In Memoriam: Christopher Bamford (1943-2022)
I don’t recall exactly when I first heard the name “Christopher Bamford,” who died Friday morning after a very long battle with cancer, but I do know it was when I was in my mid-twenties and starting to explore the world of ideas that eventually led me to a deeper search for Wisdom and to which I have devoted my life. I recall listening to cassette tapes someone loaned me from the Lindisfarne Association and hearing poet, literary critic, and Blake scholar Kathleen Raine’s admiration for Bamford as a philosopher. I also remember his introductions to other speakers at Lindisfarne (though I don’t recall what he said or who he was introducing). I had no idea how my path through life would be as a fellow traveler with Chris on the path to Wisdom.
I never met Chris in-person, though we did correspond over the last few years; but I did see him once. At the time, I was a Waldorf teacher at a teacher training course at Sunbridge College in New York and visiting the Steiner Books bookstore. For decades, Chris served as editor-in-chief at Steiner Books and his office was in the back of the bookstore. I saw him come out of his office, chat for a second with a clerk, and then disappear into his office. That was the extent of our physical contact. Not too impressive of a meeting. Still, he transformed that press into something impressive and, as my friend and Regeneration Podcast co-host Mike Sauter observes, Chris’s introductions were often the best parts of the books!
Prior to his work at Steiner Books, Chris founded the Lindisfarne Press and published or republished a number of exceptional books on what could be called implicit and explicit sophiological themes. We have a copy of Celtic Christianity: Ecology and Holiness, an anthology put together by Chris and William Parker Marsh that my wife bought before we were married—and I had a copy of Lindisfarne Letter 13, the original source of the book, though I have no idea what’s happened to it. Chris also shepherded the Esalen Institute/Lindisfarne Press’s Library of Russian Philosophy project, which saw new translations and retrofitted earlier translations of some of the great texts of Russian Sophiology, including works by Vladimir Solovyov, Nikolai Berdyaev, and Sergei Bulgakov. Seriously, I do not know how I would have become myself without the ready availability of these thinkers in English. They were absolutely formative.
When I was working on my own anthology, the casebook The Heavenly Country (2016), Chris was exceedingly generous in allowing me to use a number of passages from Steiner Books/Lindisfarne books, including long excerpts from Bulgakov’s Sophia, the Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology and Steiner’s Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses. And without charge!
Around that time, I was surprised when Chris expressed interest in attending the Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything conference at my farm in Summer of 2016, though he didn’t make it. It would have been nice. Alas.
Great interview made for the film The Challenge of Rudolf Steiner.
In addition to his gifts as an editor, Chris was also a gifted translator, and his translations of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (uncle of the Polish Noble Laureate) are exquisite. In one of the email exchanges I had with Chris (in November 2019—just before the world went completely mad), he told me about a new translation project:
“I am more than half way through translating the complete Angelus Silesius Cherubinic Wanderer and will one day be looking for someone to read through it with a red pencil. “Silesius, of course, takes one deep into Eckhart, Tauler, Suse and the Friends of God territory…. the depths of which almost defy contemplation…”
I hope he was able to finish it. I’d love to read it. Earlier that year, he sent me a translation of one of Novalis’s Spiritual Songs:
and everlasting thirst.
The holy supper’s
remains a riddle
to earthly senses,
but whoever has drawn
from warm, loved lips,
whoever’s heart holy fervor
has melted in quivering waves,
whoever’s eyes have ever lifted
heaven’s unfathomable depths—
that person will eat his body
and drink his blood
For who has guessed the earthly body’s
Who can say
he understands the blood?
Once all is body,
ONE body, then swims
the blessed couple
in celestial blood—
O! that the world sea
would grow red
and rocks rise up
in fragrant flesh!
Then the magic meal would never end
nor love ever find satisfaction.
You can never have the beloved
inwardly enough, enough your own.
Transformed by ever gentler lips
the companion becomes
more inward, ever closer.
thrills through the soul.
grows the heart:
love’s bliss endures
from eternity to eternity.
If ever those fasting
they would abandon all,
and sit down with us
at longing’s table
that never grows empty.
They would never know
love’s unending fullness
and praise the sustenance
of body and blood.
But I think Chris’s greatest contribution was as a writer of deeply insightful, philosophically open, and spiritually profound prose. His book An Endless Trace: The Passionate Pursuit of Wisdom in the West (2003) is as moving and enlightening a book as I have read. In fact, when I was teaching an undergraduate course entitled “Truth and Inquiry” at Siena Heights University in Michigan a few years ago, I used it as a textbook. Its table of contents, in fact, acts like a mirror in which I see my own interests and loves reflected—Sophia, the Eucharist, Hermeticism, Celtic Christianity, the Grail, Novalis, Romanticism, the Rose Cross, the Troubadours, and “Deserts and Gardens,” perhaps the best essay I’ve ever read on the Rosary. He writes with incredible felicity and grace—reading him is a pleasurable experience.
In June of 2020, Chris wrote me regarding a few publishing projects he had in the works, including a follow-up to An Endless Trace. In his words: “The Great Life: Learning to Live between Worlds. This a companion volume to An Endless Trace: The Passionate Pursuit of Wisdom in the West. My old friend and co-creator of Lindisfarne Press, Will Marsh, is presently doing a final copy edit etc. Manuscript should be available by Fall.”
I forwarded the email to my publisher, who was very interested, but I don’t think Chris ever followed-up on it. It may be that he became too ill. I certainly hope it finds a publisher...and soon!
While I never had the grace to call Chris my friend (though, as you can see, he was very kind to me), several friends and acquaintances of mine did, including one of my very best friends, Therese Schroeder-Sheker, who has known Chris for decades. Over the past few years, as we knew Chris’s condition was not improving, I would get occasional updates on his health.
When Therese called me a few days ago and told me Chris was nearing his transitus, I joined her and others in keeping vigil over the leave-taking of this extraordinary and kind soul. In my place, I worked on a guitar arrangement for “And did those feet in ancient time” (also known as “Jerusalem”)—I’m sure Chris, who loved Blake as much as I do, would appreciate it, or at least the effort. I also reread some parts of An Endless Trace. I fear that if I begin quoting the book, I may just copy the whole thing, so beautiful is the prose and filled with truth and goodness the content, but I will suffice with a selection from “Deserts and Gardens”:
“I discovered this viriditas and the healing field of the soul implicit in the Rosary at a very difficult period of my life. It was one in which, forced by circumstances I was powerless to change, I was metaphorically brought to my knees and taught that life is meaning—always, inevitably, and necessarily filled with meaning, whether I recognized it or not. I learned that life always knew best, and was wise, and would always lift me up and carry me, whether I wanted it to or not. I learned, too, that all I could do was respond, with gratitude, praise, and reverence for whatever life brought. I learned that this was healing. I learned it with a force of revelation through the Rosary at the feet and in the presence of Mary Sophia.”
I am certain that revelation is a space which Christopher Bamford now inhabits in as full a way as possible.
Thank you, friend. I owe you so much.
Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine.