The Love That Moved Margaret Spufford
I am indebted to a Cambridge, England reader for this lovely tribute from the Guardian‘s Andrew Brown, to historian Margaret Spufford, mother of the writer Francis Spufford. Margaret Spufford died last week. Excerpt:
She saw the world with a luminous and pitiless compassion, and in her company other people could do so too.
I never understood how someone so scholarly and careful of the truth could accept the miracle stories of Christianity, but I learned from her that it can be done.
I don’t know that she believed in an afterlife in any well-defined sense: but she believed this world was interfused with another, perhaps with an eternity, and that this might at any moment break through into ours. This faith enabled her to face, without flinching, cruelties that make ordinary people writhe and hide.
She was more ill, more often, than anyone I have known. As a young woman her studies at both Oxford and Cambridge had been interrupted by breakdowns. In her 30s she was crippled by early onset osteoporosis, followed by cancer and heart disease; finally the indignities and inadequacies consequent from a series of strokes brought her slowly to a place where she was immobile and almost speechless, unable even to swallow, though she still could laugh.
For someone who had talked as much and as wonderfully as she did, this was terrible. What made it more terrible was the knowledge that it was love that kept her alive, and so love that made all that suffering possible. It was the love of her family and of her friends – she would have said the love of God through them – that gave her the reasons for living, and so for suffering.
A luminous and pitiless compassion. What an arresting phrase. It was, says the atheist Andrew Brown, an inner light that shone the way forward for others. And, say I, quoting Dante, because that’s what I do, it was a light powered by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars. It is in through the faith and love of people like Margaret Spufford, whose name I had not heard until I read this tribute to her, that God reveals Himself. As Cardinal Ratzinger said, the church’s art and the church’s saints are the best arguments for Christianity.
Please do read Andrew Brown’s entire short essay.