The Irish writer James Joyce (1882–1941) is world famous because of a book that few people have read and understood : Ulysses. It describes a day in the life of Dublin through the wanderings and musings of a number of main actors.
In Ulysses actual events are followed by things that happen in the minds of the characters without this being made clear. The many quotes in foreign languages, including Latin and Greek further complicate matters. Because I know Dublin well it was easier for me to separate reality from fantasy.
James Joyce also wrote Finnegan’s wake, which like Ulysses is a difficult book, but his collection of short stories Dubliners is a much easier read. The book I recently reread, A Portrait of the Artist as a young man, is more challenging than Dubliners but if you have the annotated version it should be manageable for most.
A Portrait of the Artist as a young man shows what a brilliant writer Joyce is. His mastery of the English language is amazing and so is his ability to take you with him on his journeys through Dublin and through life.
The young man in the book is Stephen Dedalus and through the life of Stephen Joyce describes how he became the man whose main subject was Dublin, but who spent most of his adult life outside Ireland.
There is a particular section in the book that appealed to me more this time than it did during my first read of the book, many years ago. It is when Stephen goes to a Jesuit secondary school. The Jesuits are a Roman Catholic order with a long record of intellectual excellence.
Stephen has gone through a period where he lost the proper Roman Catholic way and visited prostitutes. The school organises
a retreat and the book gives long sections of the sermon by the Jesuit priest who leads the retreat.
The sermon is powerful, explaining exactly what happens to you, according to the Roman Catholic understanding, when you
leave the narrow path. Mostly Sikhs and Roman Catholics agree on what are sins and what not, but the Roman Catholics ‘know’ in full detail what God will do to you when you commit certain sins and do not confess your sins and change your ways.
I do not believe in a hell where the lost souls burn eternally or a ‘purgatory’ where others souls go to undergo punishment before being allowed into heaven.
But both the sermon and Stephen’s reaction to it did work on my soul. But because Stephen was struggling with who he was and where he came from, I got a vision of a Harjinder Singh who was totally liberated from useless habits, who was not bound to the culture he comes from, in short who is liberated in this life.
Do not worry, I am not suffering from delusions. I am still very much a human being who, as is our nature, makes many mistakes. But I am a Sikh, a learner, and do make progress, although it is often ‘two steps forward and one step backward’.