Damascus Manor: A Novel

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Christmas and New Year have been a time of reflection. I have been sitting with what might be next, what might be the writing project for 2022. Some years ago, I began to play with the idea for a novel. However, its development was put on the backburner while other things were done. Now is the time to return to it.

When I found out that the WCCM’s theme for 2022 was to be ‘Unified Consciousness: One Mind One Heart‘ I soon sensed that this novel could sit well with this theme; it could be a way to engage with the theme and bring it to a wider audience. Fr. Laurence has written about this theme in the WCCM’s latest international newsletter. As a part of this, he says:

The contemplative mind is the unified consciousness of mind and heart. It restores health to society because with a single eye we see beyond dualities and polarities. As we look across the great divide at people with whom we can no longer converse, we begin to see and feel differently about them.

Laurence Freeman

These words speak to what I hope the novel will address – a journey from duality of mind into unity of consciousness, where we see with the eye of the heart, where intuition is heard and trusted, shaping action.

The below novel draft excerpt was written in 2009.

The night had passed. Slowly shadows stretched their way into the back yard. The tall trees that surrounded Daniel and his fellow residents began to sparkle in the morning light. The mansion seemed to sigh.

Breakfast was over. Porridge sat heavily in the stomach. The morning cigarette queue had come and gone. Another day of activity had begun. It was another day to get through, to live through with demons taping you on the shoulder, always asking, sometimes demanding their pound of influence.

Yet this time of the day was often different. In the early mid-morning for a brief time in the warm morning sun, there was stillness, a kind of respite from the rigors of temperament and personality. The flurry of city life that surrounded the mansion had not yet found its way into the back yard. Busyness had not yet muddied the waters of calm. The residents who could, breathed in this calm and took stock. Soon the sirens would start and, for many, the rush of train and traffic would awaken from within the disturbers of the peace.  

Spring warmth soaked into the concrete around the back stairs. The concrete and the sun made this part of the yard an open area free from shadow. At this time some of the residents liked to park themselves here, around the bottom of the stairs. They loved the warmth as it made its way into their tired bodies. Sunshine therapy. Some sat in chairs. Some lay on the concrete itself. For them it was the best part of the day. 

From the shadows Daniel looked at the sun-seekers warming themselves. It had been another rough night. The wailing and whimpering that surrounded him and his bed had not allowed much sleep. It had stirred the sorrow in him, a sorrow that in so many ways had been his alone. He would often hold it hard to himself as if his life depended on it. A deep sorrow so others may find happiness. Call it an existential public service. After all, there was only so much happiness to go around, right?

Last night however, something imperceptible had happened: the sorrow that he kept only for himself had somehow silently leaked out into the darkness and found its way to others. It became sorrow shared. In the shadows of the warm morning light Daniel began to become aware of this. This morning in a new way Daniel no longer felt alone. Solidarity had taken him by the hand.  

There was a spare chair by the stairs. Without really understanding why, Daniel stood up and walked out of the shadows and into the light. He could immediately feel the warmth of the sun coming from both the blue sky above and the concrete below. Silently and tentatively, he sat down.

It was then that the realisation quietly stirred: it was no longer him and them. Strangely and somehow, his experiences of the past few days together with this moment, uncovered a new reality that had always been there: it’s us. Together they sat. Daniel dared to relax into their company. He didn’t understand it. He had hated these people and their glaring human weaknesses. And yet his sorrow had found a way out to them despite himself. Something in Daniel knew the importance of this shared sorrow, and in this moment this something had its way with him. He could no longer turn from this something and the connection it longed for. Ego no longer had the will or the strength to fight it. There had been enough darkness and now, finally, it was time to allow as much light as he could stand.

Daniel surrendered. In this company of the forgotten, amongst the rabble with nothing, he gave up the fight to succeed. In the here and now of the shared warming sun what others thought of him fell away. The struggling ‘I’ opened to embrace the reality of ‘we’. Daniel succumbed to this gentle persuasion always active in the struggle of life. The foundations for healing had at last been laid. Yes, Daniel was not alone, and now he knew it.   

Then someone began to sing: ‘There’s no friend like the lonely Jesus, yes it’s true, yes it’s true.’

It was Joy, a fellow sun-seeker. Daniel knew it was her because the voice was extra croaky.

‘Ain’t that right Danny, ain’t that right?’ She asked.

‘Will you shut up!’ Wailed Oscar from the shadows of the yard. ‘Every f***ing morning you kill a frog!’

‘Isn’t the sun wonderful’ exclaimed Joy, oblivious to Oscar.

‘Yes it is’, said Daniel, ‘yes it is.’

‘What’s up with you Danny boy, you sound different.’ It was Keith flat on his back.

‘I don’t know. I feel different. I don’t feel so heavy inside and being here doesn’t seem so bad.’

‘Getting’ used to us then?’

‘Yes,’ said Daniel with almost a grin ‘I must be.’

More updates and news about the novel will appear on this blog as the year goes on.