Interview - Joanna Bogle talks to Katherine Daniels
It’s quite a story: romantic, tragic, poignant and yet somehow with a happy ending. Last year, Katherine Daniels quit her job to edit and publish her late husband’s book – and it has become something of a best-seller among Catholics.
We are having sandwiches and coffee in a London cafe after a weekday Mass at a church near London Bridge. The story of the book and its message is deeply bound up with a journey in faith.
When the Daniels first met, Katherine was an independent-minded young woman with degrees in Medieval History and in law, interested in working as a therapist. Robin Daniels was a music critic, author, broadcaster and Jungian analyst almost thirty years her senior. They married in 2006 and he died six years later. His book The Virgin Eye is about music, listening, silence, and psychotherapy – and is rooted in a Christian understanding of man and God.
“When we met, we were both Anglicans”, Katherine explains. “Robin was soaked in the saints, and with everything they believed – the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Purgatory, the lot. He also had particular authors whose work he loved – George Herbert, T.S.Eliot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I was – well – a wisdom-seeker. I wanted to get to the truth of things.”
Their friendship deepened into romance, despite the age difference.
Their marriage took them both on a spiritual journey into the Catholic Church. Robin was already a published author with books on music and on Christianity. In the late 1970s, he worked with violinist Yehudi Menhuin exploring the latter’s thinking on music and life’s meaning, resulting in a well-reviewed book Conversations with Menuhuin in 1980. This was followed three years later with with a similarly popular Conversations with Coggan with Dr Donald Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury. Working as a music critic, author and broadcaster he lived “as a sort of urban hermit” as Katherine expresses it, and as a counsellor took a rather different approach from the standard secularist one.
“Robin’s lifelong love of music fed into his vocation to listen. He had a lifelong gift of listening. He would draw the other person out. He had studied the Desert Fathers who emphasised not disclosing your own views when listening. Silence is the cross on which you crucify the ‘old man’ when you are seeking to convert fully to Christ.”
The Virgin Eye is essentially a book about the spiritual life, and about the human need for truth and beauty. Robin Daniels sought to open his readers to the truth of God by inviting them to contemplate beauty: “Beauty is truth speaking to the senses and the soul, pointing us to the source of all beauty, all love, all goodness. An artist sees creation enlivened. A mystic sees (or senses) the |Enlivener of creation.”
The book is also, in part, a distillation of Daniels’ ideas on counselling and therapy. Working as an analyst in private practice, he also ran bereavement groups and programmes for supporting marriage His widow explains: “Robin emphasised listening as threefold – to God, to your inner self, and to the other person. Christianity in this context is not about prosletysing, but about the whole moral framework you bring.” .
“He would urge people to ‘listen deeper’, to signs and warnings that God might be bringing”.
Robin Daniels’ approach to the spiritual and psychological needs of people today challenges many currently fashionable ideas and includes an emphasis on the “sacrament of the present moment” and seeking to appreciate a sense of meaning and moral purpose in life. He emphasises the idea of purity and innocence – a sense of freshness and a willingness to see other people as neighbours rather than intruders into a privatised and self-obsessed world.
Katherine’s own work as a play therapist was influenced by her husband’s approach. Taking a break in order to work on the material culminated in a celebration book-launch in London. The book has proved successful, selling over 1,000 copies in its first five months.
The story of the book’s publication has also brought opportunities to discuss marriage and widowhood, faith and bereavement. Robin died after just six years of marriage.
“I always understood that we would not have very long together: Robin was not young. I am grateful for the time we had: it was all somehow the way it should be.”
Their marriage was essentially connected with a journey in faith – a journey that now continues.
“Life with Christ – that’s the important thing. That is what I have really discovered”. The wisdom-seeker has found where the wisdom is.