Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Boreham's Call to Connect with Ordinary Life

Relate to Real Life
Recent posts on this blog site have examined a major theme of F W Boreham’s writings in which he maintained that the ordinary is a vital sphere through which people might encounter the rich dimension of life, variously described as the ‘spiritual’ or ‘sacred’. In many editorials, Boreham cited a person’s relationship with the prosaic and the everyday. He was not alone in sounding this theme as we have looked at Dickens’ novels, Turner’s canvas, Blake’s various media and Christ’s verbal pictures to illustrate the treasures that come in dealing in ordinary things. Overwhelmingly F W Boreham made a call to leaders, scholars and artists to relate their discipline to real or ordinary life.

Taking a Leaf from Dillard’s Books
In her Pulitzer Prize winning book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, author Annie Dillard devoted an entire chapter to the subject of ‘seeing’. Explaining her convictions and literary intentions, she writes:

"Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise …. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames."[1]

Dillard’s commitment to ‘really see’ life and describe it as it is, is reminiscent of Boreham’s dedication to a new way of looking. The popularity of both writers may well be attributable to making life their subject and wonder their style.

Reflection by Ordinary Believers
F W Boreham’s encouragement to cultivate a vision for the ordinary was made to his readers in the hope that theological reflection might be an activity of ordinary people. Boreham suggests how theology might be approached by ordinary people including seeing through one’s own spectacles, acknowledging personal and national blindness, uncluttering vision through simplification and looking not only at life but through life. Boreham’s emphasized the rich possibilities of discovering the hidden ‘romance’ in ordinary things and ordinary times and considering how readers individually and collectively might experience the sacred and the sacramental.

Exegeting Everyday Life
The importance which Boreham gave to this theme was revealed not only in his lectures on preaching, in which he highlighted ‘the art of seeing clearly’, but also in his large number of editorials, in which he praised writers and painters for their vision in studying the texture of everyday life. The significance of this theme has been advanced in the light of comments made by contemporary Australian writers such as David Tacey on the need for developing a sacral imagination.

Firing The Imagination
The role of imagination is noted by Boreham as a necessary step in perceiving the sacred. A theology of the ordinary is a rich and surprising field for theologians and all people interested in life. Such a theological pursuit is accessible, free from religious monopolies and defiant of traditional categories and language.

Gospel Imperatives
In pondering the theological dimensions of this theme, it is clear that the role of the gospel story was vital in leading F W Boreham to praise the theology of little people and small things. His choice of topics on this theme was influenced by Biblical values, popular demand, communication convictions and his whimsical humor. His vast employment of visual imagery, his use of the parabolic method and techniques from the court illustrate his belief that developing and expressing a vision for ordinary things is about style as well as subject.

Unsystematic Punches
F W Boreham’s essays and sermons represented an unsystematic theology of the ordinary. His writing about events like Easter illustrated Boreham’s determination to find the ordinary in matters mentally labeled ‘religion’ or ‘theology’. His essays encouraged readers not only to think and see theologically but also to experience their theology as they engaged in all the matter of life. Boreham’s work in taking readers on a picturesque journey, leading from the familiar to the unknown, was gentle, memorable and often contained revelatory surprises and a prophetic punch.

Geoff Pound

Image: “the whole world sparks and flames.”

[1] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 11.