Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Boreham on Hide and Seek

Hidden Treasure
F W Boreham alluded to the hidden features of the sacramental in which its secret meaning was made known only to the initiated or to those who had the eyes to see. In editorials about ordinary objects hiding sacramental treasure, Boreham pleaded for discovering the sacramental in the inn,[1] revealed the “precepts of the porch”[2] and he wrote various articles about understanding “the secret of the street”[3] and seeing “the glory of the street”.[4]

Coming Ready or Not
A corollary to the concept of hiddenness was the belief that there was a power within ordinary objects that was working to make the hidden truths revealed. As already noted, Boreham wrote of ordinary things being “pregnant with romance”, a powerful image signifying the life and emerging quality of the sacramental.[5]

The nineteenth-century British preacher Henry Drummond (about whom Boreham wrote[6] and lectured[7]) voiced this same thought when saying, “If you are apathetic, if you will not look at the things which are seen, they will summon you”.[8]

Geoff Pound

Image: 'the precepts of the porch.'

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 14 December 1918.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 2 October 1915.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 26 April 1919.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 5 January 1946.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 22 December 1956.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 17 February 1951.
[7] F W Boreham, Mushrooms on the moor (London: The Epworth Press, 1915), 21.
[8] Henry Drummond, The ideal life and other unpublished addresses (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897), 129.

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.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Boreham and the God of the Tea Cup

Highlighting the Natural
In contrast to the prevailing Australian religious culture that has often highlighted the miraculous, the sensational and the ‘out of this world’, F W Boreham pointed to ordinary things as a rich vein in which truth may be experienced. His encouragement of the ordinary as a valuable sphere of theological reflection was motivated by his personal delight in Dickens, Turner and others who specialized in portraying the ordinary and the public commendation that these artists were given. Boreham was also prompted by the public context of war and depression which limited the availability of money, possessions and travel. The enforced deprivation led Boreham to encourage his readers to discover richness in common objects and everyday experiences.

Reinforcing the view that at any period the ordinary is a largely untapped and unnoticed source of wealth, Myron Orleans, the editor of the Journal of mundane behavior wrote, “All around us are ordinary phenomena that can astound us if only we attend to them with the seriousness they do not typically receive”.[1]

Astounded by the Ordinary
This astonishment that often emerges out of theological reflection on ordinary things is illustrated in the vocational epiphany of Australian theologian Robert Banks. Recording how his intellectual pilgrimage was influenced by reading an essay by the Scottish author John Baillie on ‘A theology of sleep’, Banks remarked how “Baillie’s juxtaposition of ‘theology’ with something as mundane as ‘sleep’ came as a shock”.[2] Further reflection and study led Banks to discover the Bible’s invitation to finding God in the routine and to write a theology on ‘All the business of life’.

Readers of Boreham’s essays have commented on experiencing a similar shock at seeing the ordinariness of his subjects.[3] However, Boreham’s commitment to the study of ordinary things was not only a deliberate adoption of the communication model of Jesus but it enabled him to be viewed along with John Baillie,[4] Jacques Ellul,[5] Robert Banks[6] and a growing number of others as a ‘down-to-earth’ (Banks’ term) theologian intent on fostering a theology and spirituality of everyday life.

Theological Reflection for Everybody
Frank Boreham wrote about ordinary things because he hoped that all his readers, not only professional theologians, might engage in theological reflection. Not only did he express this hope but, as indicated in this chapter, he suggested some tools of theology that included training the vision, trusting one’s own judgement (‘seeing for yourself’), ‘looking through’ things and experiences and combining a contemplative and imaginative approach with rational analysis.

He urged his readers to begin with the ordinary, everyday and commonplace because he recognised that this was an inclusive sphere accessible to all people, not just the preserve of the church or an area mediated by religious specialists. As stated earlier in this chapter, Boreham also hoped that the domain of the ordinary would be a meeting ground for theologians, philosophers and people representing many other disciplines.[7]

Spirituality Grounded in Ordinary Sphere
Demonstrating the importance of this theme for contemporary Australians, David Tacey says, “Australian spirituality is, and will continue to be, grounded in the ordinary events and experiences of daily existence …. If we are looking for the God who produces otherworldly miracles and wonders, He will not necessarily be found in Australia”.[8] Finding the sacred to be revealed in the ordinary, by ordinary people, indicated for Tacey the “radically democratic God”.[9]

God in All Spheres
An extension of this thinking is that if God can be found in ordinary things, then there is no sphere in which God cannot be experienced. In his editorials, Dr Boreham intentionally blurred the usual dualistic distinctions between the natural and the spiritual, the holy and the profane. While Thomas Keneally’s definition of tea drinking as “the great secular sacrament”[10] exemplifies the way Boreham sought the sacramental in ordinary things outside the limits of the church, Boreham went further by exploding the ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ categories to heighten their essential integration.

Knowable in Every Part of Life
A further implication of Boreham’s assertion that the sphere of the ordinary is a primary theatre of spiritual life is the truth that God is eternally present and knowable in every part of the world and universe. As author Elizabeth Dreyer says: “In the past, we may have seen the sacraments as “discrete discharges of grace” into a profane world. But today our theology invites us to see the world as permanently graced at its root, borne up by God’s self-communication whether or not we choose to accept it, whether or not our jaded sensibilities can perceive it”.[11]

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘The great secular sacrament’

[1] Myron Orleans, Journal of mundane behavior: Mission statement, 2000.
[2] Robert Banks, All the business of life (Sutherland, NSW: Albatross Books, 1987), 9-10.
[3] T H Crago, Australian Baptist, 13 March 1945. Crago said of Boreham, “He amazes his readers with what he sees in smoke and what he gets out of pockets”.
[4] John Baillie, Christian devotion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).
[5]Jacques Ellul, The presence of the kingdom (London: SCM, 1951).
[6] In addition to the book already cited, Banks has extended his thinking in Robert Banks, Faith goes to work: Reflections from the marketplace (Washington D C: The Alban Institute, 1993).
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 9 January 1954.
[8] David Tacey, Re-enchantment: The new Australian spirituality, 111.
[9] Tacey, Re-enchantment: The new Australian spirituality, 121.
[10] Tom Keneally, An angel in Australia (Sydney: Doubleday, 2002), 114.
[11] Elizabeth A Dreyer, Earth crammed with heaven (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), 173.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Boreham on Spiritual Vision

Theological Principles
In the last few postings I have discussed one of F W Boreham’s major themes, ‘Vision for the Ordinary’. While some of the theological perspectives have been alluded to I want to examine in the next few articles some of the theology underpinning this theme.

Vision and the Visual
The importance of Boreham’s theme on vision is highlighted by Melbourne writer David Tacey, when writing about contemporary Australia, “It is little wonder our traditional religions have been declining, for they have lost the spiritual vision that is needed to track the sacred in the present and to bring the spirit into living focus”.[1]

Similarly, Frank Fletcher, drawing upon the Ghanaian experience, argued that the growth or decline in Christian faith around the world has been largely reflective of the extent to which the primal and sacral imagination has been encouraged or repressed.[2]

The Cultured Eye
Boreham stressed the importance of the visual in developing an imagination that encounters the spiritual realm. His encouragement to a new way of looking was similar to Rufus Jones’ call for a “cultured eye”, which requires reflection and rumination more than embarking on a cerebral exercise. The descriptions of Boreham’s observations of ordinary things hint at more than receiving a photographic imprint. Such experiences have a powerful effect on the observer and are expressed well in Dillard’s testimony that “it was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen”.[3]

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘Receiving a photographic imprint.' A photographic imprint of Stella and Frank Boreham

[1] David Tacey, Re-enchantment: The new Australian spirituality (Sydney: HarperCollins, 2000), 241.
[2] Frank Fletcher, ‘Towards a contemporary Australian retrieval of sacral imagination and sacramentality’, Pacifica 13 (2000): 1.
[3] A Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker creek, 35.