in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Friday, 14 March 2014

Book Review: 'A Silent Melody: An Experience of Contemporary Spiritual Life' Shirley du Boulay

As promised here is the third of my trilogy of reviews - another great take on the contemporary spirituality scene from Shirley du Boulay. I must admit to having known Shirley for some years and always having been impressed by her candour, intellect and charm. I really didn't know what to expect when I started reading and was wonderfully surprised by the insights of the book. Having finished it a week ago I am still pondering some of its messages. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did...

best wishes




A Silent Melody: An Experience of Contemporary Spiritual Life

Author: Shirley du Boulay

Date: 2014


Publisher: Darton, Longman and Todd

ISBN: 978-0-232-53074-2

pp 228  hbk


It is not every day that a well-known writer on Christian themes declares that they are no longer a Christian. So we approach Shirley du Boulay’s autobiography in the spirit with which she has lived her life – with brave adventure and open tolerance. What we receive from her pithy, wry and moving account is, in her own words, ‘the confused wanderings that characterize the spiritual lives of so many of us, living as we do when the comfort of certainty is rarely part of our religious ambience’. For those wanting comforts and securities this little book will offer none, however for those prepared to journey, like Shirley, into the unknown preoccupations of the contemporary ‘spirituality scene’ the journey will be fascinating and with rewards of its own. And what a journey it is! Starting from a ‘Presbyterian/Anglican’ background in the mid-twentieth century, Shirley travels through Shamanism, the Maharishi movement of the sixties (with memorable cameos from the Beatles), Roman Catholicism (the faith of her late husband, John Harriott) and Mindfulness meditation (to mention but a few staging posts) before ending up in a sort of Zen-like calm in North Oxford. As with any such autobiography there is the vicarious pleasure of peering into the inner and unexpected lives of people we may have heard about through the media or books. And on this level the book does not disappoint. Yet, in Shirley’s own striving and seeking the final reading transcends such incidental detail. There are pockets and nuggets of wisdom here, pithy quotes and fascinating observations that had me running back to my reference sources to follow up. Yet, within this spiritual kaleidoscope there seemed, to this reader at least, one theme that bound all the others – Shirley’s love of India and Indian spirituality, especially as manifested in the person and life of Dom Bede Griffiths. As his first (and best) biographer, Shirley seems to have fallen in love with this great man (although as she pithily remarks, on learning ‘that Bede had never been sexually attracted to a woman’ – ‘Oh dear. Bede would never have fancied me!’). Like Bede, Shirley has a gentle and open soul that enables her to embrace this greatest of spiritual cultures with compassion. We live, as we are so often told, in the era of the ‘spiritual revolution’. For a ringside account of that revolution in the words of a witty and enquiring guide I would commend this book alone. I salute this brave autobiography and give my own personal salute to Shirley in the words of Walt Whitman:

Sail forth - steer for the deep waters only,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!

O farther farther sail!

O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God!

O farther, farther, farther sail!



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