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Ursula Bethell


Secrets of Felicity: Letters of Ursula Bethell

selected and introduced by Peter Whiteford

Introduction | Contents


To Monte Holcroft – January 3, 1935

Rise Cottage. Cashmere. Christchurch.

My dear Monte

I don't want to side-track you into a correspondence with me, but your letter has been so curiously helpful that I feel I must thank you for it before the week is out. [47] Not only the human sympathy, which always brings some little alleviation, but chiefly what you say about God & prayer. I have always known that life is totally meaningless without God - - God is the beginning and the end, and the ground, & the meaning & the will. [48] 'This is eternal life, to know God, and' ... [49] Now I am in darkness. But if, as you say, you gained that much, then God must have been at work somehow in me, without my knowing or feeling it. It is a very sustaining thought, in my tears.

Its so true what you say also about seeing all things from one's own consciousness. In this case the relationship was prevailingly maternal - (tho' she was very protective & supporting to me too) & that is why every fibre of my being calls out for her now. (They are mistaken who think that such relationships are only known when physically based) - That would be my private grief. (But I suppose there must be perfect paternal relationships too.) It is a strange experience! Being happy, offering for safe-keeping to the God of love, my loved friend, and home, and life itself - not only for safe keeping but that I might know this God better - behold it all gone - three fearful weeks & then the blow. I seem even to have lost God. No, He exists - & my reason & my whole experience tell me that He exists & that nothing is lost, but I am in the dark & in pain. You say that this sorrow will bring gifts, & I believe that to be perfectly true - or else everything is madness. I never could slur over things, or take anodynes, I want to know it all - and this death & destruction that I saw, must be lived through & known.

But I must tell you this: - The consciousness of God came to me, as to so many, chiefly in the solitudes of Nature. Face to face with horrors in east London, in the war, that wasn't enough - I looked at my crucifix & tried to understand. I took Christianity for my life pattern, finding no other better one, or nearly as good, & it has been my road. But (how shall I express it?) a blind following - a dim road. And now that everything is broken up & I am starting out again alone, I begin to wonder, am I now to learn what that "and" really implies. "This is eternal life to know God and" -

That one 'acquainted with grief'. [50] There was evidently a perfect relationship of Love - could one not say a perfect human relationship - and then 'Why hast Thou forsaken me?' [51] It is very deep.

I was talking with one yesterday who has been thrown with Spiritualists. That's not the way. One is tempted to say "Oh, if she could only come back for ten minutes & I would tell her how sorry," but no, one must accept this destruction, & get to know the real life. One flash of knowledge that the life has gone on, & the love is still there, & the rest of the way wd. be joyful. No mere guesses will do. There must be a complete reversal of mortality. That end of the creed, one says so glibly in church - "the communion of saints - the forgiveness of sins - the resurrection of the body - and the life everlasting" - am I perhaps to get to know what it really means - but I will anticipate nothing.

Thou hast forsaken me. Into thy hands. [52] Dear Monte, I recognised in you a true faith, a willingness to risk all, & go out into the dark. I told you that I saw you were further on than I was about this willingness to lose all & plunge into the unknown. Now I am dwelling on your thought that life is preparation (I've held that as a theory!) Perhaps those ten years in our cottage were too happy - too earthly - true - & I must change over to 'eternal in the heavens'. [53]

But first there is this desolation, & stepping off into the dark. Prophesying without knowing, she made my birthday a reminder of my own pilgrim-emblem. [54] The cake surmounted by its "60 years" milestone, was adorned with my pilgrim-shells. She made me read the Bunyan hymn "who would true valour see" etc. [55] - So now I start.

Thank you, Monte. I shall be glad to feel that you are pressing on.


Alexander Turnbull Library. MS-Papers-1186-03.

47. Bethell's dear friend, Effie Pollen, had died on November 8th, 1934. Holcroft had not written at the time of her death, but responded to a letter of Bethell's written just after Christmas. Holcroft's letter has not survived.

48. Although the notion of God as beginning and end is ultimately Biblical, the language here is reminiscent of the writing of Julian of Norwich; in particular, the notion of God as 'ground' occurs throughout her Revelations of Divine Love. Cf. Chapter 62.

49. See John 17: 3. The text continues 'and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.'

50. See Isaiah 53: 3.

51. See Psalm 22: 1; Matt. 27: 46.

52. See Luke 23: 46.

53. See 2 Cor. 5: 1.

54. Bethell had adopted as a private emblem the scallop-shaped shell traditionally worn by English pilgrims to the shrine of St James at Compostela.

55. The hymn is found almost at the end of Part II of The Pilgrim's Progress, just as Mr. Valiant-for-truth reaches the Enchanted Ground. It also appears in Hymns Ancient and Modern.



Last updated 28 June, 2005