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Tolkien & Golding: The Importance of Myth in the Literature of a Civilization.   Leave a comment

There is a built-in resistance to myth among many students of the Bible and Theology. This is because they have not been taught, or had not taken in, the importance of myth in the literature of a civilization. No doubt they have in mind the creation myths in the book of Genesis, and probably the best way to demolish this particular ‘language block’ is to embark upon a short course of study about the myths of the world, both ancient and modern. These stories offer diverse ways of approaching fundamental issues at so many different levels; allegorical, symbolic, representational, satirical and literal. They have been used to come to terms with, explain and convey information about all aspects of life. Some deal with the great mysteries of the universe, the origins of life and death; some teach about the natural world, the environment and the animal kingdom; many examine the world of mankind, reflecting different cultures, histories, beliefs and customs but ultimately centring on many of the same basic concerns about human experiences, relationships, aspirations and defects. They can teach students of all ages to respect and appreciate differences between cultures at the same time as developing an understanding of how much is common to all mankind.

Many older students reject these stories as childish fairy tales or treat them as ‘fake’ history, primitive chronicles of real happenings. But this is to miss the true significance of myths. They are not legends like the tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood, though these may contain mythological elements. The subject of the great myths of the world is always a fundamental and intractable human problem. The stories deal with the most fundamental questions of morality and conscience because they work indirectly, rather than through direct confrontation. The myth is a distinct form of literature, which states and analyses that problem not by means of a philosophical or ethical argument, but in the form of a story which captures the reader’s imagination and stimulates their emotions. As Margaret Leona and Margaret Marshall have written, respectively, they speak to our feeling in an unforgettable way; they evoke response, recognition, identification. They enable us to enter a process of self-discovery.

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It is significant that many of the finest myths are concerned with the problem of power; the peril of allowing all power to be gathered into one man’s hands. Daedalus and Icarus and the myth of Faust in its various forms are two examples. J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, though not perhaps a myth in the technical sense, is also about the problem of power. Before the film versions of these stories, they were beloved by a small group of readers who were fascinated by Tolkien’s mythology more than by their dramatic effect. Many others regarded the stories as childish nonsense or denigrated Tolkien’s literary style as too descriptive, using too many adjectives. Nevertheless, the mythological element of The Return of the King, with its echo of the Arthurian legends has continued to illuminate Lord Acton’s phrase, Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

The myth of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden seems to have had several interpretations put upon it in the course of its literary history. One of these meanings, perhaps the original one, is precisely the danger of unrestricted power. Eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree and your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen. 3: 5). It is the temptation to seize the power which rightly belongs only to deity.

There is a modern version of the myth of Eden in William Golding’s well-known story, The Lord of the Flies which, as it happens, my fifteen-year-old son is reading at the moment. It tells of a number of schoolboys who, being evacuated by air in a future war, find themselves on an uninhabited island after their plane crashes. The only survivors, the boys assemble on the beach and wait to be rescued. By day they inhabit a land of bright fantastic birds and dark blue seas, but at night their dreams are haunted by the image of a terrifying beast. As the boys’ delicate sense of order fades, so their childish dreams are transformed into something more primitive, and their behaviour starts to take on a murderous, savage significance.

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The story revolves around the struggle for leadership between two of the boys. One is Ralph, twelve years old, strongly built, with a mildness about his mouth and eyes that proclaimed no devil. The other is Jack, a boy with hunter’s instincts, and eyes turning, or ready to turn, to anger. The parallels between the myth of Eden and The Lord of the Flies Jack’s gang sets fire to the island by mistake as they try to smoke Ralph out of his hiding place: when Adam and Eve are driven from the garden, cherubim with flaming swords guard the way to the tree of life.

In his introduction to the ‘Golding Centenary’ (2011) edition of the book (originally published in 1954), the New England novelist Stephen King quotes Golding’s introduction to his own reading on the audio version of the book:

One day I was sitting one side of the fireplace, and my wife was sitting on the other, and I suddenly said to her, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a story about some boys on an island, showing how they would really behave, being boys, and not little saints as they usually are in children’s books.” And she said, “That’s a first-class idea! You write it!” So I went ahead and wrote it. 

Stephen King commented that he was unprepared for what he had found between the covers of the copy of Lord of the Flies he borrowed from the ‘Adult Fiction’ section of the mobile library in the 1960s:

… a perfect understanding of the sort of beings I and my friends were at twelve or thirteen, untouched by the usual soft soap and deodorant. Could we be good? Yes. Could we be kind? Yes again. Could we, at the turn of a moment, become little monsters? Indeed we could. And did. At least twice a day and far more frequently on summer vacations, when we were left to our own devices.

Golding harnessed his unsentimental view of boyhood to a story of adventure and swiftly mounting suspense. To the twelve-year-old boy I was, the idea of roaming an uninhabited tropical island without parental supervision at first seemed liberating, almost heavenly. By the time the boy with the birthmark on his face (the first little un to raise the possibility of a beast on the island) disappeared, my sense of liberation had become tinged with unease. And by the time the badly ill – and perhaps visionary – Simon confronts the severed and fly blown head of the sow, which has been stuck on a pole, I was in terror. ‘The half-shut eyes were dim with the infinite cynicism of adult life,’ Golding writes … That line resonated with me then, and continues to resonate all these years later…

By the time I reached the last seventy pages … I understood not only that some of the boys might die, but some would die. It was inevitable. I only hoped it wouldn’t be Ralph, with whom I identified so passionately that I was in a cold sweat as I turned the pages. No teacher needed to tell me that Ralph embodied the values of civilization and that Jack’s embrace of savagery and sacrifice represented the ease with which those values could be swept away; it was evident even to a child. Especially to a child, who had witnessed (and participated in) many acts of casual schoolyard bully-ragging…

If the novel is strictly about emotion and imagination … then analysis is swept away … I agree that ‘This blew me away’ is pretty much a non-starter when it comes to class discussion of a novel (or a short story, or a poem), but I would argue it’s still the beating heart of fiction … Nor does a visceral, emotional reaction to a novel preclude analysis. I finished the last half of ‘Lord of the Flies’ in a single afternoon, … not thinking. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since, for fifty years and more. …

What I keep coming back to is Golding saying, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a story about some boys … showing how they would really behave.”

It was a good idea. A very good idea that produced a very good novel, one as exciting, relevant and thought-provoking now as it was when Golding published it in 1954.

I was a similar age to my son when I first read the book, aged fifteen. I think it was a set text for my English Literature ‘O’ Level in 1973. I remember it making a similar impact on me, and reading the second half rapidly. But then I had to analyse it, and I remember that I had been baptised the year before in my father’s Baptist Church. So I got the references to the Garden of Eden Myth and Golding’s belief in original sin. This theme was also a dominant element in another of Golding’s novels, The Spire, which I studied for ‘A’ Level two years later. It is based ‘loosely’ on the building of Salisbury Cathedral’s spire. In the story, Dean Jocelin has a vision: that God has chosen him to erect a great spire on his cathedral. His mason anxiously advises against it, for the old cathedral was built without foundations. Nevertheless, the spire rises octagon upon octagon, pinnacle by pinnacle, until the stone pillars shriek and the ground beneath it swims. Its shadow falls ever darker on the world below, and on Dean Jocelin in particular. These stories and themes have stayed with me over the last five decades in a way which much of the theology studied since has not. That is because Golding’s re-telling of the Eden Myth connects immediately with the emotions, challenging the intellect and convicting the soul.

Sources:

William Golding (1954, 2011), Lord of the Flies. London: Faber & Faber.

Robert C Walton (1970), A Source Book of the Bible for Teachers. London: SCM Press.     

      

 

Nineteenth and Twentieth Century English: Change and Continuity in the Language.   2 comments

Grammarians and Reformers:

William Cobbett (1763-35), the self-educated farmer’s son from Farnham in Surrey, who had served in the army in Canada from 1785 to 1791, then returned to England to become a journalist. He began a weekly newspaper, The Political Register, in 1802 as a Tory, but soon became converted to the radical cause of social and Parliamentary reform. After the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832, he became an MP, continuing to write for and edit The Political Register until his death. In 1817, following the suspension of habeas corpus (freedom from imprisonment without trial), Cobbett was back in North America, from where he continued to write his newspaper. He wrote about how the use of the concept of vulgarity in language was used to deny the value and meaning of petitions to Parliament:

The present project… is to communicate to all uneducated Reformers, ‘a knowledge of Grammar’. The people, you know, were accused of presenting petitions ‘not grammatically correct’. And those petitions were ‘rejected’, the petitioners being ‘ignorant’: though some of them were afterwards put into prison for being ‘better informed’…

No doubt remains in my mind that there was more talent discovered, and more political knowledge, by the leaders among the Reformers, than have ever been shown, at any period of time, by the Members of the two houses of parliament.

There was only one thing in which any of you were deficient, and that was in the mere art of so arranging the words in your Resolutions and Petitions as to make these compositions what is called ‘grammatically correct’. Hence, men of a hundredth part of the ‘mind’ of some of the authors of the Petitions were enabled to cavil at them on this account, and to infer from this incorrectness, that the Petitioners were a set of ‘poor ignorant creatures’, who knew nothing of what they were talking; a set of the ‘Lower Classes’ who ought never to raise their reading above that of children’s books, Christmas Carols, and the like.

For my part, I have always held a mere knowledge of the rules of grammar very cheap. It is a study, which demands hardly any powers of mind. To possess a knowledge of those rules is a pitiful qualification…

Grammar is to literary composition what a linch-pin is to a waggon. It is a poor pitiful thing in itself; it bears no part of the weight; adds not in the least to the celerity; but, still the waggon cannot very well and safely go on without it…

Therefore, trifling, and even contemptible, as this branch of knowledge is ‘in itself’, it is of vast importance as to the means of giving to the great powers of the mind their proper effect… The grammarian from whom a man of genius learns his rules has little more claim to a share of such a man’s renown than has the goose, who yields the pens with which he writes: but, still the pens are ‘necessary’, and so is the grammar.

Cobbett therefore wrote A Grammar of the English Language in the same year, in order to satisfy that desire which every man, and especially every young man, should entertain to be able to assert with effect the rights and liberties of his country. At the same time, he cautioned his educated young readers against calling the Hampshire plough-boy… ignorant for his colloquialisms such as Poll Cherrycheek have giv’d I thick handkercher. It would be wrong to laugh at him, because he has no pretensions to a knowledge of grammar, but yet may be very skilful as a plough-boy. As Olivia Smith remarked, in her 1984 book, The Politics of Language 1791-1819 (OUP), Cobbett considered grammar, in short, as an integral part of the class structure of England, and the act of learning grammar by one of his readers as an act of class warfare.

It is clear that no significant differences in the grammar of Cobbett’s writing separate today’s language from the English of the early nineteenth century. What we now call Standard English has been established for over two hundred years, since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, at least. It is the only form of the language, together with its North American variant, which obtains universal acceptance. This seems to contradict the linguistic statement that all living languages are in a constant state of change. However, the grammatical innovations since Cobbett’s day are developments of established features, rather than of fundamental changes. Once a standard form of writing becomes the norm, then the rate of change in the grammar is slowed down considerably. At the same time, however, there have been significant lexical shifts and changes, plus modifications in pronunciation, especially in recent decades.

Vocabulary:

As there has been a constant change in the vocabulary of the language over the past two hundred years, it almost goes without saying that there have been many losses of gains of words since the eighteenth century. English is a language that has taken in and assimilated words from many foreign languages to add to the core vocabulary of Germanic, French and Latin words. I have more to write about this later, in connection with the late twentieth century.

Spelling:

The standard orthography was fixed in the eighteenth century by the agreed practice of printers. Dr Johnson set down accepted spellings in his Dictionary of 1755, and also recorded some of the arbitrary choices of ‘custom’:

… thus I write, in compliance with a numberless majority, ‘convey’ and ‘inveigh’, ‘deceit’ and ‘receipt’, fancy and phantom.

A few words found in the original versions of eighteenth century texts have changed in spelling, such as cloathing, terrour, phantasy and publick, but there are not many. More recently, it has become acceptable to change the ‘ae’ spelling in words like archaeology to ‘e’ – archeology. Some American spellings have also become acceptable in Britain, such as program, mainly as a result of its use in computer programming. With few exceptions, however, it is true to say that our spelling system was fixed over two centuries ago, and that every attempt to reform it, e.g. with a more phonetic system, has failed.

Grammar:

While the underlying rules of grammar have remained unchanged, their use in speech and writing has continued to develop into forms that distinguish the varieties of language use since the eighteenth century. This can be described in terms of ‘style’ and ‘register’. In present-day English we can observe, in some varieties of language use, a greater complexity in both the noun phrase and the verb phrase.

Modifiers of nouns normally precede the head of the noun phrase (NP) when they are words (normally adjectives or nouns) or short phrases, as in a/the red brick wall and follow it when they are phrases or clauses. The rule of pre-modification has developed so that much longer strings of words and phrases can now precede the head word, as in a never to be forgotten experience. This style is a particular feature of newspaper headlines and other media, where a noun phrase is used to shorten longer statements containing a number of post-modifying prepositional phrases. For example, the statement There has been a report on the treatment of suspects in police stations in Northern Ireland is turned into the headline Northern Ireland police station suspect treatment report…

The process of converting clauses with verbs into noun clauses is called nominalisation. The word is itself an example of that process. It has become a marked feature of some contemporary styles, including formal and academic writing. However, this does not signify a change in grammar, but rather reveals the way in which the flexibility of English grammar readily permits nominalisation. In Standard English, verb phrases can also be constructed in increasingly complex forms, such as she has been being treated, using auxiliary verbs to combine the grammatical features of tense (past or present), aspect (perfect or progressive), voice (active or passive) and mood (positive/ negative statement or interrogative). Question forms such as hasn’t she been being treated? and won’t she have been being treated? may not be common, but they are conceivable, and have developed since the eighteenth century. They are examples of how English has become a more analytic language in recent centuries, in that its structures now depend far more on strings of separate words, rather than on inflections of words.

Another development in the resources of verb phrases is the increased use of phrasal and prepositional verbs like to run across for to meet, put up with for tolerate and give in/ give up for surrender. They are a feature of spoken and informal usage, and although the structure can be found in earlier forms of English, they have increased considerably in modern Standard English, with new combinations being continually introduced, often as slang, as in get with it, afterwards being gradually accepted and assimilated.

The Queen’s English

We still tend to judge our fellow latter-day Britons by their speech as much as by other aspects of their behaviour, though some have been much more positive in their reactions than others. The relationship between social class and the language used in the eighteenth century was maintained through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here, for example, is the dean of Canterbury Cathedral, Dr. Henry Alford, writing in a book called The Queen’s English: Stray Notes on Speaking and Spelling, in 1864:

And first and foremost, let me notice that worst of all faults, the leaving out of the aspirate where it ought to be, and putting it where it ought not to be. This is a vulgarism not confined to this or that province of England, nor especially prevalent in one county or another, but common throughout England to persons of low breeding and inferior education, principally to those among the inhabitants of towns. Nothing so surely stamps a man as below the mark of intelligence, self-respect, and energy, as this unfortunate habit…

As I write these lines, which I do while waiting in a refreshment-room at Reading, between a Great-Western and a South-Eastern train, I hear one of two commercial gentlemen, from a neighbouring table, telling his friend that “his ‘ed’ used to ‘hake’ ready to burst.”

Alford’s attitude here is no different from that of some eighteenth century grammarians in their references to ‘the depraved language of the Common People’. One common usage that is still taught as an error is what is called ‘the split infinitive’, as in the ‘infamous’ introit to the 1970s US television series, ‘Star Trek’, ‘…to boldly go…’, which has become almost as legendary in sociolinguistics as the series itself has become in popular culture. Here is Dean Alford on the subject:

A correspondent states as his own usage, and defends, the insertion of an adverb between the sign of the infinitive mood and the verb. He gives as an instance, ‘to scientifically illustrate.’ But surely this is a practice entirely unknown to English speakers and writers. It seems to me, that we ever regard the ‘to’ of the infinitive as inseparable from its verb.

The Dean was wrong in his assertion that the practice was ‘entirely unknown’. The idea that it is ungrammatical to put an adverb between to and the verb was an invention of prescriptive grammarians, but it has been handed down as a ’solecism’ (violation of the rules of grammar) from one generation of pedagogical pedants to another. It has become an easy marker of ’good English’.

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Above: Details from The Village Choir by Thomas Webster (1800-1886), Victoria & Albert Museum.

Henry Alford was born in Bloomsbury, London, in 1810. His father, also Henry, was rector of Aston Sandford in Buckinghamshire. Henry junior was educated at Ilminster Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he subsequently became a Fellow. Ordained in 1833, he became curate of Ampton in Suffolk, and incumbent of Quebec Chapel, London, before becoming Dean of Canterbury Cathedral in 1857, where he remained until his death in 1871. He became a distinguished scholar and wrote numerous books, including a critical commentary on the Greek New Testament. A strong evangelical, he wrote a number of hymns, some of which remain well-known and are still used regularly today. Among these is the harvest hymn, Come ye thankful people, come, which he wrote in 1844 for use in services in his rural Suffolk parish. It uses the parable from Mark’s gospel (chapter 4. 26-29), about the seed springing up without the sower knowing about it, including the line: For the earth bringeth forth of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. As they sang this verse, the local farmers and labourers from Suffolk’s ‘grain belt’ would have had a very clear image to match the meaning of the parable. The hymn was first published in his own collection of Psalms and Hymns in 1844. He then revised it for his Poetical Works (1865) and his Year of Praise (1867). The writers of Hymns Ancient and Modern included it with their anthology first in 1861, but changed Alford’s simple, rustic words of the second verse, from:

… First the blade and then the ear,

Then the full corn shall appear:

Lord of harvest, grant that we

Wholesome grain and pure may be;

 To:

… Ripening with a wondrous power

Till the final harvest hour

Grant, O Lord of life, that we

Holy grain and pure may be.

Although these changes were firmly repudiated by the author, they have persisted to this day, reappearing in the New Standard version of the Anglican hymn book. This shows that, although Alford may have been a stickler for correct grammar, he was also in favour of the movement to bring the folk language and culture of the countryside into church worship, connecting it with the simplicity of the gospel texts.

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His other famous hymn was, however, very different in both content and style. Ten thousand times ten thousand, a stirring hymn about the Church Triumphant, it is full of imagery drawn from the Book of Revelation, and the opening lines are suggested by the reference in chapter 5, verse 11 to St John the Divine’s vision of a mighty throng of angels around the throne of God, and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand. The rush of hallelujahs and the ringing of a thousand harps are also taken from the book (19. 1-6 and 14.2):

Ten thousand times ten thousand,

In sparkling labour bright,

The armies of the ransomed saints

Throng up the steeps of light;

’Tis finished, all is finished,

Their fight with death and sin;

Fling open wide the golden gates,

And let the victors in.

 

What rush of hallelujahs

Fills all the earth and sky!

What ringing of a thousand harps

Bespeaks the triumph nigh!

O day for which creation

And all its tribes were made!

O joy, for all its former woes

A thousandfold repaid.          

The first three verses of which first appeared in his Year of Praise in 1867. The fourth was added in 1870 in The Lord’s Prayer. The complete hymn was sung at Alford’s funeral in January of the following year. Hymns, unlike other forms of writing, were written to be sung by all classes of society together, in church, so that Alford was well aware of the need to keep their language simple and direct if they were to become popular with the masses in Victorian society who were the object of his evangelical ministry. At the time he was writing his hymns, the Chartists were also launching their equally ’evangelical’ campaign among the working classes, and they too wrote hymns to popularise their cause of Political Reform. A copy of The National Chartist Hymn Book of 1845 has recently been discovered in Todmorden Public Library, in fact what is believed to be the only surviving copy. Michael Sanders of Manchester University believes that it was almost certainly complied by the South Lancashire Delegate Meeting. It is interesting to see how the desire for social justice is expressed in biblical language, and in the form of a hymn like God of the Poor!:

God of the poor! Shall labour eat

Or drones alone find labour sweet?

Lo, they who call thy earth their own,

Take all we have – and give a stone.

God of the poor! Shall labour eat

Or drones alone find labour sweet?

 

Yet not in vain thy children call

On thee, if thou art Lord of all;

And by thy work, and by thy word,

Hark! Millions cry for justice, Lord.

Yet not in vain thy children call

On thee, if thou art Lord of all.

 

The last verses of Great God are equally rousing in their call to martyrdom in the cause of freedom and justice:

Tho’ freedom mourns her murdered son,

And weeping friends surround his bier,

Tho’ tears like mountain torrents run,

Our cause is watered by each tear.

 

O May his fate cement the bond,

That binds us to our glorious cause!

Raise! Raise the cry! Let all respond;

’Justice, and pure and equal laws.’

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The hymn form was further popularised by the Methodist preachers who formed the early agricultural workers’ unions in the 1860s and ’70s. They came together in their thousands in pouring rain and muddy fields to sing folk anthems such as When Arch Beneath the Wellesbourne Tree, defying both squire and parson in its words. This poor man’s choral tradition passed into the Clarion Movement (see pictures below) which ‘evangelised’ for socialism in town and countryside in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.

The invention of sound recording, and especially of the portable recorders, has made it possible for us to study the spoken language in a way that students of English were unable to fifty years ago. Through such recordings, we are able to produce transcripts of modern Standard English, enabling us to compare it with surviving dialects. However, the only way of comparing contemporary Standard English with that which was in use 150 years ago or more, is to return to the texts of the King James Bible and compare the Revised Version made by teams from Oxford and Cambridge Universities between 1870 and 1880, with the New English Bible of 1961:

St Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 26 verses 69-75:

Revised Version:

Now Peter was sitting without in the Court: and a maid came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and saith unto them that were there, This man also was with Jesus the Nazarene. And again he denied with an oath, I know not the man. And after a little while they that stood by came and said to Peter, Of a truth thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, I know not the man. And straightway the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.

New English Bible:

Meanwhile Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard when a serving-maid accosted him and said, ‘You were there too with Jesus the Galilean.’ Peter denied it in the face of them all. ‘I do not know what you mean’, he said. He then went out to the gateway, where another girl, seeing him, said to the people there, ‘This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ Once again he denied it, saying with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’ Shortly afterwards the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely, you are another of them; your accent gives you away!’ At this he broke into curses and declared with an oath… ‘I do not know the man.’ At that moment a cock crew; and Peter remembered how Jesus had said, ‘Before the cock crows you will disown me three times.’ He went outside, and wept bitterly.

 Although the revisers of the King James Version were given a brief of making a more intelligible version than the 1611 original, they also kept as close to its wording as they could. In this way the Revised Version represents both the transitional elements of Early Modern English and the forms of dialogue in use in mid-Victorian England, just as the New English version reflects the contemporary speech of the early 1960s, whilst at the same time trying to remain true to the original meaning.

The Deterioration of English?

By the last quarter of the twentieth century, fears for the future of the language had once again become the staples of newspaper columns, and were also joined in discussion of these by the new media of television news items and chat shows. They were even, in the Britain of 1978, the subject of a special debate in the House of Lords. The record of the debate, The English Language: Deterioration in Usage, makes very interesting reading. All but one of the speakers accepted the proposition that the language was deteriorating, and together they made a series of complaints about, for example, the misapplication of words such as parameter and hopefully. The language was cluttered with monstrosities like ongoing, relevant and viable. In addition, ‘good’ old words were acquiring ‘bad’ new meanings, as far as their Lordships were concerned. It was, remarked one of them, virtually impossible… for a modern poet to write ‘the choir of gay companions’. The use of the word for propaganda purposes… had destroyed its useful meaning…

Pronunciation, another familiar bugbear, was also considered to be slipping in words like controversy and formidable. In this context, as in many, the BBC came in for a substantial amount of criticism for failing in its clear duty to uphold the standards of English. There were laments also about the latest revisions of the Bible translations and the Book of Common Prayer. In addition, there were the usual condemnations of the way in which American usages, such as location for place which were creeping into our language. Lord Somers expressed the view that if there is a more hideous language on the face of the earth than the American form of English, I should like to know what it is!

Besides the BBC, the Anglican hierarchy and the Americans, the peers also blamed schools, the universities and the mass media for the state of the language. Children and students, it was claimed, were no longer educated in grammar and classics. Newspapers, radio and television were familiarising the public with a language that depends on generalisations which are usually imprecise and often deliberately ambiguous… a language that makes unblushing use of jargon whenever that can assist evasion… A major cause of deterioration, noted one peer, exhibiting more than a touch of xenophobia, was very simply the enormous increase in the number of people using it. Perhaps the most revealing comment came from Lord Davies of Leek:

Am I right in assuming that in an age of uncertainty with respect to religion, God, family, self, money and prosperity, there is a worldwide collapse of not only the values of the past but of our language which, more and more, tends to be vague, indecisive, careless and often callous?

In one sense, Lord Davies was probably right. The relativism of the twentieth century probably did encourage a more permissive approach to language. In a deeper sense though, it was the decline of respect for God, the family and property that really concerned Lord Davies and his fellow peers, and he used Language-change or deterioration as the means for complaining about society. When all is said and done, language is only the medium of discourse, not the matter itself; the messenger, rather than the message. Language is, as it always has been, the mirror to society, not to be confused with society itself. In Britain, where English developed, it has become standardised and centralised in the South, apparently cautious of change. In the British Commonwealth, the independent traditions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada have breathed new life into the English that was exported from Britain more than two hundred years ago. In the Caribbean, it is the focus of an emergent nationalism. In Africa, it is the continent-wide means of communication and in South Africa it is the medium of Black consciousness. In India and South-East Asia, it is associated with aspiration, development and growing self-confidence, taking on distinctive forms. Therefore it is not neutral: it is a vehicle of both change and continuity, rather than a victim of social degradation.

Sources:

Dennis Freeborn (1992), From Old English to Standard English. Basingstoke: MacMillan.

Ian Bradley (2005), The Daily Telegraph Book of Hymns. London: Continuum Books.

Robert McCrum, William Cran, Robert MacNeil (1987), The Story of English. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Maundy Thursday: The Last Supper   1 comment

1 Corinthians 11 vv 23-25 (paraphrase by Alan T Dale, Portrait of Jesus)

‘On the night when he was arrested, Jesus had supper with his friends. During supper he picked up the loaf of bread, said Grace over it and broke it into pieces. “This is my very self” he said. “I am giving myself up for you. Do this to remember me by.” When the supper was over, he raised the cup in the same way. “This cup,” he said, “means my death. I am dying to bring all men to God, as the Bible says, ‘from the least of them to the greatest’. Whenever you drink it, remember me.”

Following his ‘acted parable’ of clearing the tradesmen and bankers from the Court of the Foreigners on the Monday of Holy Week, Jesus resumed his teaching, attracting huge crowds in the Temple courts. He continued to challenge the central convictions of the scribes and Pharisees, who saw themselves as the upholders of the Law of Moses.

‘You have heard, in the synagogue, the Torah read aloud,’ he said, ‘but I say…’ He was making radical claims, going to the very root of the Jewish way of life and the leadership of the Jewish people. He was not contradicting their Law, but reviving, reinterpreting and fulfilling it in a way which led him into open and bitter conflict with the Temple authorities. However, to arrest him in the Temple would have caused a riot in the most holy of places, so they planned to arrest him in the darkness of night in an orchard along the Bethany Road.

Painting of Jesus Washing Peter's Feet by Ford...
Painting of Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What happened next is best told in the words of his friends, which they repeated every week as they met to worship and remember him. They met on the first day of the Jewish week, the day on which he was ‘raised from the dead’, to break bread, or have supper together. They passed a common cup of wine around the table and shared a loaf together. The earliest account of this was recorded by Paul in his letter to the early Christians in Corinth, and it was followed by the gospel accounts (Matthew 26 vv 26-29; Mark 14 vv 22-25; Luke 22 vv 14-20). John’s gospel provides a ‘prequel’ to this, reporting another communal act in the form of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, a traditional act of a host for his guests invited by him to share supper, since Palestine was an even more sandy place than it is today, with only paths between the houses in the towns, villages, and even in Jerusalem. Even a journey to a near neighbour’s house in the city would necessitate the removal of shoes or sandals upon entering, and though the guest would have bathed before setting out, it might also be necessary to wash off the accumulated sand from the feet. It was a simple act of service, but in this case, Jesus was neither the host nor his servant, since Judas, as group treasurer, would have hired the room especially, probably at an inn he knew well, as a Judean.

Mark adds that Jesus tells them to make sure that water has been delivered to the upstairs room and that the furnished room is set up properly for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Preoccupied with Temple politics, Judas probably arrived too late to ask for a servant to wash their feet, hence Peter‘s objection to Jesus taking on this role. Jesus’ words about betrayal were possibly prompted by Judas arriving hot-foot and sweating from his prior meeting with the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders, while Peter and the others had arrived having washed themselves and only needed to have the sand removed from their feet.

Jesus, Judas and the rest
Jesus, Judas and the rest (Photo credit: FlickrJunkie)

On his return to the table, Jesus dismisses Judas, obviously nervous to return to the Sanhedrin, and he then gives the disciples a ‘new commandment’, drawing upon the lesson of his washing of their feet. The Latin words are ‘Mandatum novum da vobis’  and it is from the first word, ‘mandate’ or ‘instruction’ in English, that the corruption ‘maundy’ comes.For many years the special service on this day included the washing of the feet of some parishioners by the priest. Aelfric, Archbishop of Canterbury from A:D: 996-1006 decided that monks should wash each others’ feet once a week, on Thursdays, but that they would not be expected to wash those of poor pilgrims on the way to the Cathedral!

The washing of such soiled and smelly feet still causes controversy in churches along the pilgrim’s way into Canterbury to this day! However, Sir Thomas More wrote that Henry VIII washed the feet of as many poor men as he himself was years old, also giving them gifts of food and money.

Bishop John washes the feet of Eleanor, who wa...
Bishop John washes the feet of Eleanor, who walks to St. Giles, Wrexham, in bare feet, on Maundy Thursday 2007. Photograph by Brian Roberts, Wrexham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Queen Elizabeth I also washed the feet of paupers, but only after they had first been scrubbed clean in scented water! The ceremony of washing by the Sovereign was discontinued in 1754, though it has recently been suggested that the custom should now be revived, with the real modern-day power in the land, Her Majesty’s Prime Minister, taking up this act of humility towards her subjects.Maundy Money continues to be distributed by the Monarch to this day.  This money fetches high prices as collectors’ items, if the recipient ‘commoners’ decide to sell it. The Yeomen of the Guard accompany the Sovereign, bearing the purses, while the other members of The Royal Party carry little ‘nosegays’ of sweet-smelling flowers, a reminder of the days when precautions were necessary to prevent infection by the Plague, then believed to travel in ‘miasma’ or bad air!

The day has also been known in the past as ‘Shere’ (Clean) Thursday, referring both to the washing ceremonies and the clearing of the altar, symbolising the table in the Upper Room, since there is no consecration of bread at the Good Friday ceremony. The Maundy Thursday service often ends with a procession to a specially prepared altar where wafers of bread are left to be watched over through the night, recalling the solemnity of the night of the betrayal, Peter’s denial and the flight of the disciples, after failing to stay awake with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Many medieval churches had a special ‘altar of repose’ or ‘Easter Altar’, before which the vigil could be kept.

The early Christians in Rome used Mark’s account (Chapter 14, vv 12-50) of the unfolding account of the dramatic events of that evening and night:

‘It was dark when Jesus and his friends came into the city. “I tell you,” said Jesus, when they were having supper together, “that one of you will betray me – one who is having supper with me now.”

‘His friends were hurt at this. “It can’t be me?” they each said to him. “It’s one of the ‘Twelve’ , ” said Jesus. “He is sharing this very meal with me….What is going to happen is just what the Bible said would happen. But it will be a terrible thing for the man who betrays me; it would have been better for him if he had never lived.” 

‘When supper was over, they sang a hymn; then they walked out to the Olive Hill outside the City, on the road to the village where he was staying. “You will all let me down”, said Jesus, as they walked along. “The Bible says: ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will run away’. But after I am ‘raised’, I will go before you to Galilee.”

“Everybody else may let you down,” said Peter, “but I won’t.”

“I tell you Peter,” said Jesus, “that this very night, before dawn, you will say more than once that you’re no friend of mine.”

“Say I’m no friend of yours?” said Peter hotly, “I’d die with you first!”

Everybody else said the same. They got as far as the Olive Orchard. Suddenly, Judas came with a gang armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the Jewish leaders. Judas had arranged a secret signal so that there could be no mistake. “The man I kiss, that’s Jesus,” he told them. “Get hold of him, and take him away under guard.”

He went straight up to Jesus. “Sir”, he said, and kissed him – as if he was just meeting him. The men grabbed Jesus, and put him under guard, and took him to the High Court.’

PRAYER:

The following prayer verses, taken from a variety of hymns, go with the five scenes described in Mark’s account above.

StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass Gethsemane

StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass Gethsemane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Preparation (vv 12-21):

Thy foes might hate, despise, revile,

Thy friends unfaithful prove;

Unwearied in forgiveness still,

Thy heart could only love.

The Last Supper (vv 22-26):

Jesus, Bread of life, I pray thee

Let me gladly here obey thee:

Never to my hurt invited,

Be thy love with love requited:

From this banquet let me measure

Lord, how vast and deep its treasure:

Through thy gifts thou here doest give me

As thy guest in heaven receive me.

The Mount of Olives (vv 27-31):

Protect me, O my saviour

And keep me close to thee:

Thy power and loving kindness

My strength and stay must be:

O Shepherd, though I follow

Too weak is human will –

But if thou walk beside me

I’ll climb the steepest hill.

The Agony of Jesus (vv 32-42):

Lord Jesus, think on me,

Nor let me go astray

Through darkness and perplexity

Point thou the heavenly way.

The Arrest (vv 43-50):

Lord Jesus, think on me

When flows the tempest high:

When on doth rush the enemy

O Saviour, be thou nigh.

AMEN

Fair Play!   Leave a comment

Depiction of Dorando Pietri staggering across ...

Isaiah 40: 28-31:

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no-one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the week.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

(NIV)

Olympics London 1908

 

 

We pray, Lord, for all those engaged in élite sport as players, administrators or businessmen. Help them to see their work as part of wider life, not as separate from the rest of that life, and help them to remember that all physical and spiritual life comes from you. May they set themselves the highest standards of personal and professional behaviour, both on the field and off, and for those who follow the fortunes of the British sports men and women, may they provide an example to make the heart of this great nation sound;

We pray for all those from every country who engage in the London Olympic Games, for their own advancement and for the entertainment of others. We pray that they may be kept from harm and injury. We ask that through their knowledge of the laws of their games, they may see that their are higher laws; that through their experience of training and discipline they may see that there is a nobler discipline; that through their desire for victory they may be directed to the greatest triumph of all, and the goal which is Christ, the Saviour of the world. For his name’s sake. Amen.

(adapted from prayers written by Christopher Idle and Dick Williams)

Posted July 29, 2012 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

Desert Island Songs of Praise!   Leave a comment

 

Desert Island Songs of Praise!: My Testimony

There’s a long-running BBC Radio Programme called Desert Island Discs, in which the presenter interviews a different guest each week. The guest has to choose eight ’single’ recordings to take with them to an imaginary desert island, on which they will be ’marooned’ for some months with their collection of discs, a ’luxury’ item, the Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare and another book of their choice.  I thought I’d use this format to give you my testimony.

1.)  From Sherwood to Bearwood:

Both my parents were Baptists. They met and married 60 yrs ago in mum’s home City of Coventry – Dad was a steelworker from Wolverhampton, who became a pastor during the war. The motto of the town is, ‘out of darkness comes light’, as the MTK team were told when they visited Woverhampton Wanderers to play a football match to raise money for the Hungarian refugees in 1956.

Mum was the daughter of a coalminer and a ribbon weaver. I was born at home, near Nottingham. We moved to Birmingham when I was  eight and I joined the Boys’ Brigade and took part in Festivals of Arts, Sporting Competitions, Drama and Choirs. We often sang the Boys’ Brigade Anthem, ’Will Your Anchor Hold in the Storms of Life?’ based on….

Hebrews 6:19; ’So we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us are greatly encouraged. We have this hope as anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast.’

 

„…erős bátorításunk van nekünk, akik odamenekültünk, hogy belekapaszkodjunk az előttünk levő reménységbe. Ez a reménység lelkünknek biztos és erős horgonya, amely behatol a kárpit mögé.”

 

 

 

 
  
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,

When the clouds unfurl their wings of strife,

When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
 
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?
 
 
 
We have an anchor which keeps the soul,
Steadfast and Sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the saviour’s love!
 
 
 

2.)   When I became a teenager, a Caribbean Gospel group came to our church and performed a number of Negro Spirituals and Gospel Songs. At the end of the concert, I gave my life to the Lord andwas baptised on Whit Sunday, just before my fifteenth birthday, almost exactly forty years ago. I became very involved in youth work, forming a rock group, writing musicals and attending Chritian Rock festivals. We were at a ’Youthquake’ event for the city’s young Christians, at the Cathedral, one Saturday night when a huge terrorist bomb exploded in a pub nearby, killing and seriously injuring many young people.  Two of us, both pastors’ sons, began preaching and performing peace songs in B’ham churches. We went on a pilgrimage together to raise money for charity following the hills from the Midlands to the Lake District in northern England, for a distance of 250km along ‘the Pennine Way‘, a long-distance footpath. Every night we read our bibles together, prayed, and washed each other’s feet – Philip had a club foot from birth. We both felt a calling to the ministry, but I decided to qualify as teacher first, in Wales.

Yes! Jesus Loves Me

Yes! Jesus Loves Me (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

One of the songs we used in our rock musical was ’Yes, Jesus Loves Me’, which I sang as Phil acted the part of ’Desperate Des’ coming to Christ. The words are based on….

Luke 18:17; Remember this! Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it!

„Bizony, mondom nektek: aki nem úgy fogadja az Isten országot, mint egy kisgyermek, semmiképpen nem megy be abba.”

Jesus loves me! He who died

 Heaven’s gate to open wide;

He will wash away my sin,

Let his little child come in.

Yes, Jesus loves me! (x3)

The Bible tells me so.

 

3.)   The next stage of my journey took me from to Snowdonia and from those Mountains in North Wales to Iona, a small island off the west coast of Scotland where Celtic Christianity was brought to the Saxons from the sixth century.  At the stone altar, made of a huge rock quarried from the island, I rededicated myself to a ministry of reconciliation.

 
Returning to my university, where there was a lot of conflict about the Welsh Ianguage, I learnt Welsh and became a student leader, making many friends among the Welsh Baptists and Congregationalists I lived and studied with.  However, I became critical of the churches and lost my spiritual direction while a research student in south Wales. It was in my final year in Wales, at a Church College in the west, that both my spiritual and physical health returned, as I began running long distances over the hills and along the river valleys.
 
 
 
 
I became a Religious Education teacher, and began my thirty years in my chosen ’vocation’ at a Church School to the north of  Manchester. There I continued running and walking over the Pennine Hills. The words of Paul to the Hebrews often came to my mind, together with the verse from the hymn based on it:

Hebrews 12.1; ’Let us run with patience the race that is set before us’

„..állhatatossággal fussuk meg az előttünk levő pályát.”

Run the Straight Race,

through God’s good grace,

Lift up thine eyes and seek his face;

Life with its way before thee lies,

Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

During my three years there, it was my Christian colleagues who helped to keep me ’on the straight and narrow path’, though we had lots of fun together too, on various school trips. I attended the local Anglican Church, but felt uncomfortable with its hierarchical organisation and very traditional forms of worship.  So I found the local Quaker meeting and began attending as an ’enquirer’ (Quakers have no formal ministers or services).

4.) From the West Pennine Moors to the Hungarian Puszta

……is a long way in the mind and spirit as well as in body. After visiting me in Lancashire and telling me that he thought I was following his ministry in my own vocation, my father’s death took me home to Coventry, where I continued to teach History and RE.  I went to the Baptist Chapel (with mum), but attended Quaker meetings and then worked for them in Birmingham for three years, while finishing my doctorate. As Quaker teachers, we visited Kecskemét in October 1988, and set up an exchange with the local teachers the next year. One of our visits was to the Reformed Church camp at Emmaus, near Lakitelek. As we walked over the sandy puszta, talking about all our experiences in Hungary, we felt the same sense of enthusiasm for the gospel that Cleopas and his fellow disciple must have felt:


’„Maradj velünk, mert esteledik, a nap is lehanyatlott már!” Bement hát, hogy velük maradjon. És amikor asztalhoz telepedett velük, vette a kenyeret, megáldotta, megtörte és felismerték, ő azonban eltűnt előlük. Ekkor így szóltak egymásnak: „Nem hevült-e a szívünk, amikor beszélt hozzánk az úton, amikor feltárta előttünk az írásokat?” ’

Luke 24:29; ’Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ’Wasn’t it like a burning fire within us when he talked to us on the road and opened the scriptures to us? ’

Personally, I was walking in darkness at the time, and meeting and falling in love with Stefi was a clear sign that God’s grace and redemption from sin. The following hymn, based on this passage, promises this:

I need thy presence every passing hour:

What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me!

The hymn, Abide with me, written by the Devon pastor, Henry Lyte, is well-known in Britain, as it has been sung before every Football Association Cup Final since 1927. Another good reason to treasure it!

5.) Love Divine: Marriage in Bournville and Kecskemét:

At the Quaker Meeting held to celebrate and bless our ’forthcoming’ marriage in Birmingham the following January, we were given the advice by a  Hungarian 1956 exile,  to ’live adventurously.’  Since then, we’ve never done anything other than to follow this advice! We also sang ’Love Divine, All Loves Excelling’, Charles Wesley’s great hymn about ’the Greatest Love’ which Paul writes of in…..

1 Corinthians 13:13: ’Meanwhile, these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.’

„Most azért megmarad a hit, a remény, a szeretet, e három; ezek közül pedig a legynagyobb a szeretet.”

Love divine, all loves excelling,

Joy of heav’n to earth come down,

Fix in us thy humble dwelling,

All thy faithful mercies crown,

Jesu, thou art all compassion,

Pure unbounded love thou art,

Visit us with thy salvation,

Enter every trembling heart.

 

 

6.) Freedom in Christ; ‘Out of darkness comes the Light’:

The year after our wedding in Kecskemét, Steffan was born here in Kecskemét. We were ’euphoric’, but only spent a short time in Stefi’s home town before I took up a teaching and pastoral role in Pécs.  Here, the British and American teachers met for English-language ’Sunday School’ in our own homes. My mother’s sudden and unexplained accidental death triggered severe depression, a condition inherited from her, which affected my life for much of the next fifteen years. I attended a ’Freedom in Christ’ course held by our church in Canterbury, which, together with counselling and therapy provided by the Health service, helped me come to terms with this ’dark illness’ which I now know has burdened me since childhood.

Although I still lack self-control at times, regaining self-awareness was like being released from a long prison sentence.  This sense of release was like that written about by Paul in Galatians, on which Wesley based his intensely personal hymn about ’Free Grace’:

Galatians 2:20;  ’So it no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This life that I live now, I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I refuse to reject the Grace of God.’

„Krisztussal együtt keresztre vagyok feszítve: többé tehát nem én élek, hanem Krisztus él bennem; azt az életet pedig, amit most testben élek, az Isten Fiában való hitben élem, aki szeretett engem, és önmagát adta értem.

En nem vetem el az Isten kegyelmet.”

 

 

And can it be, that I should gain?

 Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, –

I woke, the dungeon filled with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

7.) The Wondrous Story: Chosen to Care.

When Stefi became pregnant with our second son we also ’houseparents’ to fifty international students at a Quaker School in the west of England. On weekends off, we worshipped at the local Baptist Church, where I became a member. At twenty weeks, Stefi’s scan revealed that Oliver’s right hand had not developed, and we were also told that he may have other unseen problems, which could only be diagnosed at birth. Devastated by this news, we were visited by our pastor, Stephen. He listened to all our thinking and emotions, without giving opinions or making judgements. When we asked the common question of him, ’why us?’ he paused for thought, and said that God may well have chosen us to be parents to a disabled child because He felt we could cope with difference and disability.

 
 
 
Suddenly, through our tears, we were given a sense of purpose. When Oliver was born, only the fingers on his right hand were missing. As he’s grown, we’ve also realised how much use he has in the remaining part of the hand.

The name of the Welsh tune, Hyfydol, also means ’wonderful’.When Oliver’s dedication was held, we also rededicated ourself as a whole family, reading the following passage from scripture, on which a verse from the hymn, ’Wondrous Story’ is based.

Matthew 18:10-13; ’See that you don’t despise any of these little ones. Their angels in heaven, I tell you, are always in the presence of my Father… What do you think a man does who has one hundred sheep and one of them gets lost? He will leave the other ninety-nine grazing on the hillside and go and look for the lost sheep…In just the same way your Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost.’

 

„Vigyázzatok, hogy egyet se vessetek meg e kicsinek közül, mert mondom nektek, hogy angyalaik mindenkor látják a mennyben az én mennyei Atyám arcát… Mit gondoltok? Ha egy embernek száz juha van, és eltéved közülük egy, nem hagyja-e ott a kilencvenkilencet a hegyekben, és nem megy-e el megkeresni az eltévedtet?…Ugyanigy a ti mennyei Atyátok sem akarja, hogy elvesszen egy is e kicsinyek közül.”

I was lost but Jesus found me,

Found the sheep that went astray,

Raised me up and gently led me,

Back into the narrow way.

Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story,

Of the Christ who died for me,

Sing it with the saints in glory,

Gathered round the crystal sea.

 

8.) The ‘Enchanted Ground’; Bunjan Zarándokútja:

I said at the beginning that, besides the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, I am allowed to take one other book to the desert island. This would be ’Pilgrim’s Progress’ by the seventeenth-century Bedford Baptist preacher, John Bunyan. Although I listened to and watched the story as a teenager, and have taught it in Literature classes, I’ve never read it cover to cover. Also, apart from its simple, beautiful English, it was the one book which, beside the Bible, could be found on the shelf of almost every English cottage, including my great-grandparents’.

A Zarándok Útja a Biblia mellett a világ legolvasottabb könyve. Ez azértkülönös, mert ennek a klasszikus műnek az iírója egy üstfoltozó volt, aki alig tudott írni és olvasni.

The hymn, ’To be a Pilgrim’, is based on a poem which appears in the narrative near the end of the long pilgrimage, when the pilgrims have reached ’the enchanted ground’. Mr Valiant-for-truth introduces it with the words: ’I believed, and therefore came out, got into the way, fought all that set themselves against me, and, by believing, am come to this place.’

„Hittem így elindultam a zarándokuton, leküzdöttem minden nehézséget, ami utamba került, és hitem által eljutottam e helyre.”

He who would valiant be

’Gainst all disaster,

Let him in constancy

Follow the master;

There’s no discouragement,

Shall make him once relent

His first avowed intent

To be a pilgrim.

 

 

So, by believing, I have come to this place, this ’enchanted ground’, because I believe this is where God needs me to be. The title of Bunyan’s other book, ’Grace abounding to the chief of sinners’, sums up what I feel about my own pilgrimage. I am here, in this enchanted place, despite my own failings and because of his grace, and I have been made to feel most welcome….

Andrew J Chandler

Kecskemét, Hungary, June 2012

Growing up & finding God’s way: Shrovetide to Mothering (‘Refreshment’) Sunday   Leave a comment

This is based on Reflections for Lent I gave at our ‘Home Sunday School‘ as international teachers in Pécs, Hungary, in the 1990’s.

Sentences: 

Jesus said: If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Train yourselves in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Prayer:

O Lord God, who knowest that we have many temptations to conquer, many evils to shun, many difficulties to overcome, and as many opportunities of good: so order our doings that we observe in all things the perfect rule of Christ, and set ourselves to serve thee first, others next, and ourselves last; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Reading from ‘Portrait of Jesus’ by Alan T Dale

Jesus went away from Jordan River, his heart filled with God’s Spirit. And God led him out on to the lonely moorlands. He was there many a long day. He was being tested; he had to think things out; what did God want him to do? All this time he had nothing to eat, and at the end he was very hungry indeed. 

This coversation took place in his mind: Jesus imagined himself to be sometimes on the moorlands themselves, sometimes on the top of a very high mountain, sometimes standing on the top of the Temple Gate in Jerusalem.

On the moorlands:

Voice: If you are God’s Son, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.

Jesus: The Bible says: Bread is not the only thing a man needs to live on.

On the top of a very high mountain, where he could see so far that all the world seemed to lie at his feet:

Voice: I will give you all the power of these great countries and their royal splendour. It is all mine – mine to give to anybody I want to. It can all be yours – on one condition; you must take me for your King – not God.

Jesus: The Bible says: God himself must be your King; you must be his servant and his servant only.

Jerusalem, on the top of the Temple Gate, looking down on all the people gathered in the Court below:

Voice: If you are God’s Son jump down from this high place. The Bible says: God will command his angels to look after you.

And again the Bible says: Their hands will hold you fast – you won’t even stub your toe on a stone.

Jesus: The Bible also says: You must not put God to the test.

The testing time of Jesus was over – but it was not the last test he had to face.

He had long thought about what kind of leader God’s ‘Chosen Leader’ would be….Now he knew that to be ‘the leader of his people’ was the job God had given him to do. He had to make a final decision. He faced the great crisis of his life – but not the last crisis.

It was one thing to try things out in Nazareth; it was another to find himself shaken by a profound religious experience in which he believed God was, as it were, commissioning him for this great work. All he had read in the Old Testament, all he had become aware of in his own experience of God, all the ideas and convictions that had become clear in debate and argument with freedom-fighters and the rabbis met in one explosive moment.

What kind of work was this to be? Jesus went out into the lonely hills to pray and think things out. The ‘temptations’ or ‘testings’ Jesus faced came from the different ways in which he could have been the leader of his people. He turned them all down. The words of refusal he used all come from the great ‘Law Book’ in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy) – a book he loved. It is as if he is saying, ‘No, that’s not God’s Way‘ (69-70).

A Housewife’s Meditation for Lent

‘Jesus returned from the Jordan…and was led by the Holy Spirit to spend 40 days in the desert…’

Lord it is Lent:

the time when some people give up luxuries in order to assume new duties.

The time when some people do their Spring cleaning, and buy new clothes for Easter.

But what did you do Lord to make this season what it is?

You got away from people: away from the distracting things of daily life, because you wanted to listen to your Father and find his way to conquer evil and liberate your friends.

Then you returned and met life at the points where good and evil meet, and everybody saw the power of God in you.

So what do I do Lord in this restless age?

The terrible temptation is to rush around every day being busy.

There is a terrible temptation to think I can’t find time for quiet, or even find a quiet place.

But in my heart of hearts I know that I need you.

Now in this age of jet-propulsion, space research and automation,

I must make time and find a place: a time and a place to learn the art of listening, Lord, and get to know you better.

That’s what I’ll do this Lent, Lord.

Patricia Mitchell

My Reflections:

Growing up & finding God’s Way:

‘Penance’ or ‘Repentance’ means a change of heart. These are real changes in our lives, and the way we reflect on them represents our process of growing up. This is mirrored in our spiritual life by our ‘growing in grace’, for we are not the victims of ‘fate’ or ‘chance’. We make changes through God’s grace and learn to manage other changes which come our way.

The message of Lent is concerned with these spiritual processes; growing up, learning to make and manage change, learning to find God’s Way, which is not always our own way.

The biggest change in my own life, becoming a father, has challenged me to listen to words I first heard as a teenager in new ways. In particular, two songs by the folk-singer Harvey Andrews have taken on fresh meanings. The first speaks of the awesome responsibility of bringing a child into today’s world. The second reflects on the changing relationships between a son and his father and evokes a spirit of repentance in the son towards his father which many of us can, I’m sure, identify with very strongly from our own experiences.

I’ve often thought about the relationship between Jesus and Joseph, perhaps because my work, my life as a teacher, was only just beginning when my father died. He too, like Joseph and Jesus, was a craftsman, a draughtsman in a Black Country steel-works. Like Jesus, coming from a working-class background with family responsibilities, he didn’t begin his ministry until he was in his thirties. How, I wonder, had Joseph felt about Jesus’ abrupt question in the Temple, ‘did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ The gospels tell us nothing of their relationship through Jesus’ teens and twenties when he kept to his earthly father’s business, honouring his apprenticeship as a carpenter, despite the ‘radicalisation’ of other young men around him, some of whom must have already died as ‘freedom-fighters’ against the Romans in what the Zealots saw as a ‘Holy Struggle’ in which God was calling them to become martyrs.

Significantly, his ministry begins with both a change of physical location as he goes south to join John at the Jordan, and a change of spiritual direction, as he accepts Baptism, the Act of Repentance, from his cousin. This was not an admission of previous guilt so much as a recognition of the turning point his acceptance of the call to ministry involved, as he sets off in a different direction into the wilderness to reflect of the momentous change that his public announcement would bring about, a course which would lead to conflict and confrontation with the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, as well as with some of his own people in Galilee.

Dale’s paraphrasing of the wilderness experience brings out Jesus’ inner journey to find God’s Way, reflecting on his past in order to make a decision about what kind of leader he would be. In order for us to grow, through grace, into God’s Way, we too need periods of quiet reflection when we can listen to the struggling voices within us, silence them and come to terms with the decisions we need to make in order to change course into the path that God wants us to take. The turning points we face will be much more ‘incremental’ and far less radical than those faced by Jesus, but they need patient endeavour and endurance.

Prayer:

Patience in Seeking God’s Will;

‘Jesus, after he had fated forty days and forty nights…was hungry.’

Lord, we are hungry for the knowledge of the next step we must take. Give to us the long patience of Christ that we, like him, may not decide our future in haste; mercifully grant that hunger for an improvement in our lot; hunger for release from tension or anxiety; hunger for success in your service; or any other kind of appetite for things hidden in the future, may not stampede the soul into premature decisions.

Instead of turning these stones of impatience into the bread of hasty action, may it be our meat and drink to do your will, and like the Saviour find that we have meat to eat we knew not of.

Make us not to hunger for tomorrow, but to hunger and thirst after righteousness, in the sure knowledge that they who do so shall be filled; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Dick Williams

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