IN TEMPERATURES to match those of recent weeks, a memorable event took place at the Royal Albert Hall last July — the doors were thrown open for an International Praise Gathering which was addressed by the American Pentecostalist, Ruth Heflin, and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
The organiser was Bronwen, Lady Astor, who became a Catholic in 1970 (under the influence of the Virgin Mary).
After the death of her husband, the third Viscount Astor in 1966, she moved to her parents residence, a rambling manor house in the heart of the Surrey countryside, set in an almost magical secret valley, surrounded by trees and complete with a babbling brook.
Bronwen Astor is a confirmed individualist, and has fashioned her own life in these very different circumstances from the glamour of her marital home at Clivedon in Oxfordshire, made famous by Nancy Astor, the first women to take her seat in the House of Commons, and equally distant from her career as a Ba?main model before marriage.
What is most striking about Bronwen Astor is her positive Faith. "Its a terrific privilege to be a Catholic. I still can't get over being one", she told me when I visited her at home recently.
The atmosphere of the house is informal, reflecting its owner's personality. Sitting in a book-lined drawing room, I Bronwen Astor's gestures betray an inner restlessness. She speaks quickly, yet with a certain reluctance, punctuated by a charming laugh.
One of the great focal points of her spiritual life has been Teilhard de Chardin. She quotes him with the confidence of a scholar, although she admits that she 1:as vet to read all his works. They share a common relentless searching in their spiritual lives.
It was as a part of this process of constant evolution that Bronwen Astor became interested in psychoanalysis. It all began, appropriately enough, when she attended a lecture on Teilhard given by a man who was not only a Teilhardian and a Catholic, but also a psychotherapist.
In conversation with him later, he recommended the course run by the Association of Group and Individual Psychotherapists — AGIP "like the petrol in Italy". Bronwen Astor has just completed her first year of studies.
Her studies have included many thinkers, but it is to Jung that she always returns with a gesture to the rows of his works on the book shelves. Jung and Freud both recognised man's primal energy, but Jung saw it as based on the spirit.
It is in the context of spiritual growth that the course has affected Bronwen Astor's life. She quotes Teilhard in this context: "Co-extensive with the without there is a within of things."
Psychotherapy has allowed her to explore that within, to touch on emotions and past events, and to come to terms with their paradoxes — rather like the healing of the memories in the charismatic movement, she remarks.
For herself, Lady Astor feels that psychoanalysis has brought her closer to God through a "growth in self-awareness. When you can get beyond the ego to the self, which is not the same thing, it then becomes God awareness. For me psychoanalysis is just one way of reaching that God image within oneself; but it is not a way of meeting God face to face," she states emphatically.
There is a strong contrast between prayer contemplation and meditation which is God orientated and analysis — which is essentially self-orientated. Prayer continues to play a central part in her life — there is a beautifully tranquil chapel in the grounds of the house in a converted garage.
Bronwen Astor also manages to combine her spiritual life with all the demands of her family (she has two daughters), her home and her studies. She recounts with pleasure the shock of priests who have visited her house to find her reading the morning office whilst eating breakfast — but there is no other time, she protests. Equally, she finds baking her own bread very relaxing.
As well as living her faith, Bronwen Astor has a living faith. It affects all her attitudes to everyday life. Later we explored her valley, and in various nooks and crannies she has found a home for those who would not otherwise have found one, through some misfortune or other. Recently, she and her daughter Pauline wrote a letter to The Times on behalf of the homeless saying that they had found it "actually beneficial to both parties to take them irtte our home".
Psychotherapy has helped Bronwen Astor to find the pattern in her life and all her activities. She is convinced that life is made up of "recurring situations". "There are not many situations in life — they are all to do with death and birth and how you approach these things".