"We cannot know God in himself. We can only come to know him through our human experience, through creation, through other people."
One evening, when he was about two-and-a-half years of age, and one of his elder sisters had said his night prayers with him and left him to go to sleep, Rev'd Gerry Hughes, SJ remembers sitting up in his bed thinking, and then saying out loud and deliberately, the simple word "God". He wanted to see what would happen; and he was disappointed when apparently nothing did. But it didn’t stop him from continuing to think and try things out, as he went on seeking how to make contact with his God. In fact, this early instance of exploring one’s experience in order to get a response from God in it became typical of Rev'd Gerard W Hughes, SJ throughout his life, as a schoolteacher at Stonyhurst, a university chaplain at Glasgow, a Jesuit tertian director and giver of directed retreats at St Beuno's, a widely sought spiritual adviser in Edinburgh, an acclaimed spiritual writer since his first The God of Surprises and a persistent promoter as far as Westminster of the spirituality of peace. As he was to explain in his book, God, Where are you? it has been a continual pilgrimage for him to pursue his “personal journey of exploration into the mystery of God and of human life,” and to help others do the same, each in their own life and in their own way.
It comes sometimes as a surprise to those who discover Rev'd Gerry Hughes, SJ from his books to learn that there are two of them; and that those who are aware of this are in the habit of referring to him as "Gerry W"; as distinguished from his namesake, "Rev'd Gerry J" Hughes, SJ", who is a fellow-Jesuit and a fellow-Glaswegian, although not a relative. For their Jesuit colleagues, in fact, it is common to refer affectionately to Gerry W, Damon Runyon-like, as "Gerry the walk", recalling his pilgrimages on foot to Rome and to Jerusalem to sort out his experience and his ideas, in contrast with the other Rev'd Gerry Hughes, SJ, who is known as "Gerry the talk", in recognition of his deserved fame as a highly successful lecturer in philosophy!
On 22 March this year, Rev'd "Gerry W, SJ" celebrated his ninetieth birthday at Campion Hall, where he has been Writer in Residence for some time, and where, with his loyal helper, Maggie McCarthy, he is completing his latest book, which he plans, typically, to call Cry of Wonder. The Campion Hall community and some twenty of his close friends whom he has made at various periods in his ministry enjoyed a splendid birthday lunch with him, after which everyone proceeded to the Common Room for champagne and a noble birthday cake decorated with one lit candle, presumably on the basis of one candle for every nearest hundred years.
After general chitchat over the champagne, all were invited to sit round in the comfortable easy chairs and hear Gerry reminisce quietly on his busy life and friends; and then hear others pay simple tribute to him for having clearly been a powerful spiritual and human resource to them, and often a consolation in their need. Then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, Gerry invited everyone, seated as they were, to spend the next thirty minutes in silent prayer, after which he cut and distributed the cake and everyone sang "Happy Birthday to You"! All then went their various ways, strengthened again by the grace of friendship, and praying that God has further delightful surprises in mind for Gerry W. and all his friends.