Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Letters from the Desert

I'm a big fan of Peter Owen Jones. I admire him greatly and enjoyed his first two television series (Around the World in 80 Faiths and Extreme Pilgrim). He approaches his subjects with an enthusiasm and honesty that infects and inspires. So I was rather disappointed in his latest series (How to Live a Simple Life), in which Peter attempts to follow in the footsteps of St Francis by giving up money and relying on the generosity of his parishioners and the strangers he meets on his pilgrimage across the south of England.

Peter was as charming as ever and introduced us to some extraordinary people. The problem is I can't see what's wrong with money. As far as I'm concerned it's neither good nor evil, just a more sophisticated form of barter. It's how we come by it, and what we do with it that matters. This seemed to be the conclusion he came to at the end of the final programme, which made me thankful that I'd persisted with it.

I was therefore very grateful to have my faith in him restored by the reading of his latest book (Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim). This is a collection of letters written to friends, family, and a unusual assortment of others, during a period spent in a hermit's cave in the Sinai desert. The letters are lyrically written and disarmingly personal. Peter bares his soul as he narrates the events of his life; his adopted childhood, his wild youth, his broken marriage, his friends and lovers, his career as a parish priest, his faith, and how they have all shaped him into the man he is.

I borrowed the book from my friends Steve and Moira and read it in one sitting this morning, but I have realised I'm going to have to buy my own copy to read and mark for future reference.

If you can lay your hands on a copy, read it and let me know what you think.


  1. Yes, I don't think it was the best programme. Peter Owen Jones doesn't tend to go into too much detail, I find.

    In the first programme I was particularly surprised POJ didn't trouble to build a sturdy hen-house and pen to take care of his chickens. We went on our chicken-keeping course just down the road from Firle, so he could have found out more before he handed over his wallet. I also wish we had been able to hear more of Satish Kumar. Overall I found it interesting. Perhaps it was designed to make us think, in which case it served it's purpose.

  2. I guess the programme makers have to balance content with entertainment. While some of us might prefer them to err in favour of the former others might find it too heavy and switch off.

    I'd love to be able to hear him speak and be able to ask him questions. I love his openness to new ideas.