BY JOHN HILL
Most afternoons, I walk my little dog in Sydney’s Centennial Park, and on the way home I make a point of passing 20 Martin Road. I stop and reflect outside the house that was home to Nobel laureate Patrick White.
Even though it has been many years since reading his novels, I still carry his insights with me.
The book that comes to the surface more than all the rest is The Tree of Man. The story centred on the lives of pioneering couple Stan and Amy Parker.
Stan’s spiritual capacity is set off against Amy’s conventional attitudes. Stan accepts his wife’s mysteries yet she could never quite respect and accept his.
In the story there were the typical Australian features of natural trials and disasters, such as bushfires, droughts and floods. But more than all else, the novel enacts the psychological drama of Stan’s desire to understand God’s purpose which, he says, was made clear to “some old women, nuns and idiots”.
In explaining why he wrote the book, White said it was because the exaltation of the average that made him panic most. He wanted to discover the extraordinary behind the ordinary. It was the mystery and the poetry which alone could make bearable the lives of such people.
It is just before Stan dies that he has a moment of illumination in which he finally understands that “one and no other figure is the answer to all sums.” We need to remember that White was a devotee of the mystical Dominican author Meister Eckhart.
Now we are in the season of Advent, and Christmas is almost upon us. Maranatha, the Lord is coming is the mantra for this time.
We are asked to be more than average, and this point of White’s is further illustrated by the Scrooge character in Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol. In fact, Scrooge can be the metaphor for much of what the Church seems to be about at the present time—intolerance, exclusivity and brooking no opposition.
Scrooge is initially the embodiment of winter. He is in the midst of the cold and biting winter of 1843, and he loathes Christmas. For him, it is pure humbug.
It is Marley’s ghost that changes everything with the accompanying ghosts of Christmases past, the Christmas present, and the ghost of the future Christmas. From the depths of this winter comes spring and a renewal of life, and he wakes with joy and love in his heart. His cold and deadened heart is restored to the innocent goodwill he had known in his youth.
That too is the story of our Church. For in longing for exaltation, it walks dangerously with human pride. We are exhorted by many of the church leaders to be seen as being a part of the winning team against the hostility of a secularised society. Currently so much of this is in fact defensive posturing against media treatment of the Church in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals.
With the focus on external enemies, it is easy to ignore the enemy of the soul that lurks inside each of us: pride, fear, insecurity and a lack of charity. It is actually very healthy for an institution like the Catholic Church to face its own demons, and we need to thank the media for this timely wake up call.
So this Christmas, we can think of Scrooge as an example and an inspiration in our quest for joy and a sense of belonging in this world. Let’s be open to the grace of Christmas, the Jesus of Bethlehem, and Patrick White’s "the One".
John Hill blogs from Kensington in Sydney.
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