Tag Archives: John Buchan

September 3: I was a chattel.

Today is the Feast of Saint Gregory the Great, who saw the Anglian slaves in the market of Rome, and sent Augustine to bring the Gospel to England, via Canterbury. Let’s imagine the experience of being sold into Slavery from John Buchan, writing in 1916, a few months before this window was made for Saint Thomas’ Church in that city. Slaves then and now were human!

I cannot describe that calm appraising look … I was a chattel, a thing infinitely removed from intimacy. Even so I have myself looked at a horse which I thought of buying, scanning his shoulders, hocks and paces. Even so must the old lords of Constantinople have looked at the slaves which the chances of war brought to their markets, assessing their usefulness for some task or other with no thought of a humanity common to purchaser and purchase.

John Buchan, Greenmantle, Ch 14.

Our next few posts will also be on slavery, using a manifesto published by John Wesley in 1774. A reflective response to Black Lives Matter.

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4 November: Death and God’s Mercy in the Frozen North.

fire.Moses

Sir Edward Leithen, a Scottish Lawyer is snowbound in Northern Canada, dying of TB in the company of trappers, Indians, and a Quebecois business man who has lost his bearings. Leithen finds his Calvinistic, predestinarian beliefs challenged in the face of the realities he is facing in the North.

The trappers kept a fire going to keep Leithen alive. Picture from SJC

 

Here in this iron and icy world man was a pigmy and God was all in all. Like Job, he was abashed by the divine majesty and could put his face in the dust. It was the temper in which he wished to pass out of life. He asked for nothing—”nut in the husk, nor dawn in the dusk, nor life beyond death.” He had already much more than his deserts! 

Now there suddenly broke in on him like a sunrise a sense of God’s mercy—deeper than the fore-ordination of things, like a great mercifulness… Out of the cruel North most of the birds had flown south from ancient instinct, and would return to keep the wheel of life moving. Merciful! But some remained, snatching safety by cunning ways from the winter of death. Merciful! Under the fetters of ice and snow there were little animals lying snug in holes, and fish under the frozen streams, and bears asleep in their lie-ups, and moose stamping out their yards, and caribou rooting for their grey moss. Merciful! And human beings, men, women, and children, fending off winter and sustaining life by an instinct old as that of the migrating birds. … Surely, surely, behind the reign of law and the coercion of power there was a deep purpose of mercy.

The thought induced in Leithen a tenderness to which he had been long a stranger. He had put life away from him, and it had come back to him in a final reconciliation. He had always hoped to die in April weather when the surge of returning life would be a kind of earnest of immortality. Now, when presently death came to him, it would be like dying in the spring.

John Buchan, Sick Heart River, 1941; Penguin edition 1985.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', winter