During my years as a minister at West Vancouver United Church I was given the time and space to conceive the beginnings of my book Universal Spirit: The Seasons of the Christian Year in the Company of Northrop Frye. I am thankful for the intellectual freedom I was given there to explore many of the ideas that grew into the book. The other inspiration for the book came from the great literary critic, Northrop Frye.
In the 1980s, Frye’s picture or bust or name could be seen everywhere on the Victoria University campus in Toronto. One might pass him by chance on the way to class. When, in 1981, I graduated from my seminary, he laid his hands over mine and admitted me to the degree Master of Divinity.
For most of his 50-odd years as a university teacher, Frye rarely inhabited a pulpit in the usual way though he was a United Church minister. His pulpit was his classroom, but his discipline, in contrast to my own, was to witness without preaching, to testify but never confess.
Only with the publication of his small book, called The Double Vision, completed just before his death in 1991, and the appearance of his collected works in 2000, did Northrop Frye the theologian really emerge. These works are a cornucopia for the intelligent person of the spirit. I did not begin reading his theology thinking that he would be my visionary angel on spiritual matters but then I kept going back to him when I was stuck. I found myself going to him when, as a minister, I helped my congregation deal with the calamity of 9/11, the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 and various suicides that intruded on our collective life during that time. Thereafter, I returned to his words as I listened to the pain of my clients in my practice as a psychotherapist. Frye’s was a vision among the smoke and the ashes of human life on this planet.
Frye conceived of what I call a Universal Spirit beyond the normal confines of Christian doctrine and theology. Following Frye’s lead, I wanted the book to be a discussion of the human from a spiritual, if not a not restrictively Christian, point of view
The seasons of the church year – Advent through Pentecost – most of which are older than the church itself seem a vastly rich and fertile place from which to survey the human landscape and to find the Universal Spirit’s place within it.
At times, Frye provided the centre for my meditations; at others he provided a jumping off point, like jazz musicians riffing off one another in performance. It is my hope that these pieces will appeal to people who desire to make sense of some key spiritual concepts and topics, and who are curious about the way both intersect with the challenging events of our times.
Don Collett is a psychotherapist who works out of offices in North Vancouver, Vancouver and Victoria. His book Universal Spirit: The Seasons of the Church Year in the Company of Northrop Frye is available from Banyan Books, Hager Books, Amazon.ca and Woodlakebooks.com.