Conversations, the Boat, and the View from Above

Welcome to our newsletter, dear reader,

• We begin our monthly selection with an excerpt from Conversations with My Own Heart by Metropolitan Anastasy of the Russian Orthodox Church, a collection of aphorisms reflecting on language and literature in the context of the power of prayer.

When a word, like a fiery coal, comes out of the crucible of the human spirit, it inspires and inflames thousands of people; it commands even the irrational animals, everywhere revealing its irresistible power. Created long ago by God’s almighty Word, the world still trembles at a fiery word of truth, feeling in it a spark of that eternal creative power.

• Our second new library addition is a brief article on the symbolism of “The Boat and the Helmsman” by Michael Negus, elaborating on the elements and scriptural links of the traditional craft of navigation.

The skillful helmsman understands the forces and by controlling their interaction he navigates the fastest and straightest passage through the water on his intended course. Translated into the terms of the spiritual life, helmsmanship becomes the continual invocation of the spiritual force and the complementary response of nature through the soul. These act within the context of the intention formulated by the will. The windward direction of the boat, like the upward direction of a mountain path, is an ‘ascent’. Likewise, effective spiritual work results in an ascent to a higher spiritual state, along an ‘ascending path’ (al-sirat al-mustaqim).

• Finally we present a chapter, “The View from Above and the Vision of the Heart”, from the book The Infinite Beauty of the World: Dante’s encyclopedia and the names of God, elucidating and weaving the strands of medieval cosmology and contemplation, when transformative philosophy and science were an inseparable compact.

ratio could be elevated to intelligentia, that is, the mind could be raised above reason to employ a faculty of knowing beyond reason – a “visus cordis” or “acies mentis” (“seeing with the heart” or “seeing with the mind”). Augustine and Boethius consistently employ the metaphor of moving “inward” in order to find a power of knowing suited for seeing “higher” levels of reality, and this is the (largely forgotten) context of much of medieval encyclopedism.

Some of our readers may be interested in the Theos Annual Lecture 2023, “Dying for Beginners”, given by Dr Kathryn Mannix.