What writer Paul Kingsnorth found in Orthodoxy. “Buddhism is a powerful practice, but it is lacking something: God”
Published by Ștefana Totorcea 25.03.2021
He first met with Orthodoxy in a little church in Bucharest. The experience stayed with him and worked inside him for four years, until it bought him into the Romanian Orthodox Church. One of the most important living English writers reveals what he found in Orthodoxy.
Basilica.ro asked recently-converted Paul Kingsnorth a few questions about the journey which led him through various faith and spiritual practice communities until he reached “home”, according to his very words: in the Orthodox Church.
The writer was baptized this year on Epiphany at the Romanian Moanstery in Shannonbridge, Ireland.
Basilica.ro: Do you remember what church in Bucharest was where you first met Orthodoxy? How did you feel when you stepped inside?
Paul Kingsnorth: I was working in the Carpathians in 2017, and I stayed in Bucharest for a couple of nights. There was a small, very old church in the centre of the city.
I can’t be sure which one it was, but I stepped inside and I remember very clearly the atmosphere, the holy relics, and the deep sense of the age and depth of what was going on in there. I wasn’t a Christian at the time.
I bought a small icon, not even knowing who it was. I latest discovered it was St Ephraim the New Martyr – a saint who has turned out to be important to some of my Romanian friends here in Ireland.
Basilica.ro: Did you have the chance to explore Romania? How did you find it?
Paul Kingsnorth: I spent some time in the villages of Carpathia and I loved the people and the places. It is a stunningly beautiful country with a sense of deep culture to it and a fascinating history. I would love to go back.
Basilica.ro: Why do you think your spiritual answers could be found neither in Oriental religions, nor in neopaganism?
Paul Kingsnorth: In the West we are very lost. We have spent centuries concentrating only on material aspects of life, and even in this aspect of our culture we still have deep inequalities and divisions.
But at the same time we have walked away from Christianity, and any serious engagement with the spiritual aspects of life.
Young people in particular can feel the emptiness of the culture but do not know where to go for answers. The Western churches have accommodated themselves to the culture so much that they seem to have no real alternative to offer.
In my own search, I practiced Zen Buddhism for five years: it’s a powerful practice and I found it helpful, but it is lacking something: God.
After that I explored various neopagan avenues, wanting to connect my love of nature with a desire for worship.
But they are new and unformed and don’t contain any serious path to truth. In the end, to my own surprise, I found that Orthodoxy contained the old truths I was looking for.
Basilica.ro: Why did you choose to live in Ireland?
Paul Kingsnorth: We moved here to escape the rat race: to live in the country, farm some land and homeschool our children according to our own values. We have never looked back.
Basilica.ro: Tell us please a few things about your family. How important is family today and why?
Paul Kingsnorth: Family is the bedrock of culture, all over the world. A society can’t thrive, or even exist I would say, without strong families.
My wife is British, like me, but her parents are Indian: they moved to Britain from Punjab in the 1960s. Family is still very important in India in a way it no longer is in modern Britain, so I have learned a lot from them.
We have two children, a son and a daughter aged 10 and 13, who we school at home. It’s a rich life and I am thankful daily.
Basilica.ro: What are children? What do they teach you?
Paul Kingsnorth: I learn from my children every day. My ten year old son is a whirl of joy and energy, and he reminds me sometimes to take life more lightly. My daughter is very smart and grounded, much more than I was at her age.
They remind me daily of the mystery of life, and of the need to try and parent with more forgiveness and ease.
Basilica.ro: How does your family feel about your conversion to Orthodoxy? Are they interested in this spiritual path?
Paul Kingsnorth: My daughter has said she is Christian for some time, though she is not (yet) a member of the church. My wife is actually a Sikh – her family tradition.
But while our faiths may differ, the fundamental worldview we have, of the importance of faith and family, are the same – and the teachings of Sikhism are strikingly similar in many ways to the teachings of Christ. We learn a lot from each other.
Basilica.ro: How do you feel during your first Great Lent as a member of the Church?
Paul Kingsnorth: This first Great Lent feels like a chance to immerse myself properly in the rhythm of the church, though with the lockdown still in force here I can’t get to the services, officially, which obviously is not ideal.
Still, the rhythm of fasting and prayer rules and reading is something which is taking me deeper into the life of the church, and into myself.
Paul Kingsnorth is 49 and has lived for several years in the rural parts of Galway, Ireland. He runs a family farm which he works by using traditional methods, such as cutting hay with a scythe, just like Romanian peasants did formerly.
He wrote visionary fiction books and essays on the environment. Between 2009 and 2017, he established an environmental activism project entitled Dark Mountain. But he says he has never been a Marxist materialist, like many other members of this movement.
“I have never been a scientific materialist. My suspicion that there is more to the world than modernity will allow for has informed my sensibility since I was a child, and was the backdrop to all my environmental activism and writing,” he wrote.
Conservative writer Rod Dreher describes him as “one of the most talented and visionary writers of our time”.
Journalist Aris Roussinos calls him a “profoundly religious” author and “England’s greatest living writer”.
Jonathan Jackson: My journey to Orthodoxy began with a paschal procession in Romania
See Paul Kingsnorth on Amazon
Photo courtesy of Paul Kingsnorth (photo after the baptism)