Jonathan Stedall

Foreword by Richard Tarnas

To read this book is like sitting by a fire on a long winter’s evening, listening with delight to a friend of many years who has thought deeply about life’s mysteries, and who is now looking back on his life’s journey to share, modestly and without pretension, its accumulated wisdom. This is a deeply humane book, by a deeply humane man. But it is also more than that.

Richard Tarnas at Stonehenge.

Richard Tarnas at Stonehenge.

For in his unassuming way, Jonathan Stedall explores questions and realities, and intimations of realities, that take courage to speak of in an age long ruled by that confident mindset which still believes it has more or less fully and objectively revealed the true nature of the universe. In many ways this is an old-fashioned book – unhurried in its reminiscences and reflections, rather like an intimate essay, full of treasured quotations, courteous to the reader, and sympathetic to its subjects. Yet it is also a strangely new book, radical in its willingness to push the conventional boundaries of received knowledge about what is real. It engages the big questions of life and death, of immortality and love, drawing on sources of insight that have not been accommodated within the narrow empiricism and rationalism of the orthodox modern mind. Without fanfare, without vaulting ambition, Stedall quietly seeks to understand those many more things in heaven and earth than have been dreamt of in our modern philosophy.

Ours is a time between world views, when the powerful assumptions that have shaped the modern understanding of the world and of the human being are undergoing a radical change. It is a time that C.G. Jung called the kairos: the ancient Greek term for the ‘right moment’ for a changing of the fundamental symbols and principles. Jung saw this change as happening with a kind of evolutionary necessity, beyond our conscious choice. Yet he also viewed the outcome of this great shift as in some way depending on how well we consciously participated in its unfolding. At the heart of this shift is a transformation in the spiritual condition of the modern self, which has long been grappling with the paradox of being a purposeful, meaning-seeking oddity of consciousness in a randomly evolving material universe lacking in intrinsic meaning, purpose, or soul.

In the conventional scientific world picture, the spiritual dimension of being must ultimately be seen as nothing but an idiosyncratic projection of the human subject. To preserve consistently this world picture requires the metaphysical dismissal of most of what is most intimate and precious to the human being. Yet to confront that contradiction is to take on an enormous existential task, a tension of opposites not easily resolved. That task, Jung recognized, and Stedall recognizes, defines the spiritual adventure of the modern self.

Jonathan Stedall takes on that adventure, and brings certain special gifts to the task: a calm integrity and warmth of spirit, a breadth of human empathy, an appreciation of the different stages of human life, of different kinds of human beings, of different perspectives, of the different cultures and religions of the world. Throughout this unique narrative of a life’s seeking and learning is an engaging transparency, a self-deprecating modesty, that is linked to an extraordinary moral and metaphysical imagination.

It could also be said that this book was made possible by the unusually enlightened working environment of the BBC in an earlier age. There, an intelligent creative producer like Stedall could follow his own intellectual and spiritual curiosity, propose a topic he found of real interest, and in all likelihood be given the green light to make a program or even a series. In such propitious circumstances, Stedall became well-travelled in both the world of people and places and the world of spirit and ideas. This book is the fruit of those explorations. He draws here on the great influences who have shaped his vision of life – Steiner, Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, Gandhi and Tolstoy, Emerson and Wordsworth, Eckhart and Plato. He describes the many remarkable men and women he has met in his life’s journey and distills for us their insights – Fritz Schumacher, John Betjeman, Laurens van der Post, Cecil Collins, Malcolm Muggeridge, Bernard Lovell, Theodore Roszak, the men and women of the Camphill movement. He gently but firmly takes on the inevitable antagonists, such as Richard Dawkins. He shares his observations and intuitions without dogmatism, without inflation. Above all, he draws on his own profound experience of being human, a thoughtful person fully engaged in contemporary culture, in a life of wide horizons and poignant losses. This is a gift made possible by a lifetime of reflections and discoveries, tendered with the lightness of spirit of a good friend sharing a very interesting story indeed.

Where on Earth is Heaven? cover

All text and images © Jonathan Stedall