Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Boreham on Science and Religion

Moving Together
F W Boreham’s study of history and particularly his research into the lives of Galileo Galilei, Thomas Huxley and Benjamin Disraeli, had revealed to him the contentious divide between science and religion. In 1934, he stated, “No modern movement has aroused greater hostility than has the scientific movement”.[1] By 1948, he observed that “Science and Religion ... have moved towards each other” but he was swift to remind his readers that “a century ago the young people of Christian homes were forbidden to read the works of scientists; while the sages and savants looked with ill-disguised contempt upon all religious trends and institutions”.[2]

On the Side of the Angels
Boreham wrote many articles on scientific themes because he wanted to highlight the “affinities between science and religion”.[3] He advised his readers neither to dread new discoveries[4] nor to conclude that scientific discoveries were hostile to the church.[5] The role of science was to interpret nature and the church needed to demonstrate a reverence toward science[6] because science was, in the words of Disraeli, “on the side of the angels”.[7] Boreham declared, “We are confronted ... by One Universe [in which] a sense of basic unity and exquisite harmony is the outstanding feature”.[8] He continued: “Truth can never by any possibility be the enemy of truth. The truth that the astronomer discovers among the stars cannot be at variance with the truth that the geologist finds among the stones. The truth that the botanist reveals from among earth’s flora cannot contradict the truth that the zoologist reads among earth’s fauna”.[9]

Harmony of the Spheres
Calling not for a truce but a peaceful partnership, Boreham said, “We ask the scientists to reconsider their interpretation of the one, and the theologians to review their interpretation of the other, in the certainty that, when they have done so, we shall hear once more the music of the Spheres”.[10]

Geoff Pound

Image: Truth in the Stones- Musumdam Peninsula, Oman

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 27 October 1934; Age, 24 August 1946.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1948.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 2 September 1916.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1948.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 14 April 1928.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1915.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 22 August 1914.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1948.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1948.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1948.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Boreham on Nature and God

Nature Mediating the Spiritual
Historian David Bebbington observes that the quintessence of English romantic verse “has been called ‘natural supernaturalism’ [or] the ability to discern spiritual significance in the everyday world”.[1] F W Boreham believed the tenet of the Romantic poets that nature was a medium for the revelation of the spiritual. However, he did not see nature as the only avenue of truth and could not agree with his mentor Mark Rutherford who claimed that the poet’s “real God is not the God of the Church, but the God of the hills, the abstraction Nature”.[2]

Nature With Personality
His earlier statement about the forests was typical of the endearing way Boreham often imbued nature with personality. He wrote on other occasions of the companionship of the mountains,[3] addressing the two sparrows on his sill as Jack and Jill[4] and the two tall poplars, Gog and Magog, keeping ceaseless vigil at his gate.[5] He interpreted this depth of relationship with nature as “real life speaking to real life”.[6]

Aloof and Detached
While Boreham often wrote of the way the seasons “enter so directly and so intimately into our lives that they seem to become part of us”, he was also conscious of the “unconcerned aloofness and distressing detachment of the seasons” and the way “they behave as though they had no spark of interest in us”.[7] Boreham also recognized nature’s distance in the sea “that holds you at arm’s length and encourages no intimacies”.[8] Similarly, other unattractive features of nature included its terror[9] and its apparent lack of sympathy for the unfit and the weak.[10]

Experience Nature
Like the Romantic poets, Boreham had little regard for religion as a body of propositional truths and continually in his nature editorials he encouraged people into an experience of nature’s wealth. Bernard Reardon’s assessment that a faith focused on nature “spoke so powerfully to the Victorian doubter” helps illumine something of the appeal of Boreham’s nature writings to people who had given up on the institutional church as an agent for truth and a place of worship.[11]

Whetting Appetite for Nature
Writing editorials with a nature theme was one of the ways Boreham sought to whet readers’ appetites for connecting with the creator. Writing at the time of his retirement, Boreham revealed, “I have learned that my quenchless longing for life is, after all, unconsciously, a secret, unutterable yearning after God; for how can you conceive of life apart from Him?”[12]

Hinting and Pointing
For most of his career, Boreham wrote about nature’s important role as educator but he suggested that its greatest contribution was that it “hinted even more”.[13] In this phrase, Boreham was alluding to nature’s disclosure of the creator, in a similar way that he saw his writings as the pointers of the Southern Cross—they “possess no value or importance of their own; but they point to things that no man can afford to miss: that is their only glory”.[14]

Nature Story
Boreham expressed most clearly the relationship between nature and God in the story of the naturalist Richard Jeffries.[15] In Boreham’s estimation, “No man was ever more deeply enamored of life than was Richard Jefferies. He simply reveled in it ... life was his passion; it fascinated and hypnotized him”. He had been a lifelong seeker for truth in nature while being suspicious of religion. Reading the Bible a few weeks before his death gave him a vision of life that he had never explored. According to Boreham: “He recognized in Him [Jesus] the life that he so passionately loved in its most attractive and exalted form. It was like turning from the stream to the fountainhead .… He discovered that, although Nature had taught him much, she had failed to teach him the things that he most needed to know, and he reveled in this ampler vision of life that came to him at the last”.

Geoff Pound

Image: “pointers of the Southern Cross.”

[1] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in modern Britain, 81.
[2] Bernard M G Reardon, From Coleridge to Gore: A century of religious thought in Britain (London: Longman, 1971), 361.
[3] Boreham, The home of the echoes, 146.
[4] Boreham, A witch’s brewing, 140.
[5] F W Boreham, Mushrooms on the moor (London: The Epworth Press, 1915), 127.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 8 June 1935.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 3 May 1947.
[8] Boreham, The last milestone, 59.
[9] Boreham, The home of the echoes, 150.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 27 May 1922.
[11] Reardon, From Coleridge to Gore, 363.
[12] Boreham, The three half moons, 125.
[13] Boreham, The three half moons, 125.
[14] Boreham, The crystal pointers, 8.
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 30 October 1948.

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.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Boreham and His Theology of Nature

Theological Foundations
While F W Boreham’s involvement in the Royal Society of Tasmania stimulated his thinking and action, the observation that in natural history and environmental organizations in Australia “there were many clergymen involved in these groups” hints that there were theological dimensions that underpinned people’s concern for nature.[1]

This posting and the next few will highlight some of Boreham’s theological perspectives on nature.

Life is One
It has been seen that Boreham’s call to care for all people and protect flora and fauna stemmed from his contention that ‘life is one’ and that to care for one part of the environment and spoil another is contradictory to the unity of all life. Springtime was the best illustration of Boreham’s ‘life is one’ doctrine. Describing the way that life in nature calls to the life within human beings, he said: “A life that pulses within us greets, in an ecstasy of kinship, the life that swarms around us. They act and react upon each other. The vision of life multiplying itself in a thousand chaste and charming forms on every side stimulates appreciably our own vitality. Life responds to life as, in other conditions, love responds to love”.[2]

Kinship of Life
F W Boreham is exclaiming that the life force within humanity is the same life that exudes from nature. This essential ‘kinship’ of life in its various forms yearns to flow together in a mutual energizing and a reproduction of further life. This relationship between humans and nature is nurtured by respect and contact. For Boreham spring was an example of the ‘theorem’ coined by Robert Louis Stevenson as “the essential livableness of life” in which, as he put it: “We feel that things are moving. The world is awake. In clapping our hands at the gilding of the wattle and the coming of the swallow we are bearing witness to our dauntless and deathless love of living. We are giving three cheers for life itself and offering an act of grateful homage to that sublime Source of all life without Whom none of these raptures could, by any possibility, be ours”.[3]

Awake to Life
Being awake to life and expressing acclamation for the dramatic acts of nature was, according to Boreham, an expression of humanity’s love of life and its participation with nature. Such communion with nature was unconsciously a joyous service of worship with the ‘Source of life’ involving a liturgy of praise, offering and perception.

Geoff Pound

Image: “three cheers for life.”

[1] Hutton and Connors, A history of the Australian environmental movement, 32.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 3 September 1949.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 2 November 1946.