By Mary Caroline Richardson. With forward by Matthew Fox, Second edition, 1989. Available in digital form at Amazon.
This book has been on my shelf for many years, but I returned to it recently in a far more thorough and contemplative way. It is deeply spiritual but not overtly religious, part memoir, part cosmology and philosophy of life, expressed in prose and poetry. The author’s images of clay on the wheel and the fire that transforms it may bring to mind Jeremiah. In chapter 18 the prophet is instructed to take himself to the potter’s house and see in the potter the Eternal shaping and (reshaping) the house of Israel. What gives the pot its shape and beauty is the empty space within. In my meandering through the works of Chagall I uncovered this vase which speaks to the relationship between without and within:
Richards is not shy about naming the price of inner freedom in its incarnational reality:
Am I willing to give up what I have in order to be what I am not yet? Am I willing to let my ideas of myself, of man (sic), be changed? Am I able to follow the spirit of love into the desert? To empty myself even of my concept of emptiness? Love is not an attitude. It is a bodily act. In my crisis of conscience I have to yield myself to the transforming condition of love. It is a frightening and sacred moment. There is no return. One’s life is changed forever. It is the fire that gives us our shape.
Had Richards seen us venturing into the land (desert?) of Discern|Dream|Scheme, she might have advised:
A mystery is at work. Forces hinder as well as help . . . It helps, I think, to consider ourselves on a very long journey: the main thing is to keep to the path, to endure, to help each other when we stumble or tire, to weep and press on . . .
Note: The non-inclusive language common in 1964 when this book was first published can be jarring to contemporary sensibilities. In the forward to the second edition, the author, now deceased, wrote that had she written the book in 1989, her choice of language would have been different. It’s as close as one gets to an apology. Don’t let the non-inclusive text deter you.