Unfinished by Bishop George Appleton (Fount, £.17.95).
Lord Longford ONE'S first reaction as one reads into this book is the last the author would have wished for. One feels at first a painful sense of inferiority in the presence of a Christian whose spiritual and practical life has been so perfect.
But as one puts the book away, one realises that one has been in no small way inspired by the author's profound belief in God and love of Christ, by his continuous prayerfulness and his total absorption in the Bible.
George Appleton, son of a head gardener and a cook, obtained a first class degree at Cambridge in the Theological Tripos and soon departed to Burma to become a missionary. He endured the full horror of the Japanese invasion before withdrawing under protest, and returned later as a co-ordinator of training for the Burmese clergy. He moved on to become Archbishop of Perth, Western Australia, and later Archbishop of Jerusalem.
All parts of his life (he is now 88) are vividly described, his old age most poignantly of all. He refers with feeling to "the diminishments and irritations of old age and especially the embarrassment of bladder and bowels, failing eyesight and hearing, together with false teeth however efficient our dentist may be."
Soon after he retired in 1974, his beloved wife suffered a severe stroke. He was warned that she would die within the next day or two. In fact she lived on for another six years but "she couldn't talk and could only walk a few uncertain steps." Curiously enough, she could sing, "and I can see her now holding onto the pew and joining in the sung part of the service."
George Appleton's love for her has, if possible, increased. "Every night before going to sleep I try to tell her of the happenings of the past day, good and not so good. I know that before long I shall make my final immigration, and join her."
No-one could be more ecumenical than George Appleton. He had no difficulty whatever in acting as the personal chaplain of a Jewish Lord Mayor.
He learnt by heart and often prayed a prayer once prayed by a Moslem woman who lived in Jerusalem around the year AD800: "0 my god," it reads, "if I worship thee in desire for heaven, exclude me from heaven; If I worship thee for fear of hell, burn me in hell. But if I worship thee for thyself alone, then withhold not from me thine eternal beauty."
He says that the prayer "convinced me, if I needed convincing, that God was active among people of other faiths and traditions than my own".
But it was to Burma that he lost his heart. Here, I admit that I cannot follow him on the intellectual plains.
He quotes Bishop Westcott in his book The Gospel of Life in seeking, you might say, to narrow the gap between Christianity and Buddhism. "Buddhism", said Westcott "started with being morality without worship and it is as a system of morality but of morality as being of inherent obligation that Buddhism claims to be reckoned among religions of the world. In this respect it is
among the noblest as it is the vastest moral spectacle in history."
That language may seem exaggerated to many of us, but George Appleton does not restrain his enthusiasm. "May it not be", he writes, "the mission of Buddhism today to lead the world back to moral values and to help people everywhere to find an ethic related to conditions in the modern world which will gain acceptance and inspire the right effort?" He is entitled, if any man is, to his own opinion, but few Christians, I image, would share this exalted view of the Buddhist contribution to the modern world.