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The Roots of Findhorn - part 1


Derek Cameron

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The Findhorn garden grew from a rich compost and it is apt that Findhorn spirituality should also sprout from its own steamy mix, a fecund blend of positive thinking, psychism, esotericism, and -- less often acknowledged -- evangelical Christianity. The twentieth century may have given us the term "personal transformation," but the same purpose was an item on the agenda for nineteenth-century Christians. Among them was John George Govan.

Govan was inspired on hearing accounts of the Holiness (or "Higher Life") Movement from friends who had attended the Keswick Convention in northern England in 1884. With the goal of leading a life wholly devoted to God, he set about removing all personal and worldly ambition from his psyche. A typical day started with "morning watch" from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., then work, then revivalist meetings in the evening, with marathon prayer sessions sometimes going on for half the night. "He came to know the voice of God," his daughter Isobel said of this period.

After several months of intensive self-examination, Govan one night came to a point where he knew that his mind and his life had been changed forever. "My friends," he later wrote, "get into this position of entire surrender to God, and real trust in Him, and then He will show you when to wait upon Him, and how long to wait upon Him; and He will visit you and bless you in a way perhaps you have little idea of now."

For the transformed Govan this sense of God's will led him in 1886 to leave the business world to devote himself full time to evangelization. To this end he founded the Faith Mission, a protestant evangelical Christian organization initially based in Rothesay, Scotland. Among its principles were that its evangelical workers should live by faith -- "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).

Married in 1894, Govan had four children, the last of them born in 1912. This was Sheena Clair Govan, and her birth so late in her parents' marriage left her feeling unwanted, even unloved. As an adult her message to the world was that love was what was most needed, and that her students should do everything with great love, "unto the Lord." As a child she was her father's daughter and would gather schoolfriends around her to listen to her read from the Bible and sing revivalist hymns.

Sheena Govan met Dorothy Maclean while the two were working as secretaries in New York in the early 1940s, and met Peter Caddy on a train in England in 1947. By this time Sheena was living in London, apparently subsidized by her siblings, and receiving inner guidance on behalf of those around her.

Said Peter Caddy: "Her flat was like a magnet. Throughout the day people came for help and guidance. Sheena believed that at this time many people were going through an initiatory experience that she called the birth of the Christ within. She was like a midwife helping them to go through that process."

Dorothy Maclean, now also living and working in London, said: "She'd know what stood between you and your divinity, what you put before the divine."

In other words, she would guide people through exactly the same process that her father had navigated for himself in 1885.

Sheena also coached her students in the practice of receiving, and living by, divine guidance. But this was not the first encounter the Caddys had had with listening for guidance. Eileen and Peter Caddy had also been on the fringes of MRA, a form of organized evangelical piety founded by Pennsylvania clergyman Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman. Early encouragement for Buchman's own practice of a daily "morning watch" or "quiet time" may then have come from a meeting with the Quaker-influenced Baptist, Frederick Brotherton Meyer (1847-1929), also one of the leading lights of nineteenth-century Keswick Conventions. F. B. Meyer's Secret of Guidance explicitly addresses the question of divine guidance. However the decisive influence for Buchman appears to have been Yale theology professor Henry Burt Wright (1877-1923) and his 1909 book The will of God and a man's lifework, though this was itself influenced by F. B. Meyer as well as another nineteenth century evangelical, Henry Drummond.

Living by divine guidance, carrying out everyday tasks with love -- these then were the practices of the proto-Findhorn group in the 1950s and early 1960s, and all were derived more or less directly from nineteenth-century evangelical Christianity.

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text content by Derek Cameron
page uploaded 11 July 2005