to feel whole, happy, or in tune with your deeper self?

These are the questions that novelist Susan Howatch asks her readers in her Starbridge series of novels, and her St Benets Trilogy.

And then, when her readers respond to this question, they find stories with themes of repentance, forgiveness, redemption, resurrection and renewal. That, in Susan Howatch’s own words, is what her books are all about.

For anyone with spiritual yearnings, Susan Howatch’s books are manna for the soul. And I am one of those.

This icon by Andre Rublev is seen by some as depicting the three men Abraham entertained (as told in the Old Testament story), who turned out to be angels; or the Holy Trinity. Jesus is the centre figure, God is on the left, and the Holy Spirit is on the right.  The message is: at that table, there’s a place for us. This image represents an invitation to us to step up to the table.

A well-known miracle of Jesus is the one where he changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana, in Galilee. In that culture Jewish weddings lasted several days and it was vital to provide enough wine. So it would have been a major social disaster for the wine to run out. And when Mary, Jesus’ mother, said to him, “They have no more wine” his reply was something along the lines of “What is that to me?” Yet she turned to the servants and said “Do whatever he tells you.”

What he did is very well known. He instructed the servants to fill up several huge wine jars with water, and then to serve it to the guests. And then people started saying to the host, “Usually the best wine is served first. But you have saved the best till last.”

Wine here may be a metaphor for what we most need at this time.

And I believe that on an individual level, in our world, we need the message of invitation, acceptance, inclusion and love.

Despite all the obvious practical and physical needs we all have, especially in our troubled times of economic difficulty, and ideological strife, I believe this is what we need: the language of inclusion, invitation, acceptance and love, instead of the language of fear and violence and hatred and self-gratification, which often deafens us in our world.

What’s your take on this? What is the “wine” you feel we have all run out of?  Please consider leaving a comment!

The Double-Edged Sword of an Artist’s Silence

If I didn’t make films I don’t know what else I would do, apart from playing jazz and making a nuisance of myself.” (Woody Allen)

Woody Allen’s words above show the nature of passion for art. For many creative people cannot imagine giving up, retiring, or falling into silence, before they die.

The master of comic fiction, P.G. Wodehouse, continued writing until the very end of his life. At the age of ninety three on his deathbed he was working on his final novel “Sunset at Blandings”. He’d reached chapter 16 of a planned 22 chapters. It was as full of spirit and youthful fun as all his many novels.

Ask a group of writers why they write and you will receive many answers. But common to many is the simple assertion “I feel compelled to write.” Compelled, that is, in the same way as Woody Allen feels compelled to make films. And this is often the case, until new circumstances intervene.

And for creative people, these circumstances may be of their choosing – or tragically otherwise.

I think of three novelists who fell into silence, for different reasons. The first is one of my favourites, Susan Howatch. Find out more about Susan Howatch’s “retirement” from writing on this thread on Vivienne Tufnell’s blog.

I followed and contributed to this thread because I share the feelings expressed by many about Susan Howatch – together with the disappointment that there will be no more from this much-loved author of the Starbridge series, and St Benet’s Trilogy. No more Nicholas Darrow. No more psychospiritual drama from that direction. No more sinuous and fluid psyches reaching out…  we, her legions of fans, will just have to go back and read those masterworks again from the beginning!

Jim Crace made a similar decision, but gave advance notice of it. He announced his next book would be his last. He created a strong impact with his novel “Quarantine” set in the Judaean wilderness, which examined those “on the edge” who wandered there 2,000 years ago, together with Jesus. Crace, writing as an avowed atheist, nevertheless developed the character of Jesus in a unique and compelling way. He has written many other successful novels too. But now he’s happy to “quit while he’s ahead”.

I used to feel the same about Iris Murdoch as I do now about Susan Howatch. I marvelled at “A Severed Head”, “The Bell”, “The Message To The Planet”, “The Book and the Brotherhood”.

Iris Murdoch’s silence was enforced through Alzheimer’s. Ironically, when the first signs of it arose she thought it was writer’s block. I could hardly bear to see the film “Iris” about the devoted support she received from her husband, because I found it so upsetting that she fell victim to such a horrific condition. Although I know full well the much-loved Terry Pratchett is on that same journey. Nevertheless I find it chilling to contemplate that this could happen to people with such truly brilliant minds.

But in the case of these writers, having been so prolific, at least one can say they’ve given of their best. And are greatly loved for it.

Have any of your favourite authors fallen silent? Do you lament that no more stories will fall from their pens? Or, perhaps, eagerly fall upon the publishers’ promises that here is another author who will fill that silence?

Searching for Love… And Craving Celebrity

In my last post, on the case of Jimmy Savile, I wrote about the dark side of celebrity.

We crave love, fame,wealth, success - but where is it leading us? (image credit: GoToSee.co.uk)
We crave love, fame,wealth, success – but where is it leading us? (image credit: GoToSee.co.uk)

We live in a society obsessed with celebrities – the gods of this secular age.

And we try to convince ourselves that fame would guarantee entry into a perfect region of love, wealth and success. Yet the reality for the famous themselves is often not as appealing as we might think.

There are many examples of celebrities who suffer from depression.

“It is strange,” observed Albert Einstein, “to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”

The cure for loneliness, we are led to believe, is love.

And in our midst, there are those who feel unloved and unlovable. These people may not take a recognizable form. The most attractive people may be among those who feel unloved and unlovable. The rise of depression, anxiety and stress in our society provides ample evidence of this – as does the incidence of poor body-image, low self-esteem, and eating disorders such as anorexia.

It is rare to find love that is not conditional.

“All you need is love,” sang the Beatles. And as it happens, I’m listening to them singing those very words right now as I write this.

But the love we need must be unconditional.

Unconditional love is a very difficult concept for human beings to grasp. Only divine love can be unconditional.

The love of God can work through the most unexpected people – and that includes people who are not religious, and have nothing whatsoever to do with churches.

So it may indeed be that the cure for all this is unconditional love.

Compassion, humility, and gentleness are not the exclusive province of religious people.

I believe we taste something of that unconditional divine love in any place where compassion, grace, love and faithfulness are to be found.

Seeking Personal Growth; and Sitting at the Feet of a Charismatic Guru

We find ourselves in a culture where many seek answers to the deep issues of life in spirituality, beyond the boundaries of organized religion.

dreams and mystical visions
dreams and mystical visions

Different needs within people draw them to seek spiritual relief – and for some, esoteric New Age spiritual groups hold a strong appeal.

You’ll meet some of those who are attracted to such groups, in the pages of my romantic suspense novel Mystical Circles.

"Mystical Circles" new print edition published August 2012
“Mystical Circles” new print edition published August 2012

Another example of such a group – which was pointed out to me by one of my early readers – is the Fellowship of Friends. Also known as the School Group it was founded in 1970 in California by Robert Burton aka The Teacher. There are certain fundamental aspects of this Fellowship which find their counterpart in many other esoteric groups:

  • The group is led by “a conscious teacher”. His only true credentials are his own presence and his effect upon his students.
  • The group’s location is a place for students to “work on themselves” in an atmosphere of beauty, effort and friendship.
  • The group is trained in “self-remembering” which involves “being present” within a moment – this is the universal message of esoteric schools.
  • The members of the group gather daily to “work on themselves” at meetings, study groups and dinners.

I have in the past been impressed by the teachings of George Gurdjieff (upon which Robert Burton based the Fellowship of Friends) and have participated in a number of such groups myself. Gurdjieff, a mystic and spiritual teacher, called his discipline “The Work”. At one point he described his teachings as “esoteric Christianity”.

In theory, the “work on oneself” which Gurdjieff recommends should indeed bear fruit in greater self-knowledge. But does it in practice?

My own experience has shown me how powerful a charismatic figure can be and how the most intelligent of people might fall prey to such a person, and therefore create situations in which many people become victims of “mind control” or “brainwashing”. I must also say this applies to a wide range of situations in life, not just esoteric groups.

Christians may like to reflect upon how easily a charismatic leader can draw people into a place where the main focus of attention is his or her own magnetic personality. This can be as much of a danger for Christians with a public speaking ministry as it can be for inspirational leaders and gurus in the world of the esoteric.

St Paul spoke of the danger of “false apostles” attributing miracles to themselves rather than God. He expressed his fear lest those he taught had their minds “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) And as Jesus himself said, “Beware of false prophets – by their fruits will you know them.”

I’ve certainly tasted a few of those fruits myself in the past, and have learned from personal experience whether their juicy flavour lasts, or, indeed, whether you bite through the fruit to find a maggot at the centre!

What about you? Have you ever tasted any of these fruits? I’d love to hear from you! Perhaps you, like me, have sat at the feet of various gurus? Please share your own experiences by leaving a comment!

People of Inspiration Part 3 – Susan Boyle, Who Made a Choice to Use the Gift God Had Given Her

As the third personality in my mini-series on People of Inspiration, step forward Susan Boyle.

Susan Boyle onstage at the end of I Dreamed a Dream musical

In the musical “I Dreamed a Dream” , which I saw at the Birmingham Hippodrome, I learned much about this gifted singer  and deepened my knowledge of her life-experiences and background. The show starred Elaine C. Smith in the role of Susan Boyle.

Probably the words which stood out for me in Susan’s story were these, spoken near the end of the show: “I realised it was my choice, to use what God had given me. I didn’t have to do it. But my mother made me do it.” Her mother’s words were the deciding factor for Susan: “God has given you a gift for you to use.”

In November 2010, backstage at the Rockefeller Center, New York City, as Susan cried and raged and shouted and faced the consequences of not going on stage to face a massive audience, she was told by her manager: “You don’t have to go on. You don’t have to do it. I’ll go out there and tell them you won’t be coming on. If it does this to you, it isn’t worth it.”

Susan then had to answer a question for herself: “If it does this to me, is it worth it?”

Before Susan’s famous big break in “Britain’s Got Talent”, there were always factors in her life which held her back. The doctor’s words to her mother shortly after her birth: “Don’t hold out too much hope for her.” The fact that she dealt with her nerves with flippancy and fooling around. The sarcasm and bullying and jealousy she met. The low self-esteem, the lack of self-confidence, the boyfriend who never was, the mother who asked her to “do something with your singing instead of staying here looking after me.”

To me the most outstanding thing about Susan as a person is that she felt the fear, and did it anyway – because of her mother’s words.

Right at the beginning of the musical these words were spoken: “We all have dreams. But as we grow older we let them  go. We lose them in the sheer business of just getting through life day by day. I think that’s sad. We should hold onto our dreams.”

The message in Susan’s story is that you need words to hang onto when you’re on the edge, and about to go into meltdown. Words like: “You will get there… I’ve always taken you seriously…. I have every confidence in you.”

And words like the ones that finally got Susan through: “God has given you a gift for you to use.”

I’d love to have your comments! Have you seen Elaine C. Smith in the musical, or listened to Susan Boyle on stage? Are you, like me, a fan of her sweet, rich and powerful voice?

People of Inspiration Part 2 – Rabbi Lionel Blue, Wise Man, Humorist and Much-Loved Jewish Raconteur

Rabbi Lionel Blue 6 Feb 1930-19 Dec 2016

I was sad to learn of the death of Rabbi Lionel Blue on 19 Dec 2016 and here is my tribute to him, as originally published on my blog:

As the second personality in my mini-series on People of Inspiration, step forward Rabbi Lionel Blue.

Rabbi Lionel Blue
Rabbi Lionel Blue

This much-loved man of wisdom and hilarity and spiritual insight first came to my attention when I worked at the BBC in Religious Schools Radio a few decades back. My Jewish friend in the office had brought in a magazine, and I was leafing through it and attracted by an article headed up: “Rabbi Lionel Blue and His Luscious Latkes.” I was captivated by this article, in which this delightful rabbi in his chef’s apron described his favourite recipe (the famous Jewish potato cake) and the massive numbers of latkes he produced in order to feed the hordes. His sparkling humour and impish personality came out in that article. He intrigued me.

Over the years he has popped up again and again in my life. I’ve read and loved his books, I’ve listened to his stories and his classic Jewish jokes on “Thought for the Day”, and I’ve seen him on more than one occasion in “An Evening with Rabbi Lionel Blue”. The more I’ve listened to him, the more I’ve found in him – of poignancy, truth, discernment, spirituality. He courts controversy with his witty  observations of life.

A few years ago I went to see him at a retreat house in London E14. Most of the evening was taken up with tales of his childhood in the East End, and his mother. We were kept in fits of laughter, throughout. But woven through his picaresque tales is such psychological and spiritual depth, leaving us with a  more open and a freer view of ourselves and our place in this world. He doesn’t often say overtly philosophical things, being largely a storyteller. But when asked about his view of the afterlife he made this observation: “eternity is all around us. Part of us inhabits it already.”

Another observation that remains with me is one he made in his autobiographical account: “I learned that my religion was my spiritual home, not my spiritual prison.”

I’d love to have your comments!