Friday 13 March 2015

More Lent Talks

When we began this blog our aim was to be scrupulously fair to the BBC - even though we suspected that being unscrupulously unfair to the BBC might work better, given that no one (except, possibly, a Loadicean) really likes a Laodicean. 

So, persisting with that lukewarm spirit (and in spite of any potential spitting-out), I really, really feel the need to add something to our previous posts about Radio 4's annual series of Lent Talks - pieces I've been listening to for years.

Our previous posts have laid out, in some detail, the programme's past record of (by and large) promoting liberals, leftists and Muslims at the expense of conservative/traditional Christian believers and, thus, giving what I believe (rightly, if I say so myself) to be compelling evidence of BBC bias.

And we've had years of that (eight years, to be specific).

This year's talks, however - so far - have been absolutely beyond reproach. In fact I'd go so far as to say that I've found the first three episodes (the ones broadcast so far) to be among the most rewarding features that I've heard on Radio 4 for a long time.

They have been beautifully-written, insightful pieces from Christian believers which even I, a non-believer, have can I say?...illuminating and...dare I say?...thrilling.

First came crime writer James Runcie's piece (yep, son of Robert). His piece began by outlining how his work is rooted in traditional crime fiction and medieval mystery plays before moving onto envisioning the story of Christ's Passion as a contemporary thriller complete with plot twists, a whodunit aspect (spoiler alert: it was God) and a (surprise) happy ending. It may sound a bit naff, like a Thought for the Day talk, but it wasn't. Far from it. It was gripping. I think C.S. Lewis would have approved:
Twist Two:  The revelation of the Murderer.  In all the night-time confusion of the drama the viewer is left wondering who is ultimately responsible for Christ’s death; is it Caiaphas, Herod, Judas, Pontius Pilate, or the soldiers who nailed him to the cross? Could any of these suspects admit their guilt or become the solution to the mystery? 
Well, it turns out none of them can claim responsibility because all of these actions were plotted by an over-arching mastermind who has been behind the whole thing all along. That mastermind is, of course, God.  
This is the plain and shocking truth of the Passion. God is the murderer of Jesus. He may not have physically nailed his Son to the cross, but death was inevitable. 
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” 
This leads to:
Twist Three: It’s not death, but life.   
The final twist is one of transformation. The mystery genre is subverted. Through the Resurrection we have a happy ending; tragedy is transformed into what, in its broadest sense, we can call a comedy, the happy ending that is the salvation of mankind.  
Then came former Only Fools and Horses actress (turned writer) Kate Saunders and her piece on Anglo-Catholicism - warm, ritual-loving, nostalgic, 'Smells and Bells', Victorian-born Anglo-Catholicism. Her descriptions of the Lenten/Eastertide rituals of Anglo-Catholicism were spellbinding:
Lent is a time of penitence and mourning, and that is taken quite literally in an Anglo-Catholic church, where all the statues and Crucifixes wear purple shrouds.
The colour and theatre burst back on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter Sunday, arguably the most dramatic performance of the year. We're commemorating the origin of the Mass itself; the Passover supper that Jesus shared with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem, where he first consecrated the bread and wine, and gave it to his disciples as his body and blood.  In an Anglo-Catholic church, the scene will be set with a choir and possibly an orchestra and crowds of servers in satin and lace.
After the singing and bells, however, comes the solemn Stripping of the Altars, where everything decorative in the church is ceremoniously removed - like striking the set at the end of a run in the theatre, or clearing the table after Christmas lunch. After the Stripping comes the Vigil - that is, hours of silent worship in the Chapel of the Reserve Sacrament. Technically the Vigil should last all that night. I've never been hard enough to go through a decent vigil - by that stage in the week, I'm half-dead from incense-fumes and my knees have callouses - but I can't tell you how beautiful the Chapel looks in the candlelight - how hushed and mysterious. 
It transported me into a world I didn't know too much about (having been brought up fairly-high Anglican). Yes, she added cautionary notes, but she affirmed her faith it the end. I was floating in incense for several minutes afterwards. I strongly recommend it.

Then came the talk from Catholic poet Michael Symmons Roberts (librettist for the wonderful contemporary composer James MacMillan). This was a tougher listen, being suffused with modernist poetry - and, even more, the spirit of modern poetry. It made me Google up some poems by the two unfamiliar American poets he dwelt on, and made me want to read Rilke (though I've not gone quite that far yet!).

He focused on Christ's wounds - those wounds so graphically depicted by Medieval/Renaissance artists, where "thirsty saints pucker up to drink the blood from the spear wound in Christ’s side, or gaze lovingly at lurid close-ups of the nails puncturing his hands and feet", which he said were, perhaps "the hardest mental leap for a contemporary observer". He himself has confronted those very wounds via poetry, with one sequence of poems ending with the speaker climbing inside one, imagining it as a place of refuge and healing. He asks, "But what could that possibly mean?" Though no longer an atheist, he's still not sure. And, as an atheist, I'm unsure too.

Next week comes Quentin Letts. No left-liberal Muslim he. Still a gulp: Will he don fez and dressing gown (as he does on TV) and spoil the series with flippancy? Hopefully not.

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