As wonderfully strange and unique as individual conversions are, the ways they are related -- especially in collections intended for edification of the faithful -- can take on a familiar (and misleading) sameness: a wallowing in depravity followed by repentance, or a dissatisfaction with a previous faith leading to an embrace of a fuller one. Such narratives relate a linear, progressive movement from darkness to light, error to truth. Peter France's delightful memoir gives us a different sense of conversion, one that conveys a more complex reality of skepticism softened by human interaction, shadows gradually lightened -- but not completely dispelled -- by the willingness of the believers in his life to grant space for truth to manifest itself in its own good time. The shell of the story, itself sketched with understated hilarity, is that of France, a somewhat jaded BBC journalist and his Orthodox wife moving to the venerable isle of Patmos, adapting to its customs and culture. But the substance of the narrative is that of a man who encounters God in the unselfconscious joie de vivre of the inhabitants of Patmos, in the gaze of a nun serving cherry brandy after a service, in the reply of an Orthodox priest to France, who had just laid out the whole armory of materialist objections to faith and challenged him to respond: ''I would not say anything to you. I would simply live with you. And I would love you.''
An Eighth Day View:
The tiny, arid Greek island of Patmos is one of the most sacred places in the Christian world, and a place of bewitching power, where people come for a brief summer visit and end up returning, year after year, for the rest of their lives. They respond to an unexplainable force which they can find nowhere else. Perhaps it is the invigorating "Greek light" that infuses the Holy Island's rocks and hills with a breathtaking sharpness and clarity, dating back to the time when Zeus raised the island from the bed of the sea.
Or perhaps it is Patmos's incredible history: almost two thousand years ago, Saint John was exiled here, and lived as a hermit in the Cave of Revelation, where he experienced a vision that led to the most famous piece of apocalyptic literature, the Book of Revelation.
In A Place of Healing for the Soul, BBC commentator Peter France-- who arrived on the island a hardened skeptic--tells how he came to change his life perspective. Learning from the island's gregarious inhabitants and its religious eccentrics-- hermits, ascetics, monks and nuns--he discovered the pleasure and security of living simply and doing without, in a timeless realm where history, myth, and spirituality are endlessly alive.