My friend Geoff Colmer - whom I see about once a year at a UK Baptist conference, has gently encouraged me for some time to read The Enduring Melody by Michael Mayne. I first encountered the work of Michael Mayne in his volume This Sunrise of Wonder, which I consider one of the most life affirming and theologically literate books I've ever read. So my slowness in getting to The Enduring Melody is only because other things were pressing, and I know a book of such richness isn't one to skim, cram in, flick through or read dutifully. It should be read - and the verb to read means something much more than mere perusal or hurried shopping down the supermarket aisles grabbing what my limited time allows to throw into the mental trolley.
So for a week now I've been reading The Enduring Melody, and found myself in the company of faith, courage, beauty, wonder, loss, love, pain, anxiety, enjoyment and much else that is expressed in a book that alternates between very personal journal and beautifully crafted essay. In that sense there are two books - the diary of an illness that proves terminal, and essays on some the things that made up the enduring melody of Michael Mayne's life as a Church of England priest, a vocation lived with the classic pastoral genius of Anglican spirituality at its most inquisitively affirming.
The only other published Journal that comes near this for honest spiritual search, human and humane longing, wise reflection on the meaning of this person's life, regret that life is shortening but gladness for what it has been and still is, are the two volumes of Philip Toynbee, Part of a Journey, and End of a Journey. I remember very clearly reading them, the time in my life and the places I was when I did read them. And I remember too some of the moments when I simply nodded in mute but sincere recognition of those deep undercurrents of faith and fellowship that enable us to say I believe in the communion of saints. I'll write more about Toynbee soon.
Over the next week or so I'll write about The Enduring Melody. Not a book review, more reports of conversations between pilgrims who know, you've got to walk that lonesome valley, you've got to walk there by yourself. But pilgrims who also know that you don't ever walk by yourself, even if that is the way it feels. You walk with the company, felt or unfelt, of the One whose rod and staff comort; and you walk with those friends and companions in life who also walk their road and ours; and you walk, or run, surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, with perseverance looking to Jesus.