For me, one of the best things on the radio, apart from the World Service, is Mark Tully’s Something Understood. Quirky, original, imaginative, quite uninterested in the “ratings”, it is always a pleasure to listen to – even if it is broadcast at an awkward hour: 6.05 on Sunday mornings. Last Sunday was called “Sleeping on it” and Tully used it to explore all those aspects of thought which do not rely on the rational intelligence: intuition, dreams, impressions, the unconscious and so on.
The broadcast opened with a reference to Sherlock Holmes and how he played the violin as a relaxation from his highly advanced cognitive processes – and as a way of allowing inspiration to help solve the crimes he is investigating. Then there was a wonderful quotation from Rilke: “Everything is gestation and bringing forth… beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence… That alone is living the artist’s life, waiting with patience and humility…” Didn’t St Paul also talk about this kind of gestation?
Mozart, it seems, was able to harness both sides of his mind, the creative, intuitive side and the conscious, rational side, at the same time. According to Tully, mystics, poets and artists have always understood the Bible’s words: “Be still and know that I am God.” He thinks that scientists are just beginning to catch up on this aspect of the mind. I have to admit that the public utterances of Richard Dawkins have given me little confidence that this is the case (though a scientific friend tells me that his book Unweaving the Rainbow is very poetical). Humility is in order here, as shown by Tully’s quote from the physicist Richard Feynman: “It does no harm to the mystery to understand a little about it.”
Following the broadcast I happened to read a crime novel by the Catholic Herald’s own writer-in-residence (and books editor), Stav Sherez. Entitled The Black Monastery and set on a Greek island, it encompasses mystery, long-buried secrets, the horror that sin and evil can unleash and a few original twists of its author’s own. The very contemporary heroine, Kitty, gazes at a massive granite cross and yearns “so much to believe in something greater than the world in front of her”. I should warn readers that the book is not for bedtime reading.
And how did I find a link between the civilised reveries of Mark Tully, with his intimations and ruminations, and the darker revelations of The Black Monastery? Reader, I slept on it.