by Tim Purchase
from Signs of the Times No. 65 - Apr 2017

We all know of Terry Waite, and most, if not all, will hold him in very high esteem for the totally unselfish way he was involved in hostage negotiations in the Lebanon and his own subsequent incarceration at the hands of abductors for five years. Therefore it was with great expectations that I opened his latest work.

The first thing to note that this is a collection of memories, poems and reflections, and not a normal work of prose. This may put some people off. I am no lover of poetry, and I approached this book with caution, but the poetry is easy to read, and comprehensible, and prompts the reader to return to individual poems over and over again.

The book begins with a reminder of his long confinement. He alludes to the fact that he started ‘writing in his head’, only later being able to physically commit to paper his experiences. This current volume is a reflection on those times, and other events since have caused him to contemplate life and its meaning.

What is surprising is the fact of his confinement actually caused him to want to seek solitude after his release. He comes to realise that it is only in the silence and tranquillity that he can come to terms with what he feels about life and more importantly about God. He states that he has become a Quaker, and that this does not prevent him continuing to be a member of the Church of England, from either side. He actually coins the term Quanglican, which I suspect may not be original, but it does disclose a deep seated desire for quiet reflection.

Throughout, what shines through the writing, both prose and poetry, is Waite’s immense sense of compassion for all people and the situations which they find themselves in. As Karl Jenkins commented on the cover: ‘Peace would universally reign if the world was full of people like Terry Waite’. This is both a heartfelt sentiment and a wonderful caricature of the man, as revealed through his writings.

One of the important stimuli for the book was the invitation to go and stay at a remote farm cottage in New Zealand, giving Waite the opportunity to reflect and write down his memories and the attendant poetry. The presence of a pair of cows in an adjoining field provide a pivot for the thoughts being put on paper, and their seeming disappearance was for the author, a matter of concern (they had been moved to another field out of his view, it transpired). Their subsequent return was a sign of a return to normality, and in a way pointed to a deeper truth about Waite’s relationship to the Almighty. Sometimes he had very dark spells during his captivity, when not only did he question his belief in the inherent good nature of humankind, but he also questioned God’s role in creation in these sorts of circumstances. For him, as for many others, this is an unresolved issue that he continues to wrestle with, however, Waite has never lost his faith in God, and ultimately in humankind.

The only possible downside of this work is fact that the author refers to events very much in our memory; they are known to us and we can relate to them. As time moves on, those events will recede into the mists of time, and their significance may not be altogether clear to readers in future generations. However, the poetry will shine through the ages, and that in itself will keep this book readable for many years to come.

Tim Purchase is a long standing Anglican of the Catholic tradition with a genuine interest in researching traditional and more radical thinking.