Tag Archives: Virginia Woolf

October 25, Month of Mission: Beachy Head Chaplains

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William Blake lived near Beachy Head in Sussex, part of the range of chalk cliffs he drew as a background for this verse.

Virginia Woolf was to drown herself in the nearby River Ouse a century and a half later, but today it is the cliffs themselves that attract the lonely, depressed and overwhelmed who are tempted to take their lives.

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy team are Christians from local churches ‘and although we reach out with the love of God, we never impose our faith on the people we seek to help.

‘We believe that by receiving skilled crisis intervention support at their time of crisis, people in suicidal distress can be awakened to the hope that there are other ways forward to address the problems they face.’judas

The Apostle Judas went out and hanged himself after seeing Jesus arrested and condemned, but the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral’s west front shows us the Lamb of God coming to release him from his noose and away from the mouth of Hell to go in at Heaven’s Gate.

In their different ways, the well-to-do and well-connected Virginia Woolf, and the disciple who was trusted by Jesus, were both privileged, yet both knew despair. It is not for us to condemn them, or any other suicide; rather let us support with prayer and alms brave good neighbours like the Samaritans and the Beachy Head Chaplains, not forgetting the official first responders, Police, Ambulance, Fire, Coastguard and Lifeboats.

And may we be ready with small talk or even a just a smile for anyone we meet.  Lead, Kindly Light!

 

 

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26 June: Whose time is it, anyway?

 

car-lightsI felt I ought to be catching up on the classics, so set the Kindle to work, digging them out. Another bite at Virginia Woolf led me to her ‘Orlando’; I have to admit to skipping a great deal in order to reach the end of the book, but this passage struck a few bells.

Father Valentine and I were discussing clock time and personal time in a recent exchange of emails. It’s easy to lose track of clock time if you don’t have appointments to keep. All very well for a privileged young woman, as VW was, but not for a young person on the verges of crime and unemployment, wanting to hold down a job. Valentine and I both know a few like that! (‘You’ve got an alarm on your phone, why don’t you use it?’ ‘I thought my mother would wake me but she went out.’) And here’s the privileged Virginia Woolf. 

“Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second. This extraordinary discrepancy between time on the clock and time in the mind is less known than it should be and deserves fuller investigation.”

(from “Orlando: A Biography” by Virginia Woolf, 1928, available  on-line.)

For better is one day in thy courts above thousands (elsewhere). Psalm 84:10

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9 February: Creatures of illusion.

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An outsider would be forgiven for thinking that Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set of writers and artists led charmed lives. Not so. If we are to believe Woolf herself, it was all a lie: a veneer of self-confidence, achieved by despising other people.
Life for both sexes—and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement— is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to one self. By feeling that one has some innate superiority—it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney—for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination—over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power.”
{from “A Room of One’s Own (Wisehouse Classics Edition)” by Virginia Woolf, available on Kindle}
Woolf, of course, lived at a time when ‘half the human race indeed’ in the West was gradually gaining what we now call human rights: the vote, schooling and higher education, owning and administering property and so on. Woolf was far better placed than most women to grasp these opportunities, but she seems to have felt, if not to have totally acknowledged, that she was to an extent living a lie. How else can we describe ‘the feeling that one has some innate superiority’ over others?
Her suicide could be construed as a rational response to the despair such a position masks; rational if you see no God, no created order to show that you are as a little child, to offer sustaining help. 
Let us pray for all who feel desperate:
Lead Kindly Light amid th’encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on,
MMB

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