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Posts Tagged "Perseverance":

‘Pippa’s Progress’ by Simon Parke

I picked up this book in the naïve expectation that it would be a light-hearted take on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, perhaps combined with Swiftian satire on the way we live now. Only 175 pages long, I anticipated a rapid and enjoyable read.  Had I known more about Simon Parke, I would have known in advance that, while it was indeed that, the book is both more beguiling and more difficult to stand aside from or to escape than you might imagine.

But first, the fun part. I really enjoyed the puns and the allegorical names, as in Bunyan’s version. I don’t want to spoil your fun by listing them all here, so perhaps I can take the twelfth stage, the City of Socialmeja, as an example. Here, Pilgrim’s guide is a young woman called Dee Straction as they go through this ‘gleaming city teaming with life’. Dee explains:

‘it’s where we’re all, like, connected with every one and every thing!’…’So I’m talking to you, sure’ said Dee, ‘total attention and all that, but I’m also texting a friend, tweeting my whereabouts to my 476 followers, checking my Facebook page, watching a film and trying to rent a house with some friends – all at the same time on this little gizmo!

Of course I laughed, as will you. But I also had a slightly uncomfortable feeling – surely I couldn’t be like Dee Straction? Could I? And it is like that throughout Pilgrim’s peregrinations.

In some ways, Pippa’s journey is rather like those strategy games which you can play online – or on your own computer (the 2012 versions of Dungeons and Dragons for example). And in places we think we can see where she has taken the wrong move, with disastrous results. But,  as in a  pantomime, Pippa is deaf to our cries of ‘look out behind you!’ She needs to make her own mistakes, just as in real life.

Rather like Pippa, I found my own journey of discovery would make demands on me and invite me to answer deceptively simple questions before being able to proceed from one stage to the next. Perhaps you are more evolved than I or the other human beings who surround you, but for me these moments came thick and fast as I went through the book.


Simon Parke, whose style makes the book easy to read from a purely stylistic point of view, offers a series of soundbites on the meaning of life. You can attempt to dismiss these aphorisms as comparable to Chinese fortune cookies, but they are more like the Tardis, containing more material for contemplation than you would imagine possible seen only from the outside. Some examples:

There’s always company on the journey, but you travel alone. 

You have to find happiness in yourself. You cannot expect someone to bring it to your door. That never works. 

I allowed myself to become defined by another person, which is never a good idea. 




I have no hesitation in recommending ‘Pippa’s Progress’ as a thoroughly good read.


Easter 5: Perseverance

Last week we knew where we were: sheep and shepherds again. This week the lectionary is all over the place – first a story about Philip being sent by an angel of the Lord off to Gaza to baptise a eunuch and then being whisked off by the Spirit of the Lord to Azotus for the next task. (An apostle’s work is never done). Then the first epistle of John (he who loves God should love his brother also).  The psalm is about worshipping God and John’s gospel is about us bearing much fruit if we are the branches of the vine that is Christ.

If there is a common thread, it is perhaps that our life as a Christian involves hard graft:

Most of us have days when life seems too much – how tempting it would be to give up all our commitments and responsibilities and simply flee to a desert island (does anyone know of one with perfect weather, no mosquitoes and a comfortable hotel?)



Like Sisyphus, we feel it is our lot in life to roll a boulder up to the top of a hill, knowing that it will only roll down again and force us to start again at the beginning. Albert Camus, in ‘La Peste‘ specifically compares his hero, Dr Rieux, to Sisyphus – Rieux’ wearily summed up the human condition: an everlasting re-commencement.


Do you know Piet Hein and his Grooks?

“Here is a fact
that should help you fight
a bit stronger

Things that don’t
actually kill you outright
make you stronger.

Put up in a place
where it is easy to see
the cryptic admonishment

When you feel how depressingly
slowly you climb
it’s well to remember that
Things Take Time.

Problems worthy
of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back!”
― Piet Hein


Perhaps we manage to stiffen our sinews by reciting Kipling:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

The problem with this is that getting the earth with everything that’s in it seems likely only to increase our workload and ‘being a Man’ is an even less attractive proposition for at least half the world’s population.

Thinking of female role models, what about Lady Macbeth? We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not failAct I Scene 7
Unfortunately, as the Shakespearean scholars among you will remember, the play was a tragedy at least in part because of our heroine’s sticky end. Perhaps Winnie the Pooh is the best model, and all we need to do to keep going is to hum a little tune, perhaps with Harry Lauder:

Keep right on to the end of the road,
Keep right on to the end,
Though the way be long,
let your heart be strong,
Keep right on round the bend.

No wisecracks please about going round the bend being the problem that we began with. The point is:
What does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow, brother, of its sorrow, but ah! it empties today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil, it makes you unfit to cope with it if it comes. 
Arthur W. Pink

The journalist John Derbyshirewrote this in the aftermath of 9/11:

My daily newspaper, the New York Post, gave over its Letters page on Saturday to readers’ suggestions about how we should spend the anniversary of September 11th. Edward Every declares that he will “live the day as any other.” I’m with Mr. Every on this. “Defiant normality” should be the watchword — or, as Winston Churchill used to say: KBO.
National Review 3 September 2002


Mother Teresa had the following text, ‘Anyway’ by Kent Keith, on the wall of her children’s home in Calcutta:

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

In the spring of 1939, an anonymous civil servant was entrusted with finding the slogan for a propaganda poster intended to comfort and inspire the populace in the event of Nazi invasion. In the event, the poster, Keep Calm and Carry On, was never distributed and the message was all but forgotten until recently, when a copy was discovered in a box of books bought by a Northumberland bookseller. Rescued from obscurity after 70 years, the Ministry of Information’s appeal for calm has now risen to cult status and thousands of copies have been sold across the world. You may be relieved or concerned to know that customers include 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. The need to encourage others to keep going, and the need to be so encouraged ourselves, seems to run very deep.


The Queen is said to have a new mantra: Go with the flow:

Taoist story tells of an old man who fell into the river rapids leading to a huge waterfall of great power. Onlookers feared for his life but, miraculously, he emerged unharmed at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. ‘I accommodated myself to the water. Putting aside conscious thought, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived’.

What’s it all for? Where are we headed? Is it all worth the struggle? Well, Kipling knew the answer to these questions:

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it — lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.
And those that were good shall be happy; they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from — Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only The Master shall praise us, and only The Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!

Rudyard Kipling – L’Envoi To “The Seven Seas”, 1892

The illustration is a depiction of Sisyphus by Titian (wikimedia)

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