Elizabeth Goudge is an author whose kind of writing would now be dismissed as old fashioned. Most of her novels were written in the middle of the 20th century and she was classified as a writer of novels for women. Just goes to show - such categories are useless at best and mischievous at worst. I've read a lot of her novels, and remember a conversation with an English teacher who knew her novels, who said The Dean's Watch was the most complete and satisfying novel she had ever read. On her recommendation I read it - and twice again since. I have a lovely first edition hardback with a quaint dustcover that is unmistakably mid twentieth century.
I was thinking about her the other day, and now today came across an epigraph at the start of a chapter in The Disciplined Heart. Love, Destiny and Imagination by Caroline Simon. This is a very fine book, the kind of writing I revel in. A philosophical discussion of key human experience, opening into theological reflection, and laying tribute on literature and bible. At the centre is the meaning of human love in all its diverse and rich expressions, including friendship - an area of human experience coming to the fore in theological consideration today.
And here is the epigraph - taken from Goudge's novel, The Scent of Water:
If you understand people you're of use to them whether you can do anything for them or not. Understanding is a creative act in a dimension we do not see."
There is an entire week's teaching of pastoral theology waiting to be extracted from that. Unfazed empathy, imaginative listening, accessible wisdom, thoughtful compassion, accompanied waiting, patient faithfulness, persistent presence. There are few more therapeutic moments in our lives than when we feel and know ourselves understood. One other person stands alongside us, exactly where we stand, and knows, with that intuitive gift that is kindness and friendship, just knows, how it feels at this precise moment and in this exact place. And we know they know.