Monday, October 22, 2012

Stephanie Dowrick reads Andrew Harvey's The Hope

Writer and sacred activist, Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey is one of the leading sacred writers of our time. He is probably best known for his exceptional book on the Sufi poet, Rumi: The Way of Passion. I also very much like his spiritually practical The Direct Path. And the Harvey book I return to most often is his Essential Mystics.

So it was with a fair degree of familiarity with this writer that I came to his book, The Hope - also reviewed this month on video. Published in 2009, the book has brief moments when its enthusiasms felt dated, especially when Harvey discusses American politics, but those are fleeting asides and unimportant in relation to the book as a whole. This is a passionate, vigorous call to sacred activism, by which Harvey means: spend time in prayer, reflection, meditation and study, yes! But don't stop there. Engage with the world and the people and creatures in it. Take your countless opportunities to bring greater peace or social justice to the universe we share, and do it in a loving, committed, creative and healing way.

In many of his books, Harvey shows all the care of the Oxford-trained scholar he was and is. Not so in this one. It's patchy, erratic, rushed. I can't help feeling that we are reading a first draft with most of it. And yet that works here. (And I quite envy him the confidence that, "this will do!") Reading the book is very much like listening to a talk from Andrew - which I have also done on occasions - peppered and illuminated with wonderful stories that are as purposeful as parables.  I particularly treasured his reflections on the time he spent with the glorious soul, Dom Bede Griffiths, in the final year or so of Dom's life. It's also worth reminding you that, in the creation of this book and its message, Harvey is drawing on decades now of reflection as well as ever-increasing activism.

Andrew Harvey speaks with Dom Bede Griffiths in 1993
It's a very personal book, also. Harvey is nakedly honest about his own struggles to move from the relative comforts of "mystic" to the earthy challenges of "sacred activist".  He speaks frankly about the dangers of over-involvement, of being too hectic, too urgent, too demanding on oneself or others, or working with too much reliance on ego and mind rather than spirit and body. Just as directly, though, and as crucially, he speaks of the intense rewards of working alongside others in all kinds of positive capacities, and the inner rewards that flow from this. He quotes Rumi: "Wherever you find a lover on a bed of pain/You find the Beloved right by his bedside."

This quote resonates strongly with Harvey's evolved thinking that "transcendence" itself can be an avoidance of engagement in this embodied life. He suggests that an obsession with transcendence can create a dangerous imbalance, especially if we see God, to quote him, "only as Absolute Light and not as every detail of the Creation".  Harvey urges a different view which is also the view of countless other teachers, including Jesus: "The Light has embodied itself as the universe... and serves its immanent presence in compassionate action toward all beings."

As a book that calls seekers to activism, it appropriately starts with "Ten Things You Can Do Right Now".  (Indian-born, English-educated, USA-based Andrew may fleetingly have caught the American delight in numbers for causes, things to do, insights to share…shared also by his Buddhist brothers and sisters world-wide!) The first of these is delightfully simple - and powerful. "Write down one thing that has made you grateful to be alive today." Starting from a place of gratitude, our lives will quite naturally unfold in all their sacred depth. It's also a place of possibility. Above everything, it's a place that points to hope.

Reader activism? You can find out more about Andrew Harvey and his work at this link. You can purchase any of the books mentioned, or any others, through the bookstore links above right. The small % we receive from sales support the Universal Heart Network and Book Club. We also love to hear from you - on these pages or on Stephanie or Walter Mason's Facebook pages. This is YOUR book club! Participate!


  1. I read AH's Journey in Ladhak as a student and was mesmerized - 'transported' might be the word, as the book seemed to literally take you there. So interesting to read this balanced and generous view of his more recent work. He is nothing if not dedicated.

  2. I was deeply moved and inspired to hear Andrew Harvey talk about his book The Hope earlier this year and consequently bought it and read it voraciously. When I finished I wrote an article called 'What Breaks Your Heart' which was published in the free magazine Living Now. His passion and purpose is contagious.