Waiting for the Last Bus

by Richard Holloway, Canongate, £15.99

Richard Holloway was Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. For many he was an inspiring preacher and caring pastor; for some a disturbing questioner and tiresome show-off. Gradually his faith in the certainties of organised religion, even of Christianity, ebbed away. He resigned from his see and became a more prominent public figure, a media darling, for he always had something interesting and challenging to say. If he had left orthodox committed members of his church behind, his willingness to express honest doubt and to dwell in that only certainty which is uncertainty brought comfort to many searching for some sort of post-Christian meaning.

He has never been a scolding sceptic, for he retained a reverence for the poetry of religion and the solace that faith could offer even the unfaithful. So he has remained a long way distant from vulgar or conceited Dawkins-style atheism.

Now, half-way through his ninth decade, he is “waiting for the last bus”, no longer with a dog at heel, for his last one died and he is too old to take responsibility for another. This is how things fall away as the grave beckons, and this leads us to his subtitle “Reflections on Life and Death”.

Almost 60 years ago, Muriel Spark wrote a novel about old people who are plagued by a telephone caller who says only “Remember you must die”. For some the message is frightening or sinister; others recognise it as good advice that we should all heed. Holloway certainly belongs to the second camp. Death is the one sure thing we have to look forward to.

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