Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Boreham on Sacraments and Sanctities

Sacraments Beyond the Church
While eccles-iastical views of the sacraments have variously defined and ordered certain rites performed by the church to produce grace in the recipient by the very performance of the sacramental act, F W Boreham’s understanding of sacraments was broader, less defined and related to a multitude of diverse experiences outside the jurisdiction and influence of the church.[1]

Related to his concept of ‘romance’ was his understanding of an ordinary object becoming a sacrament or receiving sanctity when it was rightly seen. While throughout his career Boreham wrote frequently of the sense of romance, the editorials in which he discussed matters sacramental were written mainly in the latter period of his life when he included distinct religious themes. One example of Boreham’s effort in using ‘thin’ religious language was when, in an early version, he wrote of the surprising value in the hiddenness of the garden using the secular title, ‘When spades are trumps’.[2] A later incarnation of this editorial revealed the sacramental features of a garden.[3]

Window to the Invisible
Sometimes in writing on “the art of looking through commonplaces”, Boreham adopted window imagery. He said that when William Blake looked, “the material realm was a window through which he saw the invisible”.[4] In this window image, Boreham was declaring that an object becomes sacramental when one looks through the material and sees the spiritual or when one views a visible object and an invisible quality dawns.

These concepts are illustrated in Boreham’s account of walking down a tree-lined street in his Melbourne suburb of Armadale. Overwhelmed by the vibrancy of life along his regular route, Boreham noted a towering gum and in his mind he saw thousands of kookaburras.

He passed an elm and this species brought to his mind an old lane in Kent in which he saw many squirrels. Boreham’s walk along Irving Street made him declare, “The loveliest things in all the world are the things that are not there. There is something strangely sacramental about those branches,” and such memories and the resulting reverence were reasons why he declared, “they should never be cut down”.[5]

These recollections highlight the role of imagination in appreciating the sacramental. Boreham’s flexibility in the way objects might be ascribed sacramental meaning are once again evident in his conclusion to another editorial entitled, ‘Spare that tree’, when he stated that branches and boughs may remind readers of another tree “on a green hill outside a city wall”.[6]

Emblems of Immortality
It appeared Frank Boreham believed that ordinary, visible things were sacramental when they represented a spiritual significance. This meant that an ordinary object like a mushroom was “the natural emblem of the ephemeral”,[7] or looking through the lens of scripture (“the grass withers”)[8] the blades of grass can become “emblems of immortality”.[9]

Pointing to a Higher Realm
A variant on this theme was Boreham’s understanding that an ordinary object becomes sacramental not only as it represents some value, but also when it actively points to a higher realm. In this way he identified sleep as a sacrament because it symbolised trust and belief in God.[10] He said, “Properly understood every sob is a sacrament. The sign of the Cross is indelibly stamped on every manifestation of mortal pain”.[11] Boreham saw chimneys serving an important role in “pointing to something loftier”[12] and the sacramental work of mountains fulfilling their divine destiny. He explained: “It is the glory of the mountains that they point to something infinitely loftier than themselves. The snow-white summits point like sacred spires from the high to the Highest, from the terrestrial to the celestial, from earth to heaven; and, having done that, the mission of the mountains has been triumphantly achieved”.[13]

Geoff Pound

Image: “thousands of kookaburras…”

[1] Richard McBrien, Catholicism 3rd ed. (North Blackburn, Vic.: CollinsDove, 1994), 1250. The sacraments defined by the Roman Catholic Church include Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.
[2] F W Boreham, Mercury, 21 August 1937.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 17 March 1945; Age, 29 March 1947.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 26 November 1949.
[5] Boreham, The fiery crags, 138.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 11 January 1958; Age, 26 October 1946.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 1 March 1958; Age, 3 April 1954.
[8] Isa. 40: 7.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 30 June 1956.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 25 August 1945.
[11] Boreham, Mercury, 6 February 1954.
[12] Boreham, Mercury, 20 January 1951.
[13] Boreham, Mercury, 18 April 1953.