Waterstones’ current slogan is Give books for Christmas. And I must admit I could find no better message to give those passing by my stall at the Clapham Terrace School Christmas Fair on Friday – unless of course it be Roald Dahl’s observation in “Matilda”: If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.
Once again I had some interesting conversations with potential readers and discovered that they enjoy many different genres and have eclectic reading tastes. One of them noted that the central theme of both my novels is that of spirituality, and I was happy to have raised my profile slightly as an author, giving out free bookmarks and gaining new interest for my social media platforms and in particular my Facebook Page.
Along with “Mystical Circles, “A Passionate Spirit” is available now to buy online either as a paperback or as en ebook, although the main marketing and publicity will begin in January. And do check out my page on the publisher’s website if you enjoy paranormal thrillers – or, indeed, if you are, like some of those at the Christmas Fair, eclectic readers who love to read across the genres…
My upcoming novel A Passionate Spirit tells the story of a young woman who defies a sinister spiritual healer.
The novel is about a conflict between good and evil, and I am fascinated by the idea of great beauty used to mask malevolent spiritual power. But the story also deals with the subject of healing, and what part psychic and spiritual power can play in this.
Among many who inspired me during the course of research for this novel I may number the Rev Russ Parker, whom one may describe as “an unconventional priest” (along with one of the principal characters in my novel). He writes non-fiction books and poetry, he works in such areas as international listening and reconciliation, healing wounded histories, both of individuals and communities, and he explores the ways in which dreams and Celtic spirituality and a much freer attitude to spiritual matters may all open up our being and contribute to our healing.
I first heard Russ Parker speak at a local retreat centre several years ago, and he made a strong impact on me then. Since then I’ve heard him speak a number of times and have also attended a weekend retreat led by him about the Road to Emmaus. In addition I’ve read several of his books. Foremost among those which most impressed me are: Healing Dreams, Requiem Healing, Healing Death’s Wounds, and Wild Spirit of the Living God. So impressed was I by Russ, that I suggested a particular poem of his be read aloud at my father’s funeral, with a few personal biographical twists. This poem is called “The View From Here”. Afterwards some who were at the funeral service said, “That was the most uplifting funeral I have ever been to.” I believe this was in no small part due to the power of Russ’s poem.
Russ manages to be wise, vulnerable, poignant, down-to-earth, moving and funny during the sessions he leads. I don’t believe it’s possible to come out without having been entertained, inspired, uplifted, intellectually challenged or emotionally stirred – unless you’re in a coma at the time.
I listened to Russ speaking about Visions five years ago at a church in Derby. He spoke about how a vision takes an increasing grip on your life. Visions, he said, are something God brings that disturbs us. Sometimes they have their timetables. This is the way vision work, he said: it may be that God spoke to you two years ago, but has put you on pause. Maybe today – or at a time of His choosing in the future – he will press the unpause button.
We should learn to “hold our vision and wait with it until God fires the release gun.” I’ve held my vision for a long time, and I too am looking forward to the firing of that release gun!
This fascinating book came into my hands because I belong to a Facebook group called Mystic Christ and heard about the publication of this collection of essays by authors with both Christian affiliation and a desire to express spirituality through nature connection.
This sounded like a book after my own heart. For many years I was greatly drawn to a spirituality very close to pantheism/nature mysticism; and one of my chief objections then to the Christian faith was what I saw as its “black and white” stance and its refusal to recognise the validity of this kind of spirituality. I remember years ago a certain Tory politician being asked if he was religious or a churchgoer, to which he replied, “No, I don’t go to church, I feel much closer to God walking in the Yorkshire Dales”.
In the view of the authors of “Earthed” this is a valid spiritual position to take.
The book, edited by Bruce Stanley and Steve Holllinghurst, brings together the views and experiences of several authors who have a range of different approaches and outlooks but all believe that Christianity’s relationship with nature matters.
The earlier essays provide an overview and then move on to more detailed accounts of personal experiences. I must admit I found some of these read a little like vicars seeking to justify to their evangelical colleagues why they are moved by pagan religious rituals in nature.
However, I was pleased to see a chapter by Annie Heppenstall, “Do I Not Fill Heaven and Earth?” Annie led the Celtic Christian celebrations I attended at Morton Bagot church in Warwickshire. There is also a very good article by Anne Hollinghurst about St Francis of Assisi. “A creation-centred spirituality,” she writes, “should also include St Francis’ rule of compassion for the poor, a rejection of the pursuit of wealth, status or reputation in favour of simplicity and poverty of spirit.”
To me there’s no problem in the idea of worshipping God in and through nature.This has always been a spirituality very close to my heart. But I do acknowledge that some people find the natural world wild, disorderly and threatening.
I enjoyed the chapter about The Green Man by Simon Cross, in which he draws a thread connecting the story of the Garden of Eden with the Legend of the Holy Rood, the Frankenstein story, North American Indian spirituality and its understanding of the Great Spirit, through the 1800’s resurgence of interest in occultism and onto fear of little green men from Mars, space research and exploration and the current fascination with wilderness survival skills (as demonstrated in various TV programmes).
The theme of this book was highlighted from a different source on Sun 16 November 2014: I was watching a BBC TV programme presented by Sue Perkins from a remote rural community in Cambodia, where she was spending time with people who have “a relationship with the natural world that many of us crave.”
Another outstanding chapter for me in this book is “Oceanic God” in which author Nick Thorpe writes about things he has learned from the power of the sea and from the people who earn their living by chancing their lives upon the sea.
“After my sea pilgrimage,” he says, “I resolved to allow myself a broader, more open-handed belief; less fretful about the details of doctrine, more willing to let complex realities clash, and mysteries remain.”
There is also a lovely piece by Paul Cudby on “Friendships Across the Divide: A Theology of Encounter” which I strongly identified with. I have myself felt the spiritual sense of nature connection which he describes, on several occasions throughout my life. The experiences he describes follow the principle that whatever you practice regularly becomes almost intuitive and then new possibilities spring up.
In conclusion I’d say that the premise of this book is correct: that in western forms of Christian worship many habitually cut themselves off from this kind of nature connection; and this is a totally unnecessary source of alienation from those who find themselves naturally drawn to pagan and mystical spirituality.Instead, we end up creating a division between those whose spiritual practices might otherwise find many points of similarity.
If any of this rings a bell with you, I highly recommend this book.
Thomas Hardy was “a philosophic pessimist” and in Tess’s tragedy he suggests there is no purpose or meaning to her suffering, other than that “we live on a blighted star.”
Our teacher said, “All the evidence suggests that there is a random pain-inflictor, scanning round over human affairs, occasionally dropping a huge lump of tragedy onto someone.”
This would indeed be a good exam question in Religious Studies.
Two days ago I listened to a Church of Scotland minister, Kenny Borthwick, talk about why God does not send things to try us, and why the real battle when we suffer is to hold onto the goodness of God.
God, he said, is not a harsh God whose main aim is to teach us hard lessons through hard things.
Although it is true we can sometimes learn valuable things through suffering, we must be aware of this danger: if you over-stress a truth it can become a lie.
God does not send cancer to teach us a lesson.
God sent Jesus to teach cancer a lesson.
Kenny Borthwick is exactly the opposite of a traditional fire-and-brimstone preacher so beloved of numerous novels written by Catholic authors about their upbringing among religious authorities with a harsh view of God (how can I ever forget the sadistic priest in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artistas a Young Man?) No religious authority figure has ever spoken to me like that; and yet we somehow recognise the cruelty and the fanaticism in this character.
Benny Borthwick spoke of Christians who magnify badness and repentance and magnify the strictness of God with a zeal He would not own.
Kenny’s message to Christians was this:
“You have been saved into the love of God, the goodness of God that He wants to pour into your life day by day.”
The face of God-the-Judge-Who-could-never-be-pleased disappears for ever.
BUT once we accept this, there is still a process.
When we live from the goodness of God which is limitless, we realise that today and every day we always have something to offer, whoever we are, even if we believe we have nothing – we always have something to give.
We need to reject a false spirituality which is frightened to use words like illness or depression, and frightened to cry and be distressed.
We can live each passing moment as a gift from God.
Jesus gave the water a new history when he turned it into wine.
He can give us a new history, with a sense of our new identity. When we are able to accept this, we can realise that our present doesn’t need to be controlled by our past.
Then we are able to make new choices – hope and trust rather than fear.
Then we can replace the old false spirituality and lies with a great truth:
Ten of us gathered together in the chancel, where Annie had hung from a central chandelier a large hoop, to which she had tied the feathers of local birds, which she had found in her garden. The hoop represented the circle of the year. During the service we tied ribbons to the hoop to represent ourselves.
This lovely ancient church (which has no electricity) was lit only by candles.
I am one of those who is sensitive to atmospheres, and the feeling I receive from this church is one of deep peace, goodness and harmony.
My sister Julia, on a recent visit to the Uk with her husband, visited this church with me, and both were conscious of this very special atmosphere. Julia took the photographs that illustrate this post.
During Annie’s Celtic Christian service, we each took two dark pebbles, and considered how these represented different aspects of the darkness for us, then we carried the pebbles to the lighted candle and placed them there.
Annie loves to focus on animal symbolism, rich in Celtic spirituality and in the Bible. The two animals she chose for this service were the bear and the cat, to represent different aspects of the darkness.
I find the incorporation of pre Christian Celtic spirituality into contemporary Christian practice very moving.
Religions and all thought systems assimilate elements of what went before, and then we move on.
To me, the ability of the Christian faith to assimilate aspects of the pagan world – nowhere more evident than in our Western celebration of Christmas – is part of its strength and enduring power.
In all things, we take with us something of what went before, and we move on.
About the Writer
SC Skillman is a British romantic suspense author Her debut novel “Mystical Circles” is available to order at your local bookstores or online. A signed copy may be purchased direct from the author’s website, and the ebook may be downloaded on Amazon Kindle.
We find ourselves in a culture where many seek answers to the deep issues of life in spirituality, beyond the boundaries of organized religion.
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.
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!
Margaret Silf wrote a book called Sacred Spaces in which she explored the various stages of our life-journey in terms of geographical locations. Everything has a symbolic meaning – bridge, crossing place, lake, wood, ford, spring, river, well – in the ancient Celtic view of the world. And I believe many of us find that the value of a special place lies not only in itself but in the extent to which our memories, dreams and reflections are threaded through it.
So it is for me with Jolly’s Lookout – number 7 in my mini-series Places of Inspiration. Halfway up a mountain near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, it’s a place where I’ve meditated, socialised, and reached turning points in my life. Jolly’s Lookout is equally loved by picnickers and kookaburras. It holds memories and has inhabited my dreams. For me, past and future coalesced here. The view has it all, in terms of “soul space” – a valley, a city, a bay, distant mountains. All these hold a symbolic power, a special symbolism for the life-journey.
You can see where Brisbane is here on this map of Australia.
Jolly’s Lookout – so named after William Jolly, the first Lord Mayor of Greater Brisbane – is a place of happy times – lunchtime picnics, night-time barbeques, gatherings of local groups who come to eat together then play games afterwards. In 2007 I was able to take my 12-year-old daughter there and she has shared my love of this inspiring mountain viewpoint ever since.
This lookout is in open eucalypt forest. If you continue up the road from here to Mount Glorious, you may hear bellbirds, and enjoy walks through subtropical rainforest.
At night it is the haunt of possums, their bright eyes shining in the torchlight as visitors come to hang their storm lanterns from the overhanging branches and prepare their barbecues.
And often if you come at dusk you will find a visiting goana, also keen to share your picnic.
It is likewise home to numerous kookaburras, who love their opportunity to swoop and snatch from a hapless visitor’s fork perhaps a nice chicken breast or piece of steak, foolishly lifted into the air, and held there for a split second before the mouth of the picnicker can close around it.
The view from Jolly’s Lookout is breathtaking. It takes in the Samford Valley, the city of Brisbane, Moreton Bay, and beyond that, further north, up towards the Sunshine Coast, the bizarre and fascinating shapes of the Glasshouse Mountains, so named by Captain Cook purely from the impression they made on him as he sailed past in 1770. During the time I lived in Australia – four and a half years between 1986 and 1990 – I visited Jolly’s Lookout many times.
Is there a special place where you have happy memories, perhaps of wandering alone, or a place where you were part of a social gathering or party that comes vividly to mind whenever you think of the place? Are your memories, dreams and reflections threaded through it? Please share your thoughts about your special place, in the comments below.