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Wild Windows is a delightful romp through many of the religious and spiritual issues that trouble us today. Tricky classroom questions and the eternal battle between pupil and teacher; deathbed conversions (and how annoying they can be!); pick-and-mixing; the triumph of wishy-washy Anglicanism; the meaning of life (in two parts!); the need for a library of more than one book; the vital question as to whether God can sleep at night; reading ‘Pride and Prejudice' yet again!; following your leader by definitely not following your leader; eavesdropping on young lovers and thereby learning the mysteries of God: all are here.
Richard Dell takes hold of these issues, breathes life into them, invariably cloaks them with a story, and then, like a magician, plucks from the shadows of his stories rays of delicious light. Reading Wild Windows will certainly entertain you. It might at times make you laugh. It might also at times infuriate you. But from time to time, as you stand at a window and stare at the wild sky, you will realise that it has also enlightened you. Truly these are wild and awakening thoughts for wild and awakening spirits: and isn't that all of us?
First published 2012
Copyright © Richard Dell 2012
I believe in a few things that are absolutely vital to me, several things that are fundamental to me, and a whole load of other stuff that is of interest to me and seems to make sense to me, but which in the grand scheme of things I know is pretty much inconsequential.
The absolutely vital things I believe in are the following:
Life after death.
Ultimate justice for us all.
A universe that ultimately cares for us all.
How we lead our lives on earth somehow affects our eternal journey beyond the grave
(This last is a subset of the second )
The things that are fundamental to me are:
Reincarnation; i.e. many lives on earth in which we hopefully learn our soul lessons.
Karma; the law of cause and effect of the soul; every act and thought in the end having to be balanced out in subsequent incarnations.
The load of other stuff that is of interest to me is huge but is not of great consequence. I hope it has not coloured, too much, the pages that follow.
I would now like to make the following point: If it could be shown to me without any shadow of doubt that reincarnation and karma do not exist, I would shrug and get on with my life and obviously would rethink much of that load of other stuff. However if it could be shown without a shadow of doubt that life after death, ultimate justice, a caring universe and the significance of our lives here for our journey beyond the grave were false, I would be distraught.
What follows is primarily informed by those ideas that are absolutely vital to me, and to some extent by those ideas that are fundamental to me.
And now let me explain something about religious belief and the title of this book:
The mansion of belief is huge and contains many rooms. Some are modest, whilst some are magnificent like baroque ballrooms. Some even have windows, though most do not. This mansion, which somewhere in some secret place contains the true heart of belief and truth, is a strange structure. Most of its rooms are windowless, and many of its rooms have no doors. And even those that do have doors give out only onto rooms that are very like their own. Sadly, most of us sit in one or other of those rooms, hardly ever venturing beyond our doors, and oh so often too scared of the wild weather to even glance out of a window.
But I am not sensible enough to crouch cowering in my room. I am foolish enough to like fresh air. So I enjoy being outside the mansion and seeing that all those closed off rooms are part of the same building, part of the same landscape. And nowadays, like many people, I have my own room. It is quite small, and definitely modest, but it boasts a window and it has more doors than it has walls, and it has great neighbours. I like talking to my neighbours, as I love wandering the endless corridors of the mansion, peeping, when I can, at other people in their other rooms. But most of all I like going to my window, my wild window that looks out onto the wild sky. Then I am no longer in any room at all. Then, and only then, am I Richard Dell: pilgrim, soul traveller, seeker. Seeker of wild and awakening thoughts.
Some years ago, I was involved in one of the classic struggles between teacher and class. In theory the teacher has an agenda. There is something that he or she intends to teach. In my case, on this particular occasion, it was a history lesson. But the children invariably have an agenda as well. This is not so much an intention not to learn, as an intention not to have their brains hurt. The struggle consists of the teacher trying to stick to his or her intended lesson, whilst the children try to sidetrack the teacher into interesting subject areas that will have nothing to do with the topic being taught. At a higher level, there is of course the sense of struggle and achievement. If the teacher is got off the intended subject, then that is a victory for the children. And if you ordinarily have no ownership over what is being taught to you, then such victories are sweet indeed.
But there is a beautiful twist to this classic struggle. The best learning is not actually about how much information is stuffed into young minds. The best learning is actually about engaging those young minds, getting those young minds interested and excited. As a consequence, allowing for the fact that the teacher also lacks some ownership of what is being taught, because he or she may have an exam or national curriculum to cover, a good teacher will secretly be very happy to be sidetracked, because it means the children have taken control, and without realising it are really really using their brains.
Back in February 1991, in my school in North Wales , I was well and truly sidetracked. I do not remember what topic I was trying to teach, but I do remember what happened when a very fair-haired girl, her eyes more alive than they had been through the whole of my lesson, suddenly asked me about God and the creation of the world. She hooked me, the class was hooked, and we were off. There was considerable discussion. There was animated discussion! And then one girl, who definitely was not blonde like the first girl, because she was a very dark haired Indian from a Hindu family, made a point that I have never forgotten. It is a point that I believe to be fundamentally true, a point which squares the circle between creationism and evolution, a point that is profound and overwhelmingly exciting in terms of the world we now live in.
“Well, Mr Dell,” she said. “I suppose the creation is actually still going on.”
Oh how right she was. I can never look out of a wild window at the wild sky beyond it, and not think of what she said that day. God's creative impetus is still abroad, still present, still with us, and still belonging to all of us. And I dare say we all play our part in it.
Traditionally, perhaps, this has to be a ‘mother and daughter in the kitchen' story. As it happens, during their childhood it was always my sons who showed the most interest in cooking. My daughters seemed to come late to the stove. But they got there in the end.
Let me, however, be traditional. And I want to be because I have a vivid memory of my wife's family home when she was a young woman and I, believe it or not, was a young man. I didn't know my wife when she and her sisters were small girls. But if I can be traditional for a moment, then I can visualise kitchen scenes with the girls being taught to cook and bake by their mother. I can hear the instructions being given whilst mum was trying to get on with something else, and I can see the mixing bowl almost bigger than the child, and the giant wooden spoon and the mixture going everywhere, including onto small fingers to be poked into small mouths. And I can see the impatience of the child as the great experiment—thankfully stuffed full of glacé cherries—takes an age to bake; and as mum cuts bread and boils kettles and has her pinafore strings pulled in the hope that pulling pinafore strings will somehow speed up the magical processes going on inside the dark and secret confines of the oven. And of course I can see too that wonderful moment when all comes to fruition, and mum helps daughter to bring the glorious cherry-filled cake out; and I can see the sparkling eyes of both of them; and yes I can smell the smells and I can feel hungry for cherry cake just by thinking about it.
I hope it was a bit like that. What I do know, is what it was like when those three little girls had grown to young womanhood, and young men like me came courting. On many wonderful occasions I sat in their kitchen and watched the wonderful goings on as tea or a meal was prepared. I never ever got the hang of where everything went in that kitchen. I would help with the washing-up and, though I was adequate enough at drying things, I always needed a hand to point me to a cupboard or a drawer to put things away. But I had no problem understanding what was going on during that preparation phase. For there was my future mother-in-law and my future wife and my future wife's sisters, and they were all in there doing this and doing that and each of them knowing exactly what they were doing. No pinafore strings to be pulled now. But plenty of times I saw one of those beautiful young women go to their mother and tie a pinafore round her because she had forgotten. And even more to the point, there were invariably times when one of them would go to their mother and would ease her away from the stove or the sink and would lead her to a chair and would plonk her down in it and would tell her to relax and that everything was under control and where was the bread knife.
Perhaps traditionally, boys become young men and one day they walk side by side with their fathers and go to the pub. What I do know is that through countless ages mankind was child-like and was a petitioner of God, always pulling at God's pinafore strings, always impatient, but always learning, and always—though desperately slowly—growing up. Even now we are barely out of that child-like stage. We grope in pain towards adulthood. But with every painful, tortured day that passes, we become a little bit less the petitioners of God, and a little bit more the partners of God. Our sense of responsibility for our world, and our love for our world grows. We increasingly share in our stewardship of our world. We tie the pinafore when we remember. We finally do it all when we have the confidence. Young adulthood can be a dangerous time. But young adulthood that begins to share with the Mother-Father God—that begins to care—is a young adulthood that stands upon the edge of a greater adulthood, indeed on the edge of greatness.