Sunday 30 December 2018

Dismantling the crib

Creative thinkers have heightened my appreciation of our cribs this year, finishing on Friday with finding this carving outside St Martin-in-the-Fields.

I hadn’t appreciated the role the fourteenth century St Bridget of Sweden had played.  It appears that either a direct portrayal of her vision of the nativity, or an unconscious echo of it, is evidenced  every time a painting has a brighter light radiating from the crib than the one from the candles pictured.  She may also be the one responsible for other details such as Mary’s hair being long and golden.

She also mentions the ox and ass, which had in fact been long included in the scene via legend which, I was reminded elsewhere, developed not so much the hint about the manger in the Gospel account but rather made a theological statement based on to Isaiah 1.3  - the ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

And, most intriguing of all, Neil McGregor observed that subsequent painting came to be more likely to include the magi as three kings than to include the shepherds.  His suggestion was that the commissioning and financing patrons were simply more likely to want to include sumptuously dressed and even crowned figures like themselves.

Which inevitably reminded me that a heavily pregnant young women being shuffled round the country to meet the administrative convenience of occupying forces and quickly then driven out in fear of the child’s life evokes a picture for us more like a Syrian refugee camp than anything else, notwithstanding the status of the displaced family having relatives among the staff of the temple in the capital.

And which did make me notice for myself that the mistake of imagining instead that the place to look would be in the company of kings is actually one that goes back to the very beginning, with the magi as not-so-wise-men-after-all having the next best thing to a neon light pointing them to the right place but instead pitching up at Herod’s Palace as if it was the obvious place at which to inquire instead.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Christmas workload

A further dip into the Haworth registers shows that Patrick Brontë took seventeen christenings and four weddings on his first Christmas Day (1820).  The logistics alone are mind boggling.  I think I was aware that it was an unusually popular day for weddings – simply because Bob Crachit wasn’t the only one for whom it was a rare day off – but I hadn’t anticipated it being so for christenings as well, let alone anticipate such a number.

There had been none on that day the previous year when there wasn’t an incumbent and presumably there wasn’t an alternative clergyman easily available, which reminds me of the arguments going on in those years about enforcing clerical residence – it was said that the non-availability of a resident parson would severely restrict timely access to ministry and in this case (through vacancy rather than habitual non-residence) this was true.

The thought about Bob Crachit made me dip one step further.  Twenty-three years later, in the year that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published (1843), things had eased off a bit.  There were two Christenings on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas Day, one Wedding on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day.  But I note in particular that – forget Tiny Tim – he buried one year old Frances Sugden on Christmas Eve and five month old James Roberts on Boxing Day.

The picture is one of Giuseppe Penone's tree installations at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Saturday 15 December 2018


I find that the only new photographs on my camera are of the picture hanging in the lobby of the Bronte Parsonage Museum of the Duchess of Cornwall's visit in February (I'm in the middle of the reception line and it happens to be my hand she is shaking) and of a section of the Incumbents Board in theParish Church next door (to which my name has just been added).  Make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, I have, as requested, prepared a prayer to use on the platform at Haworth Station this evening when the annual steam Carol Train will pull in and disgorge passengers and a brass band for a carol, a Bible reading and a prayer before they return to the warmth of the carriages and refreshments and move on to the next station:

The angels proclaimed peace and goodwill towards all people,
so we pray for those who will try out patience and goodwill most in the next two weeks. 
We pray for those among our in-laws, relatives and visitors who need a prayer most.   
For those who will monopolise our bathrooms, our drink cabinets and our TV remote controls. 
For those who vote differently to us, and who will tell us why;
for those who don’t vote at all, but who will still put us right anyway.
For those who will want to stay safe indoors when we fancy getting out on the moors,
and for those who will urge us into the cold when we fancy staying snugly inside.
For those who play charades.
For those broadband providers, queues and waiters who we will find too slow.
For those children, neighbours and pubs who we will find too loud.
For the young and old whose temper or stupor will indicate they have had too much.
And we give thanks for those who make it easiest for us to love and appreciate them.
Above all, we pray for the great miracle of grace which would be needed
for each of us to be less judgemental, less irritating and less self absorbed ourselves.
We pray for the peace, and for the good will to all people, of which the angels sang.

Thursday 6 December 2018

Advent apparitions

Cloud lying at the bottom of the Worth Valley (as seen from near Ponden this week) and a newly created arrival at St James', Cross Roads.

Friday 30 November 2018

Mingled yarn

The twice yearly Bradford Area Episcopal Forum took place in the week.  Not so much this time to consult and explore as to brief and encourage those not involved with the Diocesan Synod.  So we heard briefly about its budget (and the human cost of redundancies in diocesan staff was mentioned), the operation of an Intern scheme (where the questions about what is appropriate remuneration and fair access for those unable to finance themselves were not probed) and the importance of parishes having ‘leadership pipelines’ (for the active nurturing and sending on of new leaders, to which the evening’s brief Bible Study related).

Samuel’s journey from before his birth to his anointing of Kings of Israel was the chosen pipeline story, something reflected on in a post here in June.  The recommended Bible Study findings focused an upbeat message – making me recast my earlier reflections in my mind:

Eli had a significant church activity and plant to run and was grateful for the diligent involvement of Samuel, an Intern working with him (albeit on terms which would give rise to significant safeguarding concerns today).  He was able to offer inspired spiritual direction to his Intern and exhibited mature willingness to take the challenging Ministerial Development Review feedback which his Intern offered.  This experience was all foundational for Samuel’s vocational discernment which eventually flowed through to a post of particular responsibility for identifying those to serve at the most senior level, although he then selected deeply flawed leaders whose lack of mental stability and whose sexual exploitation of others (among many other things) eventually brought repeated institutional conflict and crisis.

All consistent with what I have felt to be the important way of reading the confession of Peter, although perhaps I was over reacting to being in a bubble of asserted and encouraged confidence (not to mention one style of loud and repeated praise).  Perhaps I have been over influenced by the sorts of old and new quotations which have come through in the bubble of my Twitter feed in the week (not to mention one style of silent and penitent prayer):

There is an epidemic of certainty and I am increasingly aware of the importance of not knowing.  Jean Sprackland

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair if they were not cherished by our own virtues.  William Shakespeare

Friday 23 November 2018

Jolts needed

I’ve long enjoyed (and pointed out to others) the sense of joyful competition behind provoke one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10.24b) and outdo one another in showing honour (Romans 12.10b). 

Knowing what it is to provoke and to be provoked in a negative manner, I’ve loved the sense that Christian people and communities are intended to get a rise out of each other – to entice or incite each other – in a positive manner.  Alongside this saint, you are impelled into being better.  Alongside these people, you can’t but help reacting well.

When the text came up in the set readings last Sunday it made me notice that, while the pew Bibles in St Michael’s do give provoke (they are the New Revised Standard Version), those at St James’ instead give spur (New International Version).

There are obvious links between provoking and spurring but the discovery sent me back for the first time to the Greek.   I found paroxysmon – which, of course, gets directly into medical English as paroxysm with its sense of involuntary recurring outburst.  Its only other occurrence in the New Testament is about the sharpness of the disagreement which broke out between Barnabas and Paul at Acts 15.39.

So my previous playful reading of the text perhaps missed the suddenness and startlingness of what may be best rendered as to goad or to needle.  Not some gentle supportive environment bringing out the best in me but some definite and unexpected kicks up the backside.

I’ve now just had a quick look at what the New International Version does with the New Revised Standard Version’s outdo one another in showing honour.  It offers honour one another above yourselves. 

Here the root word is proegeomai, which doesn’t show up anywhere else in the New Testament at all.  Its use elsewhere reveals two possibilities.  There is a literal use: a leader setting the example by doing it first.  There is a metaphorical use: preferring.  Either way, my sense of friendly competition (outdo one another) rather underestimates the challenge of pioneering an example and laying aside a focus on my own preferences.

The pictures continue to come from Venice.  It is the lion (with a gospel book) as a symbol of St Mark - and it was everywhere.

Sunday 18 November 2018

The redemption of captives in Algiers

Records of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials at Haworth date back to 1645.  This is about as early as anywhere, although it isn’t unusual (for example, my direct line Mullins ancestors can be traced back in similar records at Box in Wiltshire to the mid seventeenth century but not any earlier). These sorts of records predate registers with standard formats and take the form of annual lists submitted to the Bishop.

The early records at Haworth only survive because in 1786 John Shackleton, the local schoolmaster, made a proper copy in a single volume of the deteriorating, occasionally jumbled and partially lost records.  Twenty years ago Steven Wood, indefatigable local historian, transcribed Shackleton’s work, and has now given me a disc with his transcription.

An interesting feature of the early Haworth records is the notes which appear at the end of each year’s list.  There is nothing systematic about them, simply being what someone like the Parish Clerk at the time thought remarkable – beginning with a huge thunder storm in July 1646 and the Battle of Preston, thirty miles away, in August 1648 (the Parliamentary victory there being welcomed by the writer).

The feature of seventeenth century church and community life which stands out for me is the regular collections made for churches and individuals in need around the country.  Specific references to ‘collectors’ and ‘letters patent’ indicate that someone travelled round the country and turned up with a licence (I discover elsewhere that the term 'church brief' was used) to request or make each collection.

The first reference in 1663 is to supporting the repair of what might be Harwich church and steeple in Essex.  In 1666 there is the first reference to supporting an individual (one shilling for Jo. Osborn, Russian Merchant - for a ransom?).  Ten years later some collections begin to be named for what may be a poor community (two shillings nine pence for the inhabitants of Newent in Gloucestershire) as the poor of Towcester and Wem are named as such two years later.

Different bits of national history emerge.  In 1680 contributions are made for the ‘redemption of captives in Algiers’ and the following year a much larger sum than usual (ten shillings and six pence) for ‘the relief of French Protestants’, so slavery on the North African coast and Louis XIV’s ramping up the persecution of Huguenots would have been well known  in Haworth, and both reappear in subsequent collection lists.

Ten separate collections (a quite unusual number) are recorded in 1683, one in October ‘according to Order for the relief of the poor of the Parish of Newmarket, in Suffolk, impoverished by fire’.  I cross referenced this to a local history site there which records the Great Fire of Newmarket which destroyed half the town five months earlier; the King (who had been staying locally) issuing a ‘fire brief’ which brought in £20,000, to which Haworth records show we contributed four shillings and one penny.

The Virgin and Child is in Venice.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Armistice Centenary

i.m. The Batty brothers  
Bertie (1900-16) & Lou (1912-2005)

The walk to Art School each day
    past the Recruiting Office.
The longed-for coloured crayons
    left ribbon-tied on the bed.
The lengthening gap in time
    after the one field postcard.
The fruitless search for a name
    he might have used to sign up.
The sergeant searching the house  
    when call-up age would have come.
Ninety years on, these stories
    told repeatedly, freshly.

This poem is explained in full by my wife’s Facebook post for today:

My mother's cousin will be laying a wreath at Gartcosh Remembrance Ceremony this morning in memory of Bertie, Herbert Yates Batty, her uncle, my great-uncle, who signed up under-age in 1916 and, having sent one field postcard home that autumn, was never heard from again.  Having signed up under a false name he has never been traced - one of the many unknown, mis-named soldiers buried somewhere in France or Belgium.  His parents never recovered from his disappearance and death, their pain multiplied when their house was later searched by the military police at the time when he was legitimately to have been called up.  I’ve done a piece as part of the '100 Hearts' exhibition by the Embroiderers' Guild which will be on show somewhere in the country.  It includes crayons representing the bundle of coloured crayons, tied up in blue ribbon, that Bertie left on his four year-old brother's bed, the day he left.

Friday 2 November 2018


Those Anglo-Saxons and Germans who first used our word ‘meal’ were talking about a process  – initially the preparation of grain as meal. 

A sense of this is retained when we speak of ‘wholemeal flour’.

They would then have thought of this as a portion - quite different from the modern sense of plenty in our phrase ‘making a meal of it’.  To eat meals would be, for them, to space out consuming the amounts which could be prepared.

A sense of this is retained when we speak of ‘piecemeal’ – piece by piece.

And the delightful discovery of the week has been that they had many such words including dropmeal for ‘drop by drop’ and pennymeal for ‘penny by penny’.

It is enough to provoke the poet.  Why not grief tearmeal or coaxing a child spoonmeal or treatmeal?

Dr Eleanor Parker of Brasenose College, Oxford, whose tweets alerted me to this, says Gerard Manley Hopkins was indeed on to this with autumn characterised as where ‘worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie’.

All a distraction from the fearmeal news of the week: absolute power strangling dissenting voices, more young Gaza protestors becoming victims of live fire, Christian persecutors fermenting insurrection as legal processes actually release one of their victims, anti-Semites gunning down Jewish worshippers.

When the Roman authorities moved against Jesus, they too were swift and efficient.

The earliest account in Mark has a late evening arrest, a middle of the night trial, a condemnation very early in the morning and execution under way by 9.00 a.m. - a process mainly accomplished through the night, perhaps taking less than twelve hours from start to finish.

My sermons at the moment are mainly focussed on this as the clarifying context of the classic texts we are encountering Sundaymeal. 

From Mark 10.32 onwards the crowd are fearful as Jesus strides out ahead towards Jerusalem.  Knowing this gives an urgency and an edge to his repeatedly asking ‘What would you like me to do for you?’, which I dwelt on his doing once each in the Gospel readings for the last two Sundays.  

And I just wonder, for this Sunday, whether the teacher of the law’s question which we now move onto at 12.28 (‘Which is the most important commandment?’) is not laid out as a proposition for Bible Study but rather as a puzzled plea for insight into what can be held onto in a temple in which the tables were turned over the day before and with the Roman authorities about to move decisively.

The answer?  No time for more than the smallest portions.  The iron rations.  Love God with all you are - urged on us even when he is about to cry out that he feels godforsaken.  Love your neighbour as yourself - urged on us even as those closest to him are about to betray.

Whatever they throw at him, at us: God wholeheartedly; neighbour as if he were me.  Godmeal, neighbourmeal.  Enough.  All.      

Friday 26 October 2018

Serving those God is calling

I’m just selecting the most useful bits of a recent Leading Your Church Into Growth conference to feed back to our two Parochial Church Councils over the next couple of weeks. 

Having spent my initial time here holding back on initiating too premature a ‘mission action planning’ process - I wanted to wait to get a real feel for what might be going on here and I also knew this particular bit of training (which the diocese of Leeds requires of those coming newly to work in it) would be coming up - I find that I’ve been here for sixteen months and I have now been to the residential event at Swanwick so I need to change gear in feeding back, consulting and planning.

At the same time, I’ve intrigued myself by trying to ‘translate’ the slogan leading your church into growth into Mullins.

Leading sits slightly uncomfortably with me as the headline definition of an incumbent’s role, although Hebrews does reference it.  I knew the conference leaders were keen on model of a strong leader in schools and in sports, but I suspected that to be uncritical.  The Sunday Gospel readings we’ve been exploring over the last few weeks do suggest that a more dominate biblical theme is serving.

Your is a particular problem, although I’m as prone as many to talking about ‘my parish’.  I’d certainly want to remind myself that this is not mine but God’s.

Church is a less obviously discomforting or problematic, although I serve three churches and fundamentally think of myself as Rector of two parishes rather than of three institutions.  The root biblical word (ek-klesia) offers me a sense of those assembled but more fundamentally a sense of those called out.

Into is probably unobjectionably neutral, although my attention was again caught at our recent Harvest Festivals by the set Gospel for this year which uses the active word seeking.

Growth is striking (we were again told ‘if you are not leading your church into growth, where are you leading it?') but Paul teaches that God gives the growth, most of Jesus teaching about what grows is about the Kingdom of God, and the text about ‘seeking' is definitely about seeking the Kingdom.

So, serving – God’s – called out – seeking – Kingdom take me to something like

'serving those God is calling in seeking God’s Kingdom together'

as at least one possible take on what leading your church into growth might be intended to mean for me.

Meanwhile, two peacocks feeding at a chalice is a ubiquitous Christian symbol in Venice representing the glorious new life fed by the Eucharist.

Monday 22 October 2018

More traditional views

(The bottom one is our hotel.)

Saturday 20 October 2018

Monday 15 October 2018

Boats in Dosoduro

The back canal garage will service your gondola.

Recycling collection day is Monday.

Large ships are not universally welcome.

Sunday 14 October 2018

Saturday 13 October 2018


The word is Venetian and indicates an area where there was a foundry before all such dangerous work was moved away to a neighbouring island.  It was in the New Ghetto area (and later, confusingly, also the neighbouring Old Ghetto area) that the Jewish communities were confined, hence the term arose generally for areas in which Jewish communities were confined in other cities.  The three pictures, the first two showing the exteriors of synagogues within normal housing, are from the same small square in the New Ghetto; buildings became tall as the possibility of expanding sideways did not exist.

Friday 12 October 2018

Ai Wei Wei's Gilded Cage

But, for me, too easily escapable.  The work of his which I've encountered before brought home levels of oppression I hadn't imagined for myself.  Here I was reminded of passing through a caged check point where the experience was of young conscripts of the occupying forces who locked the turnstiles at will out of what felt like indifference or spite.  And, of course, I'm aware periodically of the privileged thoughts and habits from which I rarely escape.

Thursday 11 October 2018


But it is the interior of this church which is beyond imagination and they did not allow photography within.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Peaceable possibility

I had previously been unaware of the dove on the top of the eighteenth century chandelier in the Brontë Memorial Chapel (one of the few surviving furnishings from the pre-1880 Haworth Parish Church) but the shadow visible when sitting in a different position in the chancel for Matins this week made it unmistakable.  It turns out even to have a small metal olive twig in its beak: the desolation around you is not everywhere and so may not always be around you either.

Sunday 30 September 2018

The pursuit of rightness

The only thing I thought I knew about Francis Fukuyama was that he said the fall of Eastern Bloc communism was ‘the end of history’ - and that he was wrong.  A brief and narrow perception or hope that liberal western democracy was the only remaining game in town now seems to be a hubristic confusing of our own quite local passing context with eternal truth.  Any sense that subsequent events and fresh developments would not open up new directions simply seems daft, especially in the face of the reassertion (in our immediate context) and continuation (in the context of swathes of other) of religious and national self assertions.

But I read this week that he didn’t mean that at all.  He wasn’t speaking about ‘end’ in the sense of ‘finish’ but in the sense of ‘ultimate direction’.  He wasn’t predicting that nothing new would happen.  He was sensing and expressing a shift in where our hope was now focussed - not in imposed shared ownership but in chosen shared responsibility.  He was asserting that it was by this criterion that we would be judging things like those religious and national self assertions.

Perhaps there was a touch of President Obama’s ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice’ in what he saw.  Obama was quoting Martin Luther King, who was in turn quoting a popular contraction of a passage in a nineteenth century abolitionist sermon.  Theodore Parker was not saying everything will work out for good in the long-term.  He was expressing, despite the moral confusion and setbacks which he could not understand, a deeper certainty and faith that justice was the criterion by which this all would eventually be judged.  The rightness of emancipation remains clear even as modern slavery is endemic.

So I’ve returned to the concluding words of the scriptures set for Harvest Festival today: ‘seek first the kingdom and righteousness of the Father and all the things you need will be given as well’.  (Tom Wright’s newly published translation  simply offers ‘God’s way of life’ for ‘righteousness’ in this particular text; he says ‘we want a word which can pack ‘justice’, ‘covenant faithfulness’ and ‘right standing or relationship’ all into the same hold; ... there isn’t such a word’.)

‘Seek’ isn’t a casual word.  There are touches of ‘search’ and ‘pursue’ about it.  Chase determinedly anything consistent with a final goal of justice, chosen shared responsibility and being in the right place before God.  It is towards there that our universal moral compass swings. That is our end.  Everything else follows – even when so much of what we experience seems to contradict this.  

Meanwhile, the flocks of birds apparently flying around St James’, Cross Road’s for the Harvest Festival this morning were created by the young people there to reflect an earlier part of the reading: ‘Have a good look at the birds in the sky – they don’t plant seeds, they don’t bring in the harvest, they don’t store things in barns – but your father in heaven feeds them’.

Sunday 23 September 2018

Not a transaction we initiate

When Communion is celebrated, the intersection of time and eternity is such that we are remembering something we didn’t experience and looking forward to something we can’t imagine.

It sounds a bit like a sentence by Rowan Williams – and it was said at a lecture he gave for the clergy of the diocese in Ripon Cathedral this week – but it was actually something said by a Hospital Chaplain as he thanked the speaker.

Rowan Williams is, of course, always worth hearing and always stretching (as here and here ten years ago and here two years after that – all insights to which I return frequently and gratefully); I’ve even got something out of those parts of his 2013 Gifford Lectures I’ve been able to understand (although I discover that my bookmark is stubbornly half way through the third of the six lectures where it has been for a very long time). 

I remember especially a piece of work he did (with Sarah Coakley) in the 1980s which highlighted the sense that our praying is always the work of God – we can become aware in our silence that we are caught up in the exchange of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit which is the life of God. 

Romans 8’s reminder that the Son takes the needs of the world to the right hand of the Father, and the Spirit makes our inarticulate groans into prayers, means that this isn’t something remote from human experience and hope.

So his lecture this week was indeed about prayer not being a transaction we seek to initiate but a slipping into action always already going on, something taking us into and towards the new creation which is God’s desire and purpose.  And Romans 8 was his primary reference.

But, this time, I've come home still dwelling on the Hospital Chaplain's paradox - with Jesus life and the Kingdom of God both close and within.

And I've also been thinking about a young member of the clergy in the row behind me who spent a quite inordinate amount of time on her mobile phone.  I wondered how her apparent need to be connected made her appear so disconnected from the experience and insights to which the Bishop of Leeds had explicitly asked us to take time together away from out busyness elsewhere.

It turned out that she was tweeting – distilling and sharing what was being said - and it was in fact me who was spending the time being distracted by judgmental thoughts even while listening to Rowan Williams carefully call me yet again to lay myself in silence before God (thus vulnerable, he suggested, to the possibility that I would see myself ever more clearly as my senses adapting to be in the light of Christ).

The picture is another one of light again this week spilling into St James’, Cross Roads .

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Having one Herbal by me

A few months ago, I was shown the medical dictionary which Patrick Brontë owned and annotated.  Published in 1823 (when he had been incumbent of Haworth for three years) it is touching that some of his most detailed notes in it relate to alcoholism (alcohol abuse contributed to or caused the death of his only son) and cataract surgery (which he underwent himself without anaesthetic).

The Brontë Society staff member who showed it to me wondered how common it would have been for an Anglican incumbent of the time to have such a dictionary.  I didn’t know that, but I did know that 175 years earlier the most influential guide book to Anglican ministry (George Herbert’s County Parson) strongly recommended the parson “seeing one Anatomy, reading one Book of Physic, having one Herbal by him”, the latter to enable the preparation of remedies (“for salves, his wife seeks not the city, but prefers her garden and fields before all outlandish gums”).

It set me to wondering what the equivalent might be for me.  Clearly the National Health Service has removed or greatly reduced the need for a country parson to act as a medical practitioner, although I was being encouraged recently by an ecumenical colleague to make sure that some people in our churches had First Aid qualifications as a basic part of our safeguarding provision.

It is actually a short course as a Mental First Aider which I need to undertake next; other local clergy have highly commended a piece of locally provided training of this sort.  It links with a larger piece of work in which the ecumenical colleague and I have been engaged alongside the ‘social prescriber’ who is based at Haworth’s Medical Centre.

Social prescribing was being explored in North East Lincolnshire in 2015 and it lies behind the column I wrote for the Keighley News a few weeks ago.  The social prescriber’s role is to give proper attention to a patient referred to him or her as potentially being better prescribed society rather than medicine.  This involves the social prescriber having an extensive informed knowledge of local provision (perhaps health walking groups, bereavement support groups or social groups for the potentially isolated - much of which may well be provided by churches or at least use church premises).

When we met our local social prescriber, we asked him which needs he found most difficult to meet – what gaps there are in local provision.  He said it was the needs of men, often in middle age, and most often with mental health problems.  I was already aware of a family in the village raising money for MIND following the suicide of a young mother last year (those who order their Mermen for MIND calendar will find me in the background in November – so do so) and my colleague was already supporting someone seeking to establish a mental health peer support group. 

So we have worked with others to kick start an informal forum in Haworth (we’ve just had our second lunch and chat together, with churches, Councillors, Medical Centre and police among those represented) and we have been following this up with those who do provide mental health support not too far away to make sure more does happen in the Worth Valley soon.

I’ve also had pastoral contacts recently which provoke a quite different idea about what the modern equivalent of Herbert’s ‘Herbal’ and Bronte’s medical dictionary would be for a contemporary parson.  I suspect it would be an on-line subscription to the sort of professional website with up-to-date information about benefit legislation, the sort of web-site which advice centres and lawyers access.  But that is for another day.

The mask was produced at Friday Church at St James’, Cross Roads last week as we continue to prepare for Harvest Festival this year when the set Gospel reading will be about the way in which birds do not worry about fashion or barn storage.

Sunday 9 September 2018

Wuthering Heights' Half Life

There are two views of Wuthering Heights.

One is gained from reading the book, from which flow reactions of at least admiration, analysis, astonishment, criticism, cynicism, emotional engagement, disbelief and vituperation in a variety of measures.

The other is gained from a general cultural impression of an abiding and tragic love story set on wind-swept moors, something which in the end is quite detached from the book itself.

Lauren Livesey, a member of the staff at the Bronte Society, drew attention to this divide in a lively talk at the Parsonage Museum last week.

She located the 1939 film starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon as the turning point.  Everything  from the film’s primary focus on the two characters of Heathcliff and Cathy to its omission of the second half of the book created the new cultural impression, she suggested, which others have closely followed since.

She pointed out that this happened half the way back to the publication of the book.  Not quite so - 1847-1939 is 92 years and 1939-2018 is 79 years - but the basic point is illuminating; basically, the alternative Wuthering Heights is a television-era product and dominates all living memory.

She spoke of the Monty Python 1970 sketch which turned the book into sweeping semaphore signals between Heathcliff and Cathy (and then her husband and others), a spoof which would simply not have worked if it wasn’t referencing a recognised culturally embedded image.

She also spoke about Kate Bush saying her song (which the Monty Python sketch was not referencing as the song was actually produced later in the 1970s) emerged from her awareness of the story rather than from her having read the book.

So some of those who react emotionally to Emily Brontë’s burial place in our church have been engaging with the book at many levels over a long period.  And others are doing so because they resonate with the second Wuthering Heights.

I’m grateful to the talk for making sense of this to me – previously I had been much more puzzled about what model of marriage could possibly be in the mind of those from far away who even request we conduct or bless their weddings in our church.

Lauren also showed us a long clip from a film of Pride and Prejudice which she said serious Jane Austen fans found mystifying as it has Elizabeth Bennet stand on a rocky promontory on a wind-swept moor amidst swirling music – the viral form of Wuthering Heights somehow infecting the more genteel home counties’ story.

It did mean we could exchange stories.  Lauren’s was simply of the tour guide telling people that Pride and Prejudice was written in the Parsonage.  Mine was of a recent visitor to Emily’s Brontë’s grave telling me she had also recently visited Winchester Cathedral and seen there the grave of Jane Eyre.

The picture is a further view of Chiharu Shiota’s installation at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Saturday 1 September 2018

Forgotten praise made visible

Breaking a long journey home on the M1, we pulled off at Junction 38 to enjoy the Yorkshire Sculpture Park again.

Mr Finch’s hand-sewn woodland animals – sort of higher-class textile Beatrix Potter illustrations – were hugely popular.  Apparently they are part of ‘a magical kingdom’ where their ‘job it is to collect and sort other creatures’ wishes, which are breathed into envelopes and posted in toadstool postboxes’. 

The imagination and workmanship were superb, but I couldn’t quite shake off the judgmental thought that this was typical of a nation which has largely forgotten how to pray, especially as we then, almost symbolically, walked across the grounds to the disused eighteenth century estate Chapel.

There we found it was full of thread woven together by Chiharu Shiota, a European-based Japanese artist.  She wanted the vacated and vacant silent space to make visible the music which has been offered there over many years, some sheets of which were intertwined in the thread.  Her work bursts out of the skeleton of a piano and forms shapes some of which are reminiscent of mediaeval stone arches and vaulting.

She writes of making a connection with the ‘collective consciousness’ of the Chapel, and it was an obvious step from there to T.S. Eliot’s often quoted

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion.  You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report.  You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

In fact I dwelt not on Little Gidding but on Common Worship’s

From the beginning you have created all things
and all your works echo the silent music of your praise.
In the fullness of time you made us in your image,
the crown of all creation.
You give us breath and speech that with angels and archangels
and all the powers of heaven
we may find a voice to sing your praise.

Some people find praying about an echo of silent music problematic rather than poetic, but here it was.  It took me back to what I take to be the phrase’s origin at the beginning of Psalm 19 (I haven’t yet been able to chase down a specific reference to justify the claim that the phrase is attributable in this form to John of the Cross):

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

Looking up the Psalm now, I find that the use of the word voice may not be fully justified here.  Apparently, the Hebrew is (measuring) line, although early Greek, Latin and Syriac translations do have sound which is why this is followed in many English translations.  Perhaps it is the creator's metre which we detect in Chiharu Shiota’s threads – as much a reflection of invisible structures as an echo of silent music.