Talks and Reflections by Brian Boobbyer

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'The Letter Kills, the Spirit Gives Life'

Little Rodd, the Boobbyer home
(Drawing by W Cameron Johnson)

'The letter kills, the spirit gives life' was one of Gandhi's favourite verses.

There is a famous saying of Louis Pasteur, the great French scientist (1822-95): 'In the field of investigation, chance favours the prepared mind.'

I was introduced to this statement by Dr Honor Smith, a neurologist and aunt of my wife. She was decorated for her part in discovering the cure to tubercular meningitis. The key thought came to her when she was having a beer in a pub in Oxford. 'But I was ready for it,' she said.

In her last years, I used to read aloud regularly to Honor and her conversation was a sheer delight. When I discovered that in her youth she had been coached in cricket by the great Frank Woolley, I was very impressed!

Gary Player, the golfer, is often quoted as saying: 'The more I practise, the luckier I get.'

St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: 'The letter kills, the spirit gives life.'

Strong language.

Echoed by Robert Browning: 'Cold correctness'.

What is your game plan? It may be a good idea, as long as there is room for spontaneity, and surprise. Otherwise it 'kills'. And it bores!

The 'mission statement' can do the same.

The English are good at the 'letter'. The Welsh, Scots and Irish at the 'spirit'.

Sweeping statements! But true enough to show how much we need each other. A roomful of persevering English needs balance!

My background is Huguenot, English, Scottish and Irish, and my wife Juliet is a similar mixture. And we live on the Welsh border. So we should be able to combine the letter and the spirit!

There is a saying of the Sufis:

Could there be a better customer than God?

He buys our dirty bag of goods,

And in return gives us an inner light

That borrows from his splendour.

There is something special about the oak tree. It is the pride of Herefordshire. There is a famous one near us, which is probably a thousand years old. The roots, mainly hidden, make possible its beauty and its grandeur.

I love the story of the woman at the well in St John's Gospel (chapter 4). Christ is tired and thirsty. The woman is ashamed and alone - and drawing water. The ensuing conversation is surely one of the great conversations of history.

Christ offers the woman 'living water', and amazingly, she believes. 'She left her water pot behind and went into the city and saith to the people: "Come, behold a man who told me ALL that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" They went out of the city and made their way towards him.'

Was she the first missionary?

When St Paul crossed the desert on his historic road to Damascus, he passed through Samaria. Maybe he met this woman, and heard her story. I like to think there's a connection between the two!

I cannot imagine a less strategic person than this woman, but Christ, with his dazzling naturalness, changes the world through unlikely people.

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