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Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Bede Griffiths

I give you the end of a golden string;
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at heaven's gate,
Built in Jerusalem's wall.
- William Blake

I was reading about C.S. Lewis today, and came across a friend of his that I hadn't heard of before ... Bede Griffiths. As Wikipedia writes of him ...

Alan Richard "Bede" Griffiths (17 December 1906 – 13 May 1993), also known as Swami Dayananda, (Bliss of Compassion) was a British-born Benedictine monk and mystic who lived in ashrams in South India. He was born at Walton-on-Thames, England and studied literature at Oxford University under professor and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, who became a lifelong friend. Griffiths recounts the story of his conversion in 1931 to Catholicism while a student at Oxford in his autobiography The Golden String.

I was especially drawn to him when I read that he was, like me, a Catholic convert who was touched by the beauty of nature in what Ignatius of Loyola might have called a "foundational" experience. An article in the National Catholic Reporter shares this bit of Bede's autobiography ...

One day during my last term at school I walked out alone in the evening and heard the birds singing in that full chorus of song, which can only be heard at that time of the year at dawn or at sunset. I remember now the shock of surprise with which the sound broke in my ears. It seemed to me that I had never heard the birds singing before and I wondered whether they sang like this all the year round and I had never noticed it.

As I walked on I came upon some hawthorn trees in full bloom and again I thought that I had never ever seen such a sight or experienced such sweetness before. If I had been brought suddenly among the trees of the Garden of Paradise and heard a choir of angels singing I could not have been more surprised.

I came then to where the sun was setting over the playing fields.

A lark rose suddenly from the ground beside the tree where I was standing and poured out its song above my head, and then sank still singing to rest. Everything then grew still as the sunset faded and the veil of dusk began to cover the earth. I remember now the feeling of awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of an angel; and I hardly dared to look on the face of the sky, because it seemed as though it was but a veil before the face of God.


Along with other religious thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin, Bede eventually came to the conclusio that human consciousness is evolving, that in religion, rational thought would be replaced with a mysticism that sees the unity of all.

In his autobiography The Golden String, the late Bede Griffiths spoke of an experience .... For many years Bede Griffiths tried to recapture and express that experience. He began to see what the poet Wordsworth meant when he described the world with "the freshness of a dream". Even the smallest details of nature drew him beyond himself and helped him become aware that "we are no longer isolated individuals in conflict with our surroundings; we are parts of a whole, elements in a universal harmony".
- Love is the Golden String - the Tablet

I'm not so comfortable with mysticism but when I stand under the trees, gaze at the stars, I sometimes do feel I'm part of everything, sometimes feel what William A. Barry SJ calls "a desire for I know not what". Maybe what Bede said is true ...

The beauty to be found in nature, the cosmos, is not only truth but also Love.

***

Read about the friendship between CS Lewis and Griffiths in the Tablet article, Companions on the Way ... and in The Collected Letters of CS Lewis

The Golden String: An Autobiography


3 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

Very interesting Crystal. I had never heard of Bede Griffiths. Thank you.

I wonder if Lewis ever would have become Catholic if he had lived longer. A lot of these Brits like Malcolm Muggeridge loved to talk about Catholicism and how it important it was to the world, and how it should never change, but they were hesistant to take the plunge into the Tiber themselves.

JC

8:10 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

It sounds like, from the Tablet article about Lewis' and Bede's friendship, Lewis was a pretty staunch Protestant. I wonder what it's like to be a catholic in England?

10:49 PM  
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