Sunday, 26 January 2020

literary life- and boredom

I have given up trying to read' The Silmarillion'. I started it when it first came out, over forty years ago, when my enthusiasm for Tolkien had already waned a little, and I had passed on to literary pastures new.  And read so far, and no further. But a review of the bookshelves revealed a number of unread  or unfinished tomes- this was one of them. I set to work, but reluctantly gave up after about two hundred pages. Reluctant because I usually read a book to the end, and hate to give up, however turgid the offering.
I got lost in the detail, couldn't make the connections, could see no overarching narrative. I fell into that group which one reviewer identified when The Silmarillion was first published; 'it will probably be bought by more people than will read it'.

No overarching narrative; it's concerned with a mythic past, but has no projection into the present or future. Okay, so many books are 'just a history' with no present or future about them, but Tolkien aimed higher, I understand. He aimed to give us our equivalent of the Nordic sagas, earth us in a grand narrative that is entirely our own.

Except, of course, we already have one, which has earthed us,- and heaven'd us- for the last two thousand years, and continues to be- despite all claims to the contrary by the chattering classes of one sort or another, the bedrock on which we stand.

I am far from bored when I read 'In the beginning...'- the opening words of the Old Testament, and the gospel of John. And the grand narratives of the Revelation to finish. And in between the cosmic theology of Paul's epistles, the shocking authority of Jesus, the heroes and villains, the tender love of God. All human life is there!- something absent from The Silmarillion.     

Saturday, 18 January 2020

The landscape of faith

I thought until recently I had some sort of understanding of the geography, as it were, of the faith; after all, I've talked it, prayed it, professed it, preached it for 50+ years. I thought I had a 'map', with, if not all the details (by no means all the details!) then at least the salient features; baptism, prayer, the sacraments, etc.
But a hard evaluation has shown me that I have some understanding of the small hinterland around me, and that is all. Why I was so foolish to think that I had a bigger picture, I can only put down to vanity and pride.
My thoughts go back to Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress'- that seminal book which has had so much influence on personal devotion in English homes since its publication in 1678. (Since when it's never been out of print, I'm told). A grand landscape emerges in the book- as it does in C S Lewis's 'Narnia' chronicles. Christian ranges far and wide through rivers, bogs, mountains, byways, highways and the rest to come to the Celestial City. And all these places have their symbolic meanings; compared to which my narrow and small experience is as nothing.

'Bloom where you are planted' says the adage. So although my experience, range, understanding, and practice of the faith may be, as it were a small garden, my task is to nurture that, and venture out from there and learn to inhabit a bigger picture. The Delectable Mountains still call. Here is opportunity to tend a small garden, with my eyes and heart ready to explore a grander landscape. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020


After more than sixty years, I can still remember by heart most of the verses from Matthew chapter 2 which tell the story of 'wise men from the east' come to seek the Christ child. Our primary school class learned it, under the direction of our teacher Miss Vickers, for the school carol service when I was nine in Junior 3, and if memory serves, we recited it again when in Junior 4.

Strange what stays. I can see us know, on the risers, reciting this to parents in the hall in front of us. We were a large class- thirty plus. I wonder how many of them, like me, come into contact with that reading, and can say it, all over again?

'Wise men from the east, come to worship him'.And bring gifts- gold, frankincense, myrrh. It's one of the important readings from scripture which met us this first week in in this Epiphany season, when Jesus is manifested to a wider world than his own people. By the grace of God, he has manifested himself to me over the years, and I'm grateful. My gifts to him have been adoration, forgetfulness, wilfulness, disobedience, surrender, anger, love. The best and worst of my life. And the mediocre in between. But like the wise men, his bright star draws me on, into a mystery I don't understand, but know is true, just as the wise men must have felt in presenting gifts to a child they believed was a prophet, priest and king, judging by their gifts, but found in an ordinary house far from palaces and the trappings of royalty.

'Show me the way'- it's a prayer I often make, an acknowledgement that the Bright Morning Star I follow is the true one, even though it leads I know not where,and has mystery about it. But in the mystery, grace and truth above all, .     

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Twelfth Night etc

Tonight is Twelfth Night; but I wonder how many people know what this refers to? 'Isn't it a play by Shakespeare....? Something about misrule, the world turned upside down? Yes, but the reference is originally to  the last day in the season of Christmas. 'Season of Christmas? what do you mean? 
In the Christian calendar, Christmas is a season of twelve days, and today is the last of them. Tomorrow we begin the season of Epiphany- a difficult word, which means 'showing' or 'manifestation'.
Let's go back to basics. The Christian year has a shape to it; it starts in Advent, at the end of November, and climbs, as it were, to a mountain top for the twelve days of Christmas, after which it gently descends again through Epiphany, and some 'Ordinary Time' to Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Then a longer climb, over roughly six weeks, to the mountain top of the Easter season, where we stay for another six weeks till Pentecost, when we gently descend again through Ordinary Time till the beginning of Advent, when the whole process starts again. The climbs and descents are indicative of  the importance of the season, rather than anything else, in the picture I have drawn.
It all has something to say about the life of Christ, the love of God, and our response to different points of his life. I wonder, as we begin a new season- Epiphany-, what God will show me? show you? How God will manifest Godself to me? to you? And are open to it? Today's gospel talks of Jesus being 'full of grace and truth'. May we apprehend at least some of that, be apprehended by grace and truth, so that any misrule, anything upside down in our lives and experience may be righted, and ourselves set on our feet, as on a rock .