“The Eros that is crucified lives again and the Eros lives after a new style”

The new heresy of Manichaeanism which was intruding from the East might indeed exclude matter and the world from its consideration. But the orthodox Faith, based on the union of very matter with very deity, could not do so. Its survival, its success, had partly been due to its interlocked charity, its habits of exchange of all wealth, its intense knowledge of the community. Its doctrines were defined precisely by the common belief; its bishops, for all their quarrels, were a federal college, half-appointed by the specialists, half-elected by the crowd; its problems were problems of the organization of time and the world. To know God it was necessary to love the brethren—first, as it were, from predilection and choice, but afterwards from him and through him. “We love, because He loved us.” “If a man say that he love God and hateth his brother, he is a liar and the truth is not in him.” Felicitas had asserted the divine order—“Another for me and I for him.” Clement had defined it among the faithful: “He demands of us our lives for the sake of each other.” What the martyr and doctor declared another voice also proclaimed out of the desert. During the reign of Diocletian St. Antony, the first of the Christian hermits, whose life was to be written by Athanasius, took up his dwelling between the Nile and the Red Sea. Alone, ascetic, emaciated, he gave to the Church the same formula: “Your life and your death are with your neighbour.”

Yet perhaps the greatest epigram of all is in a more ambiguous phrase. Ignatius of Antioch in the early second century, had tossed it out on his way to martyrdom: “My Eros is crucified.” Learned men have disputed on the exact meaning of the word: can it refer, with its intensity of allusion to physical passion, to Christ? or does it rather refer to his own physical nature? We, who have too much separated our own physical nature from Christ’s, cannot easily read an identity into the two meanings. But they unite, and others spring from them. “My love is crucified”, “My Love is crucified”: “My love for my Love is crucified”; “My Love in my love is crucified.” The physical and the spiritual are no longer divided: he who is Theos is Anthropos, and all the images of anthropos are in him. The Eros that is crucified lives again and the Eros lives after a new style: this was the discovery of the operation of faith. The Eros of five hundred years of Greece and Rome was to live after a new style; unexpected as yet, the great Romantic vision approached. “My” Eros is crucified; incredible as yet, the great doctrines of interchange, of the City, approached. “Another is in me”; “your life and death are in your neighbour”; “they in Me and I in them.”

Charles Williams

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“Origen has been suspected of a great orthodoxy, for the Church has not always been most comfortable with the most orthodox”

The movement which began with Clement and culminated later in Athanasius preserved humanism for the Church. But the immediate successor of Clement, to deliver lectures in the School and to talk with his students in his house, was a greater than Clement, though perhaps a lesser than Athanasius; it was Origen. Origen has always been suspect. He has been condemned and denounced.

Yet constantly the opinion hath prevailed
In the Church (that Origen) was a holy man —

and not only holy but wise, and not only wise but correct. He has been suspected of a great orthodoxy, for the Church has not always been most comfortable with the most orthodox.

He continued the tradition and work of Clement. It would be improper—but not so improper—to say that the mark of the Alexandrian school was that they were all gentlemen. One must not deny the title to other saints and doctors. Yet there is about them a sense of the naturalness of Christianity, as distinguished from its catastrophic supernaturalness. Clement insisted on repentance and morality; and Origen, in his heretical self-mutilation, carried morality to a morbid and immoral extreme. But their work is, as it were, without the macabre, the terrible, the smell of corruption. Clement loved philosophy, and Origen laboured at scholarship. He compiled the first Polyglot Old Testament, of six texts. He was a great commentator, a prophet (in the new sense), a great literary critic (in the noblest sense) according to his own time. He was the first to develop the allegorical method of Biblical criticism; the method by which the sense, meaning one thing literally, meant another morally or mystically or analogically. It depends, for its value, on an illumination of greatness; these meanings must be self-evident once they are pointed out, for they cannot be proved. Like prayer, their real aim is the interior conviction. As we contemplate the images of the poets, so the allegorizers studied the texts of Scripture. It is obvious that this is the most valuable, perhaps the only valuable, method with much of the text of the Bible. But it is obvious also that it lends itself to the wildest vagaries, as with, say, the Adamites, those simple believers in nature who supposed that by returning to nakedness (as in Eden) we should return to innocence (as in Eden), and vice versa. Origen, like all intelligent readers then as now, realized that be needed a check upon his own brain and he found it, where all Christians have found it, in the universal decisions of the Church. This authority he recognized; this relationship he desired. The recognition of authority is the desire for union, but also it is the knowledge that the individual by himself is bound to be wrong. The “State” of the Church was the “State” of a City. Schism was the worst sin, for schism was bound to nullify the justice from which it might arise. However right a man’s ideas, they were bound to go wrong if he nourished them by himself. The value of dogma, besides its record of fact, is the opportunity it gives for the single mind to enter the Communion of Saints—say, of Intelligences. The personal thought is vitalized by that and aspires towards that. “He ceases,” wrote Clement, “to be a man of God and faithful to the Lord who sets on one side the tradition of the Church.”

But Origen did something more than insist on a proper obedience to authority on earth; he discovered a central obedience in the secrets of heaven. Less than fifty years after his death there were born in Africa two great opponents, Arius and Athanasius. The followers of both claimed Origen as their own doctor. This curious double claim arose from an illumination which has perhaps in itself a slightly different value. The doctrine of the Trinity had been, by Origen’s day, more or less established. The Father was Creator of all; the Son was God and Man; the Holy Ghost was-the Holy Ghost. Origen held to this; he said of the Divine Son: “Non est quando non fuerit“—“there is not when he was not”—never have two tenses so sublimely illuminated glory. But he did more. He strongly maintained, if indeed he did not discover, the voluntary Subordination of the Son; he contemplated in Deity Itself the joy of obedience—obedience which is a particular means of joy and the only means of that particular joy. The Son is co-equal with the Father (as Origen held, and as was afterwards defined), yet the Son is obedient to the Father. A thing so sweetly known in many relations of human love is, beyond imagination, present in the midmost secrets of heaven. For the Son in his eternal Now desires subordination, and it is his. He wills to be so; he co-inheres obediently and filially in the Father, as the Father authoritatively and paternally co-inheres in him. And the whole Three Persons are co-eternal together—and coequal. The Arians later denied it, but in the last struggle Athanasius and the representatives of humane culture won. It is true that the opposition is still maintained by the Unitarian bodies to-day—that deny love to God except by means of his creation. But the Church has not believed that there lack in Him any of love’s experiences (analogically understood): of all Loves holiest loves, non est quando non fuerit.

The imaginations of the Alexandrian Fathers were courteous; their visions were humane. Origen extended that vision so far as to teach the final restitution of all things, including the devils themselves. It is impossible that some such dream should not linger in any courteous mind, but to teach it as a doctrine almost always ends in the denial of free-will. If God has character, if man has choice, an everlasting rejection of God by man must be admitted as a possibility; that is, hell must remain. The situation of the devils (if any) is not man’s business. The charity of Origen schematized then too far; he declared as a doctrine what can only remain as a desire, It was one of the reasons why he was denounced; that and, among other things, a kind of Docetism—a fading of the flesh. He was not Manichaean, but in his high speculations the necessities of matter trembled into non-existence; he speaks somewhere of Our Lord’s body being phenomenally different to each observer. On the other hand “he was the first of Christian thinkers to speak at large of the human soul in Christ, and the first to describe the union by the compound word God-Man” [B. J. Kidd].

Charles Williams

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“If we thrive by the force of the saints, they too may feed on our felicities”

Montanism was, first of all, a highly rigorist movement. In morals, as in everything, there are two opposite tendencies. The first is to say : “Everything matters infinitely.” The second is to say: “No doubt that is true. But mere sanity demands that we should not treat everything as mattering all that. Distinction is necessary; more—and—less is necessary; indifference is necessary.” The contention is always sharp. The Rigorous view is vital to sanctity; the Relaxed view is vital to sanity. Their union is not impossible, but it is difficult; for whichever is in power begins, after the first five minutes, to maintain itself from bad and unworthy motives. Harshness, pride, resentment encourage the one; indulgence, falsity, detestable good-fellowship the other.

Between the two good (and evil) things the idea of what the Articles of the Church of England call “works of supererogation” had already emerged. “If thou do any good thing outside the commandments of God thou shalt win for thyself more exceeding glory,” wrote Hermas. It is a difficult and dangerous proposition—not made easier by the rather violent language of winning glory for oneself in which Hermas indulged. Yet the idea has lingered in the Church, and been half-formulated in the talk of the Way of the Commandments and the Way of the Counsels. The Christian doctrine has been that the demanded surrender to God must be entire, in which case there could hardly be anything supererogatory. Yet it has also been universally felt that there were, so to speak, acts of love and devotion which were not absolutely required. How can absolute surrender leave non-absolute potentialities? The answer seems largely to have lain in the doctrine of Vocation. Some were called to a strictness, some to a laxity. It naturally happened that strictness, being more difficult, was regarded as superior. So, as far as difficulty is concerned, it is; but so, as far as vocation is concerned, it is not. Relaxation is no less holy and proper than rigour, though perhaps it can hardly be preached so. But the lovely refreshments of this world in some may not be without their part in the lordly rigours of the others; the exchanges of Christendom are very deep; if we thrive by the force of the saints, they too may feed on our felicities. The life of the Redeemer is at the root of all; it is all within the Church, and (said the same Hermas, in a nobler style) “she was created before all things and for her sake the world was framed.”

To us the most relaxed morals of the Church of the second century are austere enough. But to the Montanists the faithful seemed to have fallen away almost damnably from their duty. They proposed to revive original decency—much fasting, no second marriages, no kind of relation to the State (as, for example, in education). They took the sternest attitude towards sins committed after baptism. They refused to allow that any of the faithful might escape from persecution. They said, in effect, to the Church about ordinary life: “Come out of her, my people.” They denounced the normal life of Christians at the time as sacrilegious, profane, and idolatrous. The normal Christians with less cause and as much heat retaliated. They even, to justify themselves, invented romantic details against the Montanists—such as child-murder and a cannibal Eucharist. The normal calumnies of piety flew to and fro.

Charles Williams

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Meditating Four Quartets: Little Gidding (I/3)

If you came this way, / Taking any route, starting from anywhere, / At any time or at any season, / It would always be the same: you would have to put off / Sense and notion. You are not here to verify, Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity / Or carry report. You are here to kneel / Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more / Than an order of words, the conscious occupation / Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. / And what the dead had no speech for, when living, They can tell you, being dead: the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. / Here, the intersection of the timeless moment / Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

It is always the same, T. S. Eliot tells us. If we would find “the still point of the turning world,” we must “put off / Sense and notion.” Our minds are busy with the chatter of the world; we live in a non-stop cocktail party of impassioned thoughts. They demand our attention, drain our energy, and inflame our disordered desires. In the Orthodox ascetical tradition, they are called logismoi. In his informative introduction to Athonite spirituality, The Mountain of Silence, Kyriacos Markides asks a respected monk to explain the origin and nature of logismoi. Fr Maximos replies:

There was a time when the first humans lived in full accordance to their true nature. In such a state all their energy, all their powers, were totally harmonized and focused around one motion, the motion toward God. Their nous, that is, their heart and mind, had but a single and exclusive preoccupation, ceaseless prayer. At that state their sole experience and focus was what the elders call the Theoria, that is, the vision of God.

Adam and Eve, as the primordial humans, disrupted this relationship of oneness with God through the Fall. They consequently became trapped and entangled within this world of three dimensions of matter, of egotistical passions, of sin. They ceased being in a constant prayerful state, their essential and true function by nature. The entire Creation suffered as a result of this split between humanity and God. So what we now have is this phenomenon of the ceaseless production of logismoi instead of ceaseless prayer. The logismoi are alien to our original condition, to the original working of our nous. The moment we were cut off from God, we entered into a state of existence dominated by worldly concerns, by logismoi. Our nous became scattered to the things of this world. (p. 121)

The cocktail party of thoughts is the norm for fallen human beings. It both causes and sustains our alienation from God. Thinking, thinking, thinking; words, words, words; noise, noise, noise. We are trapped in the chatter. Whether we will or not, the thoughts invade our consciousness. We experience them as originating outside ourselves. Even when we are sleeping, the barrage of logismoi continues. Satan attacks us through the noise. Evagrius analyzed and famously classified the negative logismoi under eight principal thoughts—gluttony, fornica­tion, avarice, anger, despondency, acedia, vainglory, and pride (see Evagrius Ponticus). Fr Maximos compares these thoughts to injections of poison that spread throughout our system: “Your spiritual world becomes contaminated and you are affected on a very deep, fundamental level. Your entire spiritual edifice can be shaken from its very foundation. Sometimes the intensity of a single logismos is so great that human beings under its spell may feel totally helpless” (p. 119).

To break up this party of logismoi, we must intentionally cultivate an interior silence that makes possible, and indeed is, communion with the Eternal. As St John of the Cross teaches: “The Father spoke one Word which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul” (Maxims and Counsels 21). To enter into the silence of God is to abide in the trinitarian life that heals and redeems. “Silence is God’s first language,” writes Fr Thomas Keating. “Every­thing else is a poor translation. In order to understand this language, we must learn to be silent and to rest in God” (Invitation to Love, p. 90; also see this interview with Cardinal Sarah).

We enter the church, kneel, and begin to pray. For this we have made pilgrimage to this sacred place where “prayer has been valid”—to enter into communion with the living God and the saints, not “to verify, Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity / Or carry report.” How easy it is to remain at the surface. All we need do is open the prayer book and begin to mechanically recite the words. I am comfortable at the surface, comfortable with the superficial, comfortable even with the cocktail party. I much prefer to read and think about God than to lose myself in the infinite depths of divine silence. But the poet commends to us a praying that goes deeper even than that personal talking to (or more likely, talking at) the Lord that typically characterizes our devotional life. Virginia Woolf once asked Eliot what he  experienced when he prayed. In reply he described “the attempt to concentrate, to forget self, to attain union with God.”

To attain this union with God, we must learn a new language. Eliot provocatively suggests that we appropriate the Pentecostal speech of the departed: “And what the dead had no speech for, when living, They can tell you, being dead: the communication / Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.” If one does not have a vital understanding of the communion of saints, the words of the poet will be virtually incomprehensible. It all sounds like necromancy. Perhaps one needs an icon corner to understand. When one stands in prayer before and with the saints, invoking them in intercession and venerating their images, they become present in a way I cannot begin to describe. I have not yet become fluent in their language. Eliot did not venerate icons, as do the Orthodox, yet clearly he conversed with the faithful departed and had begun to assimilate the heavenly tongues of the Spirit.

Prayer pierces the scrim between time and the timeless, through to the region where the dead are to be found. They alone speak with the fiery tongues needed to bespeak the thunderous mystery and glory that looms over Little Gidding. Some language “beyond the language of the living” is necessary, like the Pentecostal tongues with which the apostles announced that glory. … At Little Gidding we find, as the shepherds found at the manger in Bethlehem, or the disciples at the Transfiguration, say, or wherever Love in its glory is glimpsed, a particularly stark epiphany of “what the dead had no speech for, when living.” (Thomas Howard, Dove Descending, p. 127)

Here we kneel in the midst of all who have offered prayer before us, both here at Little Gidding and elsewhere, in all times, in all places. Here we kneel at the “intersection of the timeless moment.”

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“By definition, all men were in need of salvation; therefore, of faith and repentance in faith”

The revolt against the Gnostic influence depended on two things. There was the capacity of individual anti-Gnostic writers, such as Irenaeus of Lyons. There was also—and far more important—the actual belief of the separate Churches. It was on many points yet undefined; there were speculative points on which it has not yet been defined. But all those groups in all those cities, founded in the apostolic doctrine, made it clear that they did not, in fact, believe what the Romantic philosophers declared; that this was not the Faith as they had received and held it. What did the Churches believe? They believed that Almighty God—the final Deity—had Itself created heaven and earth, and was, as the First and Only Cause of them, finally responsible for them. They believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of the Father–in that Deity–and had been materially born on earth ex Maria Virgine. They believed, that is, that the First and Only Cause initiated, operated, and concluded Redemption. They rejected, with great energy, the idea that cause belonged to a subordinate Demiurgus and the idea that there was a special kind of superior redemption for superior persons. No doubt there were prophets and speakers with tongues and teachers and so on; no doubt Almighty God operated peculiarly through certain individuals. But they repudiated any opposition between faith and vision. Faith was not a poor substitute for vision; it was rather the capacity for integrating the whole being with truth. It was a total disposition and a total act. By definition, all men were in need of salvation; therefore, of faith and repentance in faith. The Gnostic view left little room for the illuminati to practise love on this earth; “they live as though they were indifferent,” said Irenaeus. The Church anathematized the pseudo-Romantic heresies; there could be no superiority except in morals, in labour, in love. See, understand, enjoy, said the Gnostic; repent, believe, love, said the Church, and if you see anything by the way, say so.

In some sense, the Gnostics avoided any “scandal” to the mind and soul. The stones they offered fitted the comers of many temples; only not of the City of Christendom. God was not really responsible for the appalling putrescence of misery which we call the world. The soul and the body (so to divide them formally) were not responsible for each other. Men were not responsible for each other. The Gordian knot of the unity was cut, and the bits fell radically apart. Toothache, cancer, women’s periods, frustrated sex-love, these and other ills were without relation to the activity of the celestial spheres. “In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar the Christ came down from heaven,” wrote Marcion, one of the last and one of the greatest of the Gnostics, but the orthodox answer was that, years earlier, he had been generated on earth: “the book of the generations of Jesus Christ.”

Charles Williams

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“Christianity is, always, the redemption of a point”

Christianity is, always, the redemption of a point, of one particular point. “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.” In this sense there is nothing but now; there is no duration. We have nothing to do with duration, and yet (being mortal) we have to do with nothing but duration; between those contrasts also all the history and doctrine of Christendom lies. …

The Epistles of St. Paul carry that Now to the highest point of exploration and of expression. But already in the Epistles themselves something else has come in. “It is!” they said, but then they had to go on Saying “It is!” Time existed, and time itself had, as it were to be converted, to be rededicated towards the thing out of time. Not only so, but it had to be converted in the case of every individual Christian. We have often been told how the Church expected the Second Coming of Christ immediately, and no doubt this was so in the ordinary literal sense. But it was certainly expected also in another sense. The converts in all the cities of Asia and (soon) of Europe where the small groups were founded had known, in their conversion, one way or another, a first Coming of their Redeemer. And then? And then! That was the consequent task and trouble—the then. He had come, and they adored and believed, they communicated and practised, and waited for his further exhibition of himself. The then lasted, and there seemed to be no farther equivalent Now. Time became the individual and Catholic problem. The Church had to become as catholic—as universal and as durable—as time.

Time has been said to be the great problem for philosophers; nor is it otherwise with the believers. How, and with what, do we fill time? How, and how far, do we pass out of time? The apostates are only those who abandon the problem; the saints are only those who solve it. The prayer for final perseverance which the Church so urgently recommends is but her passion for remaining faithful, at least, to the problem—of refusing to give it up. What are the relations between that Now and the consequent Then? what are the conditions of the relation–not what ought to be, but what are? “The conversion of time by the Holy Ghost” is the title of the grand activity of the Church.

In the first century, in the Apostolic age itself, that time which the Church was to redeem was already becoming the bane of the Church. The first division between the Church and what has been called the Kingdom began to exist. The Kingdom—or, apocalyptically, the City—is the state into which Christendom is called; but, except in vision, she is not yet the City. The City is the state which the Church is to become. In the impact of Messias, in the evocation of her elements, in the impact of the Spirit, in the promulgation of her unity, she for a moment, was one with her state. But she was too soon all but divided from her state. It was inevitable; had it not been so, she would have had no reason for existing. Her reason is not only in the error of the world; it is in her own error. Her error is her very opportunity for being. That is what she is about.

Time then existed, and she reconciled herself to it.

Charles Williams

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Meditating Four Quartets: Little Gidding (I/2)

If you came this way, / Taking the route you would be likely to take / From the place you would be likely to come from, / If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges / White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness. / It would be the same at the end of the journey, / If you came at night like a broken king, / If you came by day not knowing what you came for, / It would be the same, when you leave the rough road / And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade / And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for / Is only a shell, a husk of meaning / From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled / If at all. Either you had no purpose / Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured / And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places / Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws, / Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city— / But this is the nearest, in place and time, / Now and in England.

“It would be the same.” Neither the time of year nor the time of day matter—it would be the same. Whether we began our journey in December or May, from London or New York, it would be the same. To find Little Gidding we must turn off the road, walk past the brick pigsty (like the Prodigal Son we must become penitents), past the table tomb of Nicholas Ferrar, the founder of the 17th century community that gathered in prayer thrice-daily. In a letter to Arthur Woodnoth, quoting Thomas à Kempis, Ferrar described the spiritual work of his community:

All day they laboured and in the night they found time for long prayer; and while they laboured, they ceased not from contemplation. They spent all their time with profit; every hour seemed short for waiting upon God.

Do we seek Little Gidding to wait upon God or like the tourist to simply see a historic chapel? Perhaps it does not matter. If the latter, we will no doubt be disappointed by its “dull facade.” We will not find a majestic cathedral, as we would if we were heading for Canterbury, York, or Lincoln. “Ironically,” writes Kenneth Tanner, “this place, which [in Eliot’s time] had become a shrine attracting pilgrims, is bland on the outside, lacking any aesthetic quality, dull and situated behind a pigsty” (Redeeming Time, p. 143). Yet above the doorway of this humble church is inscribed the words of the Patriarch Jacob: “This is None Other But the House of God and the Gate of Heaven” (Gen 28:17). If we enter, perhaps we too will dream of the stairway to heaven.

No matter our purpose, it will be undone by our arrival. Do not be misled by your expectations nor by your devotional gravitas. We do not know who we are nor what we seek. We think we do, but we are deceived and confused. God must reveal to us our true selves and motivations.

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.

If God grants our prayer, we will discover that the boon we hoped to receive is very different from what initially drove us to seek Little Gidding. Our hopes will be transfigured in their fulfillment.

We are not surprised. Eliot has warned us many times in the previous Quartets of the necessity of purification, dispossession, and rebirth. Recall the image of journey in “East Coker”:

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

I am tempted to go confessional at this point, but there is no need. Everyone reading this meditation knows the dying of which the poet speaks. If I do not lose my self by way of ascesis, I will most certainly lose it in life. On 2 May 1646, hiding from the Roundheads after his decisive defeat at the Battle of Naseby the previous summer, King Charles I sought refuge at the community of Little Gidding (“If you came at night like a broken king”). What did he seek? What did he find?

All Saints Convent Cemetary
There are many places in the world to which we might have made pilgrimage—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Athos, the Grotto of Massabielle, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergius. For T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding was “the nearest, in place and time, / Now and in England.” Most of us find it beneficial to visit  a sacred place to wait upon God. For me one such place is the cemetery of the Sisters of the Poor in Catonsville, Maryland. I have enjoyed many conversations there with the Lord and the departed sisters. Hid back in the woods, it radiates a holy peace. Yet as Thomas Howard reminds us: “All ‘nows’ have the potentiality to be ‘the nearest,’ and any geographical location will serve as the approach to the Still Point” (Dove Descending, p. 127).

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