Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Monday, October 09, 2006

Boreham on Earthy Spirituality

Liquid Craving
In confessing his “liquid craving” for the sea, F W Boreham was giving voice to the human yearning for the spiritual as well as declaring that all of nature’s handiwork possessed a primal power.[1] However, a major theological theme in Boreham’s writings on ‘Reverence for nature’ was the importance of land as a sphere for experiencing the spiritual dimension of life.

Spirit and the Land
While he delighted in the beauty of the remote wilderness areas, an important feature of Boreham’s writing about the spirit and the land was the way he encouraged readers to be open to the spiritual dimension of the ‘ordinary’ land on which they lived and worked. Boreham’s annual editorial to coincide with the Agricultural Show in Tasmania often pursued this theme. In one of his later editorials he gave expression to “the lure of the land” and wrote about the way it provided ample ways for nature to link creation with its Creator:

"The farmer trades in life—life in its very nature and essence—in order that he in turn, may minister life to the rest of us. And what is that life? A farmer does not know; the scientist does not know; nobody knows. We dumbly feel that, throughout the farm we touch God, and that from that august and divine source, all those things come to us without which we cannot live. It is because of this that the annual Show holds for us such a resistless attraction."[2]

Magnetism of the Land
F W Boreham was suggesting that the unconscious human magnetism towards the land is an indication of the human urge for life and its divine source. The farm is the sanctuary. The plough is the shrine at which people might be enlivened. The communion is experienced through the wordless touching of soil resulting in renewal and deep mystery. While in this sphere Boreham recognized farmers as ministers of life, this open-air religion was an example of the way that all people might make a priestly contribution. As “through the farm we touch God”,[3] Boreham believed that the naturalist, the scientist, the explorer and all those whose work or leisure required an engagement with nature could experience “the trysting of two worlds—the material and the mystical”.[4]

Turning the World Outdoors
Always eager to reveal a silver lining, Boreham declared (during the First and Second World Wars) that war “has at least succeeded in turning the world out of doors” and thereby closer to nature.[5] He continued his optimism by saying that the poverty resulting from the war had stimulated a new turning towards the soil.[6] Advancing further the spiritual dimensions of involvement with the land and all of nature, Boreham asserted, “There is indeed a sense in which a revival of agriculture is in itself a revival of religion. It is the awakening of that instinct in man which turns in the hour of need, to the invisible and inexplicable”.[7]

Touching God through Nature
Boreham did at times exhibit a utilitarian approach to nature in tandem with a nationalist spirit in which the greatness of Australia was gauged by the extent to which natural resources could be harnessed for the common good. However, his view that one could ‘touch God’ through connecting with nature was an important factor in leading him to value and support the advances in astronomy and meteorology,[8] to praise farmers and advocate the development of farming in Australia[9] and to awaken people to the charms of the Australian bush.[10] His call to readers to experience the spirit and power in the ordinariness of their locality modeled a humble attitude and an important way of connecting with the land.

Geoff Pound

Image: “farmers as ministers of life.”

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 7 February 1920.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 21 October 1950.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 11 October 1947.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 20 October 1951.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 9 December 1916; Mercury, 9 August 1941.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 11 October 1941; Age, 20 September 1947.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 20 October 1951.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 15 June 1940.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 17 October 1914.
[10] Boreham, The golden milestone, 109.