FINDING TIME TO DIE
As the SS America moved down the Hudson River past the glittering skyscrapers Buchman told his party of twenty-four, 'During this Journey we will reach every person on board.' Something like that happened, although he himself seldom left his cabin. The purser put on the film The Crowning Experience twice because of public demand. The captain gave a reception for the party, and the head of the National Maritime Union on board asked them to speak to a special union meeting at ten o'clock one night. The meeting-place was packed, and after the agreed hour of speaking was over the audience called for more. Some were up talking till three in the morning. One burly man from the engine-room commented, 'That was the best union meeting we've ever had. The whole ship is talking about it. Every time I have a row at home I go to sea. A big row means Asia, a small one means the Caribbean. This was a medium-sized row. I decided to write the old woman tomorrow.'
Among Buchman's party was Eudocio Ravines from Peru. He had been the South American delegate to the Comintern, and responsible for bringing about the first popular-front government on the continent. He had been trained by Mao Tse-tung in what he called the 'Yenan Way' of Communist takeover which concentrated on exploiting the moral weaknesses of the bourgeois world.1 Disillusioned with Communism he had then found a wider aim through Moral Re-Armament. When he, his wife and daughter spoke together to the shipboard union meeting, the audience, many from Cuba and Latin America, were thunderstruck. Buchman's cabin steward came to Ravines and said, 'I'm also from Peru. My uncle put you in prison. Tell me what has changed you.' When Buchman offered a tip at the voyage's end, the steward refused it. 'You don't owe me anything,' he said, and added to a bystander, 'That man Frank Buchman is a marvel. Three or four men like him would turn the world upside down.'
Passing through Paris at the time of the abortive Summit Conference of May 1960 Buchman entertained General Speidel, Commander of the Ground Forces of NATO. 'Our weakest point in NATO is the ideological sphere,' the General said. 'We have done almost nothing... Moral Re-Armament has been pioneering what Europe really needs to do to reach out positively to other continents.' He instanced the action of the German miners who had taken their play Hoffnung not only to Britain, France and Italy, but as well to Cyprus, Kerala and Tokyo. 'That is the type of initiative that NATO is incapable of, but it must be done if freedom is to grow in the world,' Speidel said.2
The Chief of Police in Paris gave a deferential bow on being introduced to Buchman at a reception. 'Ah,' said Buchman, 'we are colleagues.' And out of a pocket he fished a card which stated, much to the Parisian's amusement, that Buchman was 'Hon. Sheriff of the City of Tucson, Arizona'.
During these months Buchman was increasingly confined to bed, whether in Paris, Caux, London, Milan or Rome, but his mind was constantly at work on how to meet the demands for manpower which were confronting him from every continent. His imaginative planning would have been remarkable in a much younger man. Some of the revolutionary Japanese youth, members of the Zengakuren organisation whose demonstrations in spring 1960 had prevented President Eisenhower's visit to Japan,* had subsequently been affected by Moral Re-Armament. Buchman invited them to Caux and encouraged them to write a play, The Tiger, which went through Europe and, in America, was brought to the former President's attention. Eisenhower listened to their story for an hour. 'This is the last act of the June riots', he said, 'and it has a happy ending.'
(* The refusal of the Seinendan to join in the riots, together with the support of Social Democrats led by Senator Kato, did much to build the nation together at this time. (cf. Entwistle, Japan's Decisive Decade, pp. 181-6.)
Leaders in Brazil, Peru, Argentina and other Latin American countries invited these Japanese to their countries and, during the last months of his life, Buchman sent them and a group from thirty other nations to South America. In Manaus, far up the Amazon River in Brazil, ninety thousand turned out one evening to see The Tiger. In Recife, at the heart of the poverty-racked North-East, Fidelistas flocked to the performances. Some changed, and were instrumental in diminishing the graft, exploitation, drunkenness and corruption in the port.
The air forces of Brazil and Peru flew the whole party into remote areas. North American Indians, headed by Chief Walking Buffalo in his ninetieth year, went to meet their South American brothers, fulfilling a promise made to Buchman a year previously in Mackinac. At the mountain fortress of Sacsahuaman, just above Cuzco, where thirty years earlier Buchman had seen the students in revolt, forty thousand Indians saw The Tiger, perching on the sides of a gigantic natural amphitheatre. The party also visited Machu Picchu, the 'lost city' of the Incas, which had been rediscovered by the father of one of them.
One of those who came to Caux that summer was Dr Bernardus Kaelin, who had from 1947 till the previous year been Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order. He had come because during the previous winter he had seen the effect of Hoffnung in a number of Catholic schools in Switzerland. After several days he asked to be allowed to speak and issued his speech to the press. 'Moral Re-Armament', he began, 'can win all men because its standards are universally valid. It is not a religion nor a substitute for religion. It is not a sect. It has four mighty pillars upon which human living must be based. Every man must accept these ideas if he is honest with himself.'
Abbot Kaelin went on to say that 'Benedict also wants the four standards of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love' and 'enjoins the abbot and the monk really to shape their lives according to the guidance of God'. 'There are so many people who are very familiar with religion, but for whom it is unemployed capital,' he added. 'That is why it is such a great satisfaction to me that so many people in Moral Re-Armament live out their ideology seriously and consistently...During the serious world situation of the fifth and sixth centuries, Benedict taught through his life and his rule what nations must do in order to become and remain sound. So, by the eleventh century, he had become a founder of Western civilization. I mention this fact to encourage Moral Re-Armament today...It is a new way designed to forestall a false ideology.'3
Buchman warmed greatly to the Abbot's personality and vision. He saw in him many of the qualities he had loved in B. H. Streeter twenty-five years before. 'He is a great-hearted prelate, forthright and a fighter,' he wrote to Father Ling.4 Kaelin accompanied him to St Gallen when the Cantonal Government gave a dinner reception for him there in October, and later joined Buchman in Italy, after the ancestral town of the Buchmans, Bischofszell, had given Buchman a similar welcome.
With the exception of three weeks at Caux over Christmas, Buchman spent the next four months in Italy. He took the plays he had been using in Switzerland, Howard's The Hurricane and The Ladder, together with the film Men of Brazil, to Milan. The response was great, not least in the suburb of Sesto San Giovanni. Abbot Kaelin, like Streeter long before, was delighted at being received in the homes of Communist workers - old friends from previous Moral Re-Armament visits - and having the fresh joy of bringing individuals back to God and the Church. Receiving over Christmas a caution from the Holy Office he obediently stopped speaking in public about Moral Re-Armament, but in November travelled to Rome to tell his many friends, among them Cardinals Tisserant and Bea, of his experiences.
Buchman was unusually active in his three weeks at Caux that Christmas. He took the morning meetings on 20 and 21 December, as well as giving tea-parties for the main guests. 'Here we had a powerful Christmas Day,' he wrote to a friend in America. 'The Greeks and the Turks from Cyprus brought messages from Archbishop Makarios and Dr Kuçuk.* An African, who when he was here earlier was so possessed with hatred of the white man that he could not finish a speech from the platform, stood up a free man ready to take a very responsible position in his country.'5 He only spent eight of the twenty-one days entirely in bed, and appeared in the entrance hall to greet his main guests and talked with many over meals.
(* President and Vice-President respectively. In 1960, in recognition of MRA's help, they had jointly sent the first flag of independent Cyprus to Buchman at Caux.)
After Caux, Buchman and a party of over thirty returned to Rome. He stayed till 6 March, and it was again a busy time, combining many individual meetings with private showings of the film of The Crowning Experience. Among his visitors were the widow of Signor Marconi, and the widow and daughter of former Prime Minister de Gasperi. On 7 February Don Luigi Sturzo's physician came to tea and said how much his patient had spoken of Buchman's work during his last weeks, referring to it as 'fire from heaven'.* Buchman prepared a dossier at Cardinal Tisserant's request, and entertained a number of bishops including Archbishop Gregorius who brought the latest news from Kerala. One afternoon he also gave tea to Father Damboriena, the man who in 1957 had written the articles in the Civiltà Cattolica and Monitor Ecclesiasticus which had spread the more fantastic misconceptions about his work.
(* Sturzo, in old age, drew encouragement from Moral Re-Armament. When he heard from Irene and Victor Laure how they had found faith in God, he remarked, 'I thank God that I have found allies in the fight for the moral re-armament of the world.' His last book was entitled Riarmo morale.)
On his return to Caux Buchman received news of successful premieres of The Crowning Experience in Rome and Milan. A Milan critic had written, 'It transcends the theatre. A film of the greatest moral and spiritual force ever to come out of the industry.'6 This exactly confirmed Buchman's own view of the film, which did not raise his opinion of the press or his colleagues in America and Britain where commercial audiences were less enthusiastic.
Throughout all this year Buchman was possessed with a tremendous sense of urgency. It was partly caused by the advances which he believed world Communism to be making - though he told his colleagues that they would live to see Communism a spent force. On occasion - particularly in America where to be 'against Communism' seemed to him many people's cheap way of avoiding the need to face their own sins - he would forbid his team even to mention the word. He always maintained that the message of Moral Re-Armament would have been necessary if Communism had never existed, and would still be needed if it vanished from the earth. His chief concern now, therefore, was with what he saw as the growing decadence in nations, and particularly among their leaders.
This sense of urgency caused him to produce three major public pronouncements in three months that summer. All were reproduced in dozens of newspapers throughout the world, as full-page paid advertisements. He chafed at what he regarded as a press boycott, and felt that this was the only way to get his message through.
The first of Buchman's three statements, in April 1961, was headed 'All the Moral Fences are Down'. It had been stimulated by a talk, at which I was present, between him and Sir Richard Livingstone, a one-time Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. Livingstone had said to him, 'When you and I were young there were moral fences. We did not always keep to them, but we always knew when we had crossed them. Today all the fences are down.' Buchman gave vivid instances of how people all over the world were starting to rebuild the moral foundations of their nations by starting with themselves. He ended by quoting the answer of an American admiral when queried by cynical colleagues why he had three times attended assemblies of Moral Re-Armament. 'I learned', the admiral had said, 'what an ideology means - to start doing what we should have been doing all along and to do it all day, every day, for the rest of our lives.'
'Solid Rock and Shifting Sand', in May, was a report of a widespread series of initiatives. Beginning with what El País of Montevideo described as 'the greatest ideological offensive undertaken on the Latin American Continent', led by the Japanese play The Tiger, he ranged through similar campaigns in Asian and African countries and concluded with his own challenge, 'The world is on the knife-edge of decision. We must go all out to save our nations.'
On 4 June 1961 he gave what turned out to be his final call - an autobiography and testament in one, entitled 'Brave Men Choose'. It concluded: 'This is the word of a man on his eighty-third birthday who has spent a long life up and down the world, meeting and knowing men, who has seen the development of two materialist ideologies and the devastation of two world wars, the retreat of freedom and now the advance of a mighty answer ... There is no neutrality in the battle between good and evil. No nation can be saved on the cheap. It will take the best of our lives and the flower of our nations to save humanity. If we go all out for God we will win.'7
Buchman was addressing his challenge not only to the world at large, but also to himself and his closest friends. 'I feel keenly the crucial point we have reached in our lives personally and as a force,' he wrote to two of them. 'We face a desperate moment in the world and we cannot go on living as we have lived.'8 More particularly, the unease he had felt for some years about some of his longest-standing colleagues came to a head. He was in an agony of spirit at what he regarded as his failure to transmit to them the depth of his own experience. Would they be able to tackle the future without him, a situation which could not now be long delayed?
His unease, at this point, focussed on his American colleagues, although it might equally well have been upon the British, Swiss or other national groups, as it had at different times. 'How terribly they have missed God's truth, those Americans who are the apple of my eye,' he dictated early on 18 July. 'I felt this so strongly this morning that I hoped to come and tell you this, but I am weary.' He got Howard to read these words to a meeting of all his American colleagues in Caux that afternoon. 'But God marches on', he added, 'and all those who know the truth shall be made free. It is my consummate wish for you all.'
The meeting was one of a series which took place every afternoon for a month. Garrett Stearly writes that they were 'an endeavour by every possible means to engender in his closest colleagues a more profound and liberating experience of the Holy Spirit. Buchman showed himself thoroughly dissatisfied with our quality of leadership, finding us movement-minded, imitative of himself rather than God-led, encased in an ideological form instead of having freedom to follow the Spirit's new ways ...Daily he tried to bring alive the inward experience of Christ which he had seen in the past in us.'
Buchman's aim was impeccable, but it is doubtful whether repeated meetings were the most effective method of remedying the situation, particularly as Buchman was often too weak to be there himself and had to relay his thinking and his criticisms at second hand. Some of these were inaccurate and others became distorted in transmission. Many of his old friends were left bewildered. In private, when individuals got through to him, Buchman was as helpful as ever. The Stearlys were two of those who went and talked it out with him. They told him of something which had been stopping their spiritual effectiveness. 'Immediately a living affection was reborn.' Others tried but found him too weak to receive them.
The assembly, meanwhile, was hurtling on at its usual pace. By mid-July the six Buddhist abbots who had been sent by the Presiding Abbots' Association of Burma to celebrate the birthday of the man who, they said, 'comes only once in a thousand years', had flown back home. A special plane arrived from South America, and 129 people returned there to reinforce that campaign. Delegations came from Laos and Kenya, and special planes and trains arrived from around Europe. A cable had been received from Prime Minister Kishi on behalf of a number of Japanese leaders in various fields, announcing their intention to 'create this year an MRA Asian Centre in Odawara where the statesmen of East and West can meet and develop a strategy to save our continents'.9 The Prime Minister also announced that he would visit Caux in August, as did Prime Minister U Nu of Burma.
Buchman was forced to spend almost the whole of the summer in bed, coming from his room as often as he could to greet his guests or to see them in his sitting-room. He would wake early and plan for them, or talk over the news with colleagues, decide on action to be taken, have telegrams read to him, and always, morning and evening, asked for the Bible. 'I'm an old horse', he told some guests cheerfully one day, 'and there isn't much left of me. My right side is paralysed and I can't be left alone. I need someone with me all the time. It's an awful job. But I can still keep at it!'
In late July he decided that he needed a break from Caux. Undoubtedly, what he regarded as the unsuccessful time with his American colleagues was still weighing heavily with him. He said to Campbell, 'We must leave these people here and withdraw to a place where we can think through what we are going to do next.' And he reflected to someone else, 'Perhaps I have come to the end of my usefulness for the Group.' But meanwhile the planning for Kishi's and U Nu's visits was at the front of his thinking. Irène Laure, who saw him several times, found his mind as sharp and forward-looking as ever.
On 22 July he wrote to Maria Luz, the daughter of his first host, thirty-three years before, at the Waldlust Hotel in Freudenstadt: 'My heart turns to Freudenstadt and I plan to visit you very shortly. I am very tired and need a real rest, and I want to come back to the old haunts which are always such a fragrant memory. There would be four of us in the party.
'I would like a room with that wonderful view as I have to spend all day resting, and someone has to be on call in the next room all the time.
'What a joy it will be to be with you again.'
On his last morning in Caux he invited a number of friends to his sitting-room. To one he wrote, 'I am going away, tired out, and must have this rest, but God has been very good. I will see you at 2.45 to say goodbye.'
A vase of roses stood on the table beside him, and as each came in he or she was given one. He took his leave, encouraging them in what they were doing - Muriel Smith and Ann Buckles, one of the Swiss who cooked in his kitchen, two friends just arrived from America, Peter and Doë Howard, and a dozen others who would carry forward the daily programme with the thousand guests in Caux. Then, punctual as ever, he left for Freudenstadt.
The wide vistas of countryside, the healthy air of the pine forest, the sense of a leading hand that had brought him back to Freudenstadt, began their refreshing work. Early on the second morning he had the thoughts: 'This is where God first talked to you about the picture of the world's problems. You will be mightily used. First you must get well.'
Two days' rest, and then on the third day the first guest arrived - Prince Richard of Hesse, driving through to spend the weekend at Caux. That morning Buchman had been awake at three. To Paul Campbell he had dictated thoughts that came to him: 'Here God first spoke to you. He will speak again. Make this a centre for the world work. Here you will lay down your life and die. You can see large vistas from here. All Germany will rise up. The winter plans will develop. These three days you are marking time. Prince Richard will be a great help. This Frank Buchmanweg will be a marking point to the whole world. People will come here in droves.'
The Frank Buchmanweg was the path leading up from the Waldlust Hotel into the forest, along which he had walked in 1938 when he had the thought of a 'moral and spiritual re-armament for all nations'. It had been officially named on 17 April 1956 by the Mayor and City Council of Freudenstadt. Buchman had not set foot upon it since that May day in 1938. On 4 August, a glorious summer day, Miss Luz sent him a message that the weather was so perfect he must not miss the sunshine. He came down, to be greeted unexpectedly from a neighbouring lunch table by the Governor of East Pakistan, General Azam Khan, and his Ambassador from Bonn. The Governor wanted to thank him for what he had done for his country, and Buchman gave him a book.
Buchman was pushed the length of the Frank Buchmanweg in his wheelchair and, though he could not read, looked at the signs that mark it for the visitor. Happy but tired he returned to his room. The next day he worked on a message to Caux, and had read to him a letter from Howard there: '"His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour." Yesterday as some of us were telling the latest news to our guests at table, an overwhelming sense of the marvel of what God is doing in the world shook me to my boots. It is an amazing thing to have the chance of living at this time in history and to be concerned with what God is doing through the nations.
'It is joyful to hear your voice so strong and clear on the telephone and I do hope the food and air and strength of the place you are in is refreshing you mightily.'
Buchman was thinking particularly of Kishi's visit to Caux to discuss the Japanese Moral Re-Armament assembly centre. On the morning of Sunday 6 August he felt it urgent to send a cable to Kishi giving him a wide perspective on his visit to Europe. He told him of plans being made for him to meet British leaders in London, and offered him the hospitality of 45 Berkeley Square. He quoted a letter from Eisenhower congratulating the Japanese with The Tiger on their 'splendid crusade', and told him that Attorney-General Robert Kennedy had received members of the cast on his visit to Lima. Then he invited Kishi to bring all his party to Caux with him.
The cable was discussed with Howard in Caux by telephone and dispatched. Buchman was happy in his mind, but weary. 'How are my Americans?' was his final question. The thought that he might die in Freudenstadt had not weighed on him or those with him. There was no sense of imminence. Then at 2 pm he had a sharp pain in his chest. The local specialist, who came immediately, turned out to have paid a visit to Caux on his vacation a few days earlier. He eased the pain. From time to time Buchman became unconscious, but each time he recovered consciousness he wanted to know what news had come in. It was his first question the next morning after a restless night. That afternoon came a further shock, and the doctor's verdict was 'deadly serious'. Friends around the world were notified. Prince Richard came from Kronberg, Howard started immediately from Caux.
As Buchman hovered between life and death his favourite passages from the Bible were read. When Prince Richard read Psalm 23, Buchman caught the sound of his voice and smiled. Then not long after he slipped into complete unconsciousness. At 9.45 in the evening the last breath left him like a sigh.
There was shock and sorrow in the hotel, as in the world beyond. The Luz family, the hotel staff, friends from the town bearing a profusion of roses and garden flowers, filed into the room for a last farewell. One of the hotel maids who had looked after his bedroom was found on her knees beside his bed, and she told of the brief conversation with him which had made her life different.
On Friday 11 August the town of Freudenstadt gave itself to the memory of Buchman. It was host to the hundreds from many countries who poured in, to the official representatives of the German federal and provincial governments, to the black-uniformed Ruhr miners who stood as a guard of honour around the coffin below the 14th-century crucifix in the church. They flocked to the church service in the morning and the public meeting in the Kursaal in the afternoon, and as evening began to fall many walked along the Frank Buchmanweg.
During the last morning of his life, as Buchman lay between two worlds, he took half an hour, interrupted by moments of pain, to say, 'I want Britain to be governed by men governed by God. I want to see the world governed by men governed by God. Why not let God run the whole world?'
1 See Ravines: The Yeman Way (Scribners, 1951), pp. 145-63.
2 Martin MSS.
3 Buchman, pp. 386-8.
4 Buchman to Father Ling, 11 October 1960.
5 Buchman to Mary Reynolds, 26 December 1960.
6 Arturo Lanocita in Corriere della Sera, 23 June 1961.
7 Buchman, pp. 272-307.
8 Buchman to anon. (Martin MSS).
9 Nobusuke Kishi to Buchman, March 1961.