Bruce Chatwin: a Reflection on a Nomad’s Journey to Orthodoxy

Bruce Chatwin: a Reflection on a Nomad’s Journey to Orthodoxy

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It seems to me that nomads have often had a different perspective on life and what they seek. “The search for nomads is a search for God,” Bruce Chatwin wrote in a notebook during his first visit on Mount Athos. During his visit to the Holy Mountain he had come to a revelation of Christ in his heart, something like his first witness of the holy altar within the walls of Stavronikita monastery. It was towards Stavronikita that Chatwin was walking with his old rucksack when he saw, “the most beautiful sight of all, an iron cross on a rock by the sea.” In the eyes and heart of Bruce Chatwin, there was something eternal about the way the cross was striving up against the white foam (The Telegraph).

Bruce Chatwin was a well known English author who lived from 1940-1989. “His narrative style has been thought to rival that of the great American author Ernest Hemingway and for many he’s the most important modern travel writer. It was said, in fact, that he was capable of compressing whole worlds within the pages of his works (Pemptousia).” Chatwin was born and raised in Sheffield, England and was educated at Marlborough College.  His wanderlust and career as a travel writer took him to very remote corners of the world, a few of the many places are: Timbuktu, Cameroon, several South American countries, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, Niger, China and the Sudan. In addition to his travel writing, Chatwin was also praised by critics for his novels “Utz,” “On the Black Hill,” and “In Patagonia.” At the time of his last novel he was quoted in The New York Times Book Review as saying that, for him, travel had become a form of tyranny. ”As you go along, you literally collect places,” he said. ”I’m fed up with going to places, I shan’t go to anymore (NY Times).”  Throughout his life Chatwin tried many jobs, even a second career in archeology for which he enrolled at Edinburgh. Most of his work brought him tangible success, but he left it all and continued to travel in search of something bigger.

It was in the last years of his life, and during his struggle with what he called “a rare and debilitating bone marrow disease (NY Times ),” that Chatwin experienced his revelation on Mount Athos. Orthodoxy accompanied Bruce Chatwin down the final winding footpath of his life. On his return to England, and through the providence of God, Chatwin met Metropolitan Kalistos Ware who said, “I offered to receive him into the Church myself, but we were overtaken by events.” On January 19, 1989, Bruce Chatwin died from complications of his illness in Nice, France. There are some who believe that he became Orthodox before he died. His funeral was held in Nice, with an Orthodox, Greek priest conducting the service and the Greek Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Bayswater, London was was host to his forty-day memorial service. At the end of which, Metropolitan Kallistos relayed his wishes to a frankly astonished congregation. “Bruce was always a traveler, he died before all his journeys could be completed, and his journey into Orthodoxy was one of his unfinished voyages (Pemptousia).”  

Bruce Chatwin’s novel “On the Black Hill” chronicles the lives of “odd-folk” living in isolation from the world. This work was probably inspired by the hill that hulked over the Chatwin home in Gloucestershire where they lived for years. The hill blocked out light for the three months of the year when the summer sun wasn’t reflecting off the fields (The Telegraph). Yet above this darkness, very near to the end of the road, where the sun may not shine for months on end, for Bruce Chatwin there was the light of Christ. When we are given the key to Paradise, there is no other road. After a life of searching he found the truth in Orthodoxy. Our God is a great and merciful God who seems to give each of us, his children, just enough time on earth to work out our salvation. Near the end of his life, one of Chatwin’s notebook entries reads, “Religion is a technique for arriving at the moment of death at the right time (The Telegraph).”

“And Jesus said unto him, the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head (Mat 8:20).”

For more information on Bruce Chatwin’s story view the two part article here:  Pemptousia artricle 1 and Pemptousia article 2.

 

The Orthodox Christian Network offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance OrthodoxChristian life. Through our strategic partnership with Pemptousia, we are able to share similar content from Mount Athos, Greece. Pemptousia is published by the “SAINT MAXIM THE GREEK” Institute for the Research, Preservation, and Promotion of Spiritual and Cultural Traditions and is available online, in several languages. The article above is an example of the wealth of Pemptousia’s Orthodox content.

 

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Dean Franck

Dean Franck is a first year student in the Master's of Divinity Program at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is also a participant of our Digital Disciples Program.