Cover image for Holy clues : investigating life's mysteries with Sherlock Holmes
Holy clues : investigating life's mysteries with Sherlock Holmes
Kendrick, Stephen, 1954-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
192 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR830.D4 K46 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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An unlikely yet utterly engaging new take on Sherlock Holmes: as a spiritual guide and master of a Zen-like approach to observation who can provide insight for the modern, skeptical searcher. Taking inspiration from Holmes's comment to Dr. Watson-- "You see but you do not observe"--Stephen Kendrick examines the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle for the religious and metaphysical lessons they offer. He maintains that detective fiction can be read as religious parable, and that the methods of investigation--particularly that of careful observation, what Buddhism calls "Bare Attention"--used in solving crime are the same methods that yield religious insight when applied to the world and the human heart. the lessons of detection--nothing is insignificant,noticewhat you see, the bizarre is not always mysterious, never presume anything--are also instructions in how to become attuned to the mystery of life and God. Wide-ranging and eclectic in its approach, this is a perceptive and entertaining look at a cultural icon, at the most profound issues of life and death, and at what one has to teach us about the other.

Author Notes

Stephen Kendrick is the author of "Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes". He is the Parish Minister of the Universalist Church of West Hartford, Connecticut, where he lives.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Unitarian minister Kendrick represents the great fictional detective as the prototype of the modern spiritual seeker. He argues that Holmes' five watchwords of detection--nothing is little, notice what you see, the ordinary is deceptive, the bizarre is not necessarily mysterious, presume nothing--well equip anyone to search for God, who, in the modern world, is, like the murderer in a Holmes mystery, not immediately evident though he is immanent. In succeeding chapters, Kendrick demonstrates that Holmes' rationality and his insistence upon material rather than supernatural explanations are thoroughly Christian practices that, followed with Sherlockian rigor, lead seekers to appreciate sin, mercy, and other Christian essentials. Lest one think he is stretching things quite a bit, no matter how well his quotations from the Holmes canon fit his argument, Kendrick points out that Holmes' creator, Conan Doyle, was a lifelong spiritual seeker who eventually accepted Spiritualism yet maintained his famous character as the embodiment of skepticism. Holmes' religious implications may be completely nonincidental, and even irreligious Sherlockians should find Kendrick's book intriguing. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Arthur Conan Doyle's inimitable detective Sherlock Holmes once remarked to his erstwhile assistant, Dr. Watson, "you see, but you do not observe." Kendrick, the parish minister of the Universalist Church of West Hartford, Conn., contends that Holmes's remark functions much like a Zen koan, generating insights into the realm beyond reason. Kendrick engages in a close reading of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories to demonstrate that detective fiction erects a method of discovering truth that requires much of the same engagement that various religions require to discover spiritual insight. Holmes's inquisitiveness and his attention to the details of the case resemble, the author says, what Buddhism calls "bare attention." Following his analysis of the Holmesian "gospel," Kendrick comes to several conclusions: "Our vision is sound; we have to train our hearts and minds to notice what we see"; "Nothing is little; our lives are more significant than we can know; it is often through our pain and guilt that we encounter the hidden God"; "Religion is found not only in the spectacular but in the simple, the ordinary, the plain and everyday, and all this is aglow with the mystery of awe." Kendrick's lively readings of the Sherlock Holmes stories combine a deep sense of how attentiveness to the details of ordinary life can yield extraordinary insights into the life of the spirit. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

At first glance, it seems unusual to combine Sherlock Holmes with the Gospel, but in Kendrick's book the juxtaposition makes sense. Holmes did not preach the gospel, of course, but the methods he uses in his detective work also apply to seeking the divine. Holmes proceeds by paying attentionÄreally paying attentionÄto the smallest and most ordinary of things, by presuming nothing, and by realizing that life is stranger than fiction. As Kendrick, a Universalist minister in Connecticut, notes, this approach will not apply to the fundamentalist who sees no mystery in God or to those who attribute all to blind fate but rather to the majority of us who realize that God requires some seeking. Unusual in its approach, this book may appeal to readers looking for something different in spiritual reading. Recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄJohn Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Libs., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From Chapter One: The Master's Instructions The worst roommate of all time must have been Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who kept tobacco in the toe of his slipper, performed malodorous chemical experiments at all hours, saluted his queen by forming the letters V.R. on his Baker Street walls with bullet holes, and, in general, lived a chaotic and eccentric life. The worst part of all for the faithful John H. Watson, fiction's most famous roomie, must have been the many and wearying demonstrations of his own slowness in the mental department. Dr. John H. Watson is not a fool, but he accepts that part of the bargain of being Holmes's partner in adventure is to have to endure being shown up over and over: "I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbors, but I was always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock Holmes." In fact, it is an old narrative trick, as old as the easily awed questioners of Socrates and the inability of Jesus' disciples to understand the message of their teacher, highlighting genius with an ordinary soul standing in for you and me. Besides, Holmes cannot be a teacher without a dutiful student. At the beginning of the first short story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," Holmes performs his favorite trick, one that often begins the stories. He deduces from small details of Watson's appearance, clothing, and shoes that his friend has been walking in the country, has a careless servant girl, and is back in medical practice. After carefully detailing how he picked up all the little clues, Watson laughs. "When I hear you give your reasons, the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe my eyes are as good as yours." Holmes agrees, and makes one of the most important statements in all the canon: "You see, but you do not observe." Then he challenges Watson to state how many steps lead to 221-B, steps he has climbed hundreds of times. "How many? I don't know." "Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point." The answer is seventeen, a relatively insignificant fact, to be sure, but Holmes is absolutely insistent that each one of us must learn to see this world in just such a clear way. Watson never quite awakens to the fact that he is living with someone as focused as a Zen master, a spiritual teacher who just happens to have a fondness for tracking down criminals. Despite the light tone of the stories and their sly wit, Holmes is not playing a game with his "teachings" but rather enacting quite serious demonstrations about how to truly see our world. These stories are, at last, not just about apprehending criminals, but about apprehending reality. The detective is instructing his friend to learn what Buddhists call "bare attention." An old Zen tale describes a student badgering the teacher Ichu over and over about the core of the teaching. The master writes with his brush the word Attention. Not satisfied, the student asks, "Is that it?" In response, he writes, Attention, Attention. Now irritated, the student replies, "What is profound about that?" Writing the word three times, he calmly answers, "Attention means attention." Which means the moment of perception before our thoughts take over, before our concepts and notions intervene. Bare attention is seeing things as they exactly are. Holmes sees with brilliance, true, but he sees, more importantly, with keen accuracy and without grand theories that twist truth into ideas and down blind alleys. The Buddhist psychotherapist Mark Epstein describes bare attention as "impartial, open, nonjudgmental, interested, patient, fearless, and impersonal." Jesus speaks to this in Matthew, alluding to Isaiah's observation that "You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. . . ." To which Jesus adds: "Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it . . ." (13:16). Not to mention police! You and I are generally used to seeing things the way Watson does. Holmes is not content, however; he clearly thinks anyone can reach insight in the way we approach seeing. The problem is that our usual vision is equivalent to blindness. The Jewish writer Abraham Joshua Heschel states it in another fashion: "The demand, as understood in Biblical religion, is to be alert and open to what is happening. . . . Every moment is a new arrival, a new bestowal." Perhaps the worst sin, then, is to stop paying attention. This chapter is perhaps the very heart of this book, outlining five principles drawn from the Holmes stories that show us how to see with new attention. I caution you, however, not to make the mistake of thinking that simply seeing with our eyes is the point. It is said Helen Keller was once asked if there was anything worse than being blind. She replied, "Having no vision." An intriguing illustration of this is to be found in the Max Carrados detective stories that appeared in the Strand magazine, an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Holmes tales and which, unlike the vast majority of Sherlock's rivals, are actually still readable. (There is nothing as effective for raising your opinion of Arthur Conan Doyle as a writer than to read the dated and painfully dull works written in imitation of him.) The twist is that Max Carrados is blind. In the introductory story, "The Coin of Dionysus," Max tells his friend Carlyle, "Do you know, Louis, I always had a secret ambition to be a detective myself. . . . That makes you smile?" "Well, certainly, the idea--" "Yes, the idea of a blind detective--the blind tracking the alert--" Max replies. But in fact, it is Carrados who solves the mysteries, not his sighted friend. Ernest Bramah wrote of his blind detective that he is "blind, quite blind, but so far from crippling his interests in life or his energies, his blindness has merely impelled him to develop those senses which in most of us lie half dormant and practically unused." It is unlikely that any of us will ever uncover a murderer, but no mystery in our lives can ever be solved without insight and, as we shall see, a little artistic vision. What is dormant within us must be brought to life, made vivid. These following five instructions from the Master are what we need to become people capable of such inner vision and insight. (1) nothing is little (2) notice what you see (3) the deceptiveness of the ordinary (4) the bizarre is not necessarily mysterious (5) presume nothing Excerpted from Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes by Stephen Kendrick All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction Spiritual Fingerprintsp. 3
1 The Master's Instructionsp. 24
2 The Case of the Missing Godp. 50
3 Sherlock Holmes Reads the Book of Lifep. 70
4 No Ghosts Need Applyp. 87
5 God's Spiesp. 109
6 The Heart of the Mysteryp. 127
Epilogue The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmesp. 154
Clues to the Canonp. 161
Acknowledgmentsp. 165
Notesp. 167
Indexp. 181