John Horder on
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
(Element HarperCollins, £8.99)
Beads On One String
This jewel of a book unites the thought of the sixteenth century mystic, Julian of Norwich, with the startling and incisive thoughts of a Buddhist nun in the twenty first, like "beads on one string". We will return to those beads, the words of Meher Baba, the Indian God-Man, who was silent for forty-four years, before his death in India on 31st Jan. 1969.
Julian wrote in her cave in Norwich: "The mingling of both well-being and distress in us is so astonishing that we can hardly tell what state we are in. But the fact is, that is a part of being whole. We stand in this mingling all our life".
Prompted by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh in Ch. 3 of his book, "School of Prayer" (Darton, Longman and Todd), I have been mulling over this one sentence for nine months now. This is a beginning. It is so intricate and so deep that it could only have been written when the whole country was Roman Catholic.
Pema Chodron's beautiful and unflinching study confronts the pain and suffering we all run away at a time when we are given pain killers at the drop of a hat. It should not on any account be rushed through. Like Anon"s heart-opening poem, "Christ's Love-Song", it can only be mulled over, never rushed through.
I give you one paragraph for Good Friday, picked at random, as a taster: "Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move towards the turbulence and doubt. We tiptoe into it. We move toward it however we can. We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. Right down there in the thick of things we discover, the love that will not die." This inner work takes time, as she says: lifetimes. There are no magic or instant solutions on offer in these pages.
Meher Baba wrote: "I shall bring about a happy blending of the head and the heart. I shall revitalise all religions and cults, and bring them together like beads on one string". Happy Easter!
John Horder © world copyright 2009
An edited version of this article appeared in The Tablet © 21. 3. 09
John Horder's poem, 'The Sick Image of my Father Fades', is included in four prestigious anthologies in America, and in Beyond Bedlam edited by Matthew Sweeney and Ken Smith (Anvil Press) in this country.
His most recent invention, The Stevie Smith Roadshow, which encourages maximum joyful audience participation of favourite Stevie poems, with Gerald Benson, Poet Laureate of Bradford and co-founder of Potu, Cicely Herbert, the poet, and co-founder of Potu, Dinah Livingstone, the poet and editor of Sofia, and himself performing, and award-winning BBC producer Piers Plowright presenting, began life at the Magdala Pub In Hampstead on 14 Jan 09. An hour of it was broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM. This is available on CD.
It will next take place at Belsize Park Library in Antrim Grove NW3 in Sept. 09. Details from Iola on 0207-267-5881.