Madeleine Davies

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Words uttered in the catacombs: A review of ‘The Apostles’ Creed: A guide to the ancient catechism’ by Ben Myers

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2019 at 12:01 am


I did not grow up saying The Apostles’ Creed. Bar the mention of the Communion of Saints – not something I remember being articulated – its doctrine is all very familiar to me. But I am not accustomed to saying it aloud every Sunday.

I would like to recommend Ben Myers’ little book – The Apostles’ Creed: A guide to the ancient catechism – not only to others who are learning the Creed, but to anyone who would like to read a simple, compelling guide to the Christian faith. I’ve seen a few requests on Twitter lately asking for book recommendations for those exploring Christianity – this would be a wonderful addition.

One of its key strengths is its reminder that, at Christianity’s heart we find not a theory but a person, and that this person brings us into a family – that through baptism we join an “ever-widening circle of people who have handed their lives over to the pattern of Jesus’ life”.

By drawing consistently on the words of the Church Fathers, Myers presents as a friendly guide, initiating the reader into this circle. St Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus and Julian of Norwich are introduced not merely as historical figures but as friends who have gone ahead of us – members of a family that “stretches out across space but also across time”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Marilyn McCord Adams, horrendous evils, and the goodness of God

In Uncategorized on February 27, 2019 at 7:06 pm

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso, on display at the Renia Sofia museum in Madrid (CREATIVE COMMONS)

WHEN Marilyn McCord Adams died in 2017 I read in an obituary by her husband that, “the topic that most gripped her, and most inspired her intellectual work through the rest of her life was the theological problem of evil.”

In her book Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, Robert Adams observed, “she does not try to answer the question, ‘Why did God permit all the evils that we know about?’ Rather she asks, ‘What can God do to make our existence a great good to us, without trivialising the horrendous evils that we know about?’”

This year I finally got around to reading Horrendous Evils. I have no background in philosophy, or theology, and it’s been a challenging exercise. But I have found it so helpful. What I’ve written below is mainly just a sort of repository for me to come back to, a store of some of the quotes I want to treasure..

Read the rest of this entry »

The land that runs on memories: thoughts on Coco and grief

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2018 at 10:26 am


THE Land of the Dead was the “big design challenge” for the creators of Coco, according to the film’s lighting director, Danielle Feinberg. What should it look like?

“We all want to know the answer to that ultimate mystery: is there anything after death?” the director, Lee Unkrich, observes in an interview accompanying the film. “Is there a heaven? Is there a world to go to?”

What emerged from extensive research, including trips to Mexico, was a gorgeous vista of vertical cities, connected by vertiginous viaducts and lit up in a pretty palette – pink, orange and blue – evocative of enormous coral reefs. This soaring cityscape is built on pyramids that give way to pre-colonial architecture and topped by cranes signalling ongoing construction. It was in part inspired by designer Ernesto Nemesio’s visits to see his grandparents in Mexico, where he remembered close-knit buildings constructed almost on top of each other.

Although there are no living things in this world, what’s striking is how familiar it is. You arrive at magnificent iron-wrought station reminiscent of St Pancras or Grand Central, where customs staff are on hand to check your possessions (“Welcome back to the Land of the Dead. Please have all offerings ready for re-entry”). There are skyline trams, a plaza, concerts, and bureaucrats available to assist with family reunions.

“This isn’t a dream then?” asks Miguel Rivera, the 12-year-old at the centre of the film, who accidentally winds up here. “You’re all really out there? . . . I thought it might have been one of those made-up things that adults tell kids, like vitamins.”

When it was released in January, to huge critical acclaim, Coco was praised by the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin as a “zingy, sunny family adventure about what it means to be dead”. In doing so, he noted, it “crosses a frontier that most films, animated or otherwise, can only tip-toe up to at best”. Rated PG, it wasn’t too ghoulish or macabre for children, he reassured readers, but “healing and hopeful . . . in the way it makes sense of bereavement, Coco could conceivably become a means for children to better understand grief.”

I watched it this week and, while there were many things I loved about it, I’m not sure I’d entirely agree.

Read the rest of this entry »

Religious melancholy in the 4th arrondissement

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2018 at 5:22 pm


Hadewijch is a French film about religious extremism in which the central protagonist is a tow-headed teenage novice.

We see her on her knees in her spartan convent bedroom, hands pressed together in prayer, a crucifix both set before her eyes and wrapped between her fingers on a chain. She appears both devout and somewhat self-conscious. There’s something practised and performative about her prayers, despite the fact that she’s alone.

She refuses to eat at breakfast and feeds her bread to the birds, shivering in the winter sun.

“You’re a caricature of a nun,” an older Sister tells her. “God isn’t there.”

This diagnosis, made early on, is one of the most interesting aspects of the film. We are given to understand that the nuns are wise to fanaticism – that they have seen it before and can distinguish it from piety.

“Abstinence not martyrdom,” one Sister instructs Hadewijch, gently.

“She is attached to this behaviour and I believe it testifies to a degree of self-love”, the Mother Superior rules. “For her own good, she must return to the world.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The strange theology of Jordan Peterson

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2018 at 1:14 pm


IN the opening pages of 12 Rules for Life: a antidote for chaos, Jordan Peterson describes a vision that gave rise to an epiphany. He is clinging to a chandelier suspended in the dome of a cathedral, directly above the centre of cross. He makes his way down, but is dragged back to this point. Months later, he discovers the meaning: “what the great stories of the past continually insist upon: the centre is occupied by the individual.”

The individual occupies the centre of this book, too. Fix yourself, Peterson says. Stop looking to ideology for answers. “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganise the state until you have reordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”

There’s a lot about heaven, too. He who seeks to create it on Earth (and “He” is important here) will “pursue the path of ultimate meaning. And he will in that manner bring salvation to the ever-desperate world”.

A coda ends the book with the revelation that, when it comes to his wife, Peterson’s task is to “Treat her as if she is the Holy Mother of God, so that she may give birth to the world-redeeming hero.” I was not surprised to learn that he is a huge fan of Nietzsche.


Read the rest of this entry »

A priest in the garden: review of First Reformed

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm


Bathrooms appear frequently in First Reformed. In an opening scene, a priest is informed that a leak in the men’s restrooms has returned. Later, the same priest is shown inserting a plunger, vomiting, and peeing blood into the loo in his own home, in the glow of a single, exposed bulb. This is a film about waste and pollutants, and their relation to the heavens.

The priest, played by Ethan Hawke, is the Revd Ernst Toller, the 46-year-old minister of First Reformed, a very white, picturesque church built in the Dutch colonial style in 1757, as he informs a family on the tourist trail. On Sundays he looks out over neat pews containing a handful of worshippers. Down the road is Abundant Life, a mega-church with a sanctuary than can hold 5000 people, led by Pastor Jeffers, and boasting numerous ministries and a young, preppy choir that hymns “Are you washed in the blood of the lamb” in pitch-perfect close harmony.

Here are two manifestations of the Church in the United States: old and new. Yet expectations of resentment on the part of Toller are swiftly confounded. When a young woman asks him to talk to her husband, his first thought is to point her to Abundant Life, where they have “a whole team of counsellors”. Pastor Jeffers is not just helping to keep First Reformed afloat financially. He considers it his duty to keep an eye on the wellbeing of his co-labourer, dispensing fatherly advice from the leather chesterfield sofa in his office. In the complex’s canteen, Toller eats his lunch against a wall inscribed with the words of Acts: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.”

Nevertheless, as the film progresses, the tension between the two rises, as Toller senses a priestly call to speak out against forces he increasingly recognises as evil. Although reviews have described it as bleak and austere, this is ultimately the story of a faith rekindled.

The catalyst for this is Michael. In the Bible, he’s the archangel who leads an angelic army against Satan’s forces. In First Reformed he’s a radical climate activist, recently released from jail and urging his young wife, Mary, to have an abortion rather than bring a child into a world he sees plunging towards the apocalypse. In the conversation that takes place during Toller’s pastoral visit, it’s the parishioner, not the priest, who warns of an impending judgement day, sounding not unlike a Millenarian preacher. In one of a number of Biblical allusions, Mary and Michael’s child will be 33 in 2050, the date when a climate catastrophe is forecast.

Toller’s diagnosis is existential despair. Throughout history, he counsels Michael, people have awoken in the middle of the night gripped by the “sickness unto death”. The rational holds no answers, he advises. “Courage is the solution to despair” and wisdom is holding hope and despair simultaneously, living in the tension. When asked whether God will forgive us for what we have done to his creation, his reply is that “grace covers us all”.

It’s an impressive display of pastoral care, and a vindication of Mary’s decision to seek his counsel, rather than send for Abundant Life (dismissed by Michael as a company rather than a church). In a later scene, we are shown Pastor Jeffers recording a daily meditation in which he advises that worry is a sign of rebellion, of wickedness. Jesus never fretted, he preaches.

Toller is an effective pastor because he’s been plunged into the blackness himself; for much of the film he’s stuck himself in Bunyan’s slough of despond. There is a certain authority that comes with having suffered and he draws on it judiciously, letting his flock know that he speaks whereof he knows. Some priests are called for their loneliness, he reflects later, while returning a fallen gravestone in his churchyard to an upright position. They can “hold beating hearts in their hands”; they know the “all-consuming emptiness of all things”.

He isn’t drained by his encounter with Michael, comparing it to Jacob’s wrestling with the angel. It was, he recounts, “exhilarating”. In fact, despite his worry that, perhaps, he shouldn’t care whether or not people like him, there is evidence that he is held in esteem, even affection, locally, that the empty pews are no indication of a lack of gifts. In one scene we see him teach a group of children about the church’s history as a station on the Underground Railroad, holding their rapt attention. The queue for the Eucharist may be short, but we are left in no doubt that Toller has found his vocation.

Yet despite the skill with which he conveys love and grace to his flock, there is little sense that he considers himself worthy of it. Rather, there are echoes of the anguish of the priest at the centre of Scorsese’s Silence. “If only I could pray,” he observes at one point. “How easy the talk about prayer, those who have never really prayed”. His entries in his daily journal tend towards admonishments for the sins of pride and self-pity. His vow to burn the pages speaks to a desire to forget the past, to erase the shame it arouses in him.

Yet it would be wrong to place Toller in the same family as the unbelieving priests typified by Iris Murdoch’s Carel Fisher. God is not dead, even if he’s silent. Toller’s theology has room for suffering, pain, despair. One of the few possessions we see in his austere home is the works of Thomas Merton. It’s enough to cause Pastor Jeffers to lose patience with a colleague “always in the garden . . . sweating blood”.

“Jesus does not want you to suffer; he suffered for you”, he remonstrates, before commanding Toller to “live in the real world”. How the Church does this becomes one of the pivot points of this film. If the “real world” is being destroyed by humanity, then isn’t a priest’s job to speak out, to marshal its forces against the destroyers? For Toller, “the whole world is a manifestation of his holy presence” and the failure of the Church to confront its polluters a sin.

I imagine that many priests will take comfort from this film, which serves as a reminder that good pastors may not look out over packed pews. That they can be found serving alongside the emergency services; that God’s work can include packing up a deceased person’s possessions and praying with their bereaved spouse. Some of the most invigorating scenes show Toller drawing on Scripture – deploying the sword the Bible describes as double-edged. In a youth group meeting, where a teenage girl puzzles over why her devout father has lost his job, he gently rejects the Prosperity Gospel, reminding his audience that “there is no dollar sign in the pulpit. There’s no American flag either”. Here is a priest who strives for integrity, for moral probity.

It’s also a beautiful film, with austere, carefully composed interiors reminiscent of Vermeer and a haunting soundtrack with sub-aquatic sounds portending the rising seas prophesised by Michael.

These are frightening times, Pastor Jeffers reminds Toller. Children are frightened. Adults are too. The film isn’t uncritical of Toller’s outlook, particularly his desire to cut himself off from human affection, even take it upon himself to wreak vengeance. But in such times, it’s good to have a reminder that our churches hold priests well-versed in the darkness.

A schlimazel single father observed: Review of ‘Menashe’

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2018 at 4:42 pm


LONE fathers are not absent from film. I immediately think of Sam Baldwin, played by Tom Hanks, in Sleepless in Seattle, describing to his son how his mother could peel an apple in one go. Single Dads can be anxious (Finding Nemo), heroic (To Kill a Mockingbird), or neglectful (My Girl). They might be in crisis (Signs) or, perhaps improbably, ready to date Claudia Schiffer (Love Actually).

None of them would have been familiar to Menashe Lustig when his wife died, suddenly, in 2008. A Hasidic Jew, the first time he set foot in a cinema was to see himself ambling into view on the streets of Borough Park, his home in New York, at last year’s Sundance Festival. Menashe is his story (he estimates that 95% of the plot draws on his own experiences) – that of a young widower whose only child is taken to be raised by another family.

It is a beautiful film shot with a kind eye. Praised for its respectful exploration of a world alien to its audience, it offers glimpses of a life deliberately set apart from modern, secular culture. But it also exists as a bridge to the universal, capturing tenderly the way a home feels both empty and prone to chaos, after the loss of a mother. Menashe’s resistance to “meddlers” will be familiar to others who have sought to ward off those who, well-meaning or otherwise, seek to bring order.

It’s also an important meditation on wisdom and tradition. These meddlers are not sanctioned by the State, but members of Menashe’s religious community, drawing on sacred texts. It is the “Rav” (Rabbi) who rules that his son, Rieven, should be raised in a two-parent home, with his Uncle. The Talmud says that three things bring a man peace, he reminds Menashe: “a nice wife, a nice house, and nice dishes”. Menashe lives in a small, spare apartment, with sparsely populated shelves and a mattress on the floor for his son to sleep on. For breakfast he offers coke and some left-over cake that must be scoffed down in seconds in order to make the school run. There is no sign, not a single photograph, of the woman who must once have lived there.

The Rav’s decision initially seems cruel, but as we watch Menashe go about his daily routine, over-sleeping, ambushed by a landlord seeking arrears, drinking too much, we might hear echoes of debates that more commonly take place between social workers and families: is this a fit parent? The camera becomes a witness – for or against we’re not sure – documenting Menashe’s efforts to prove himself. It could be regarded as another prying eye – another meddler – particularly given that the film was essentially filmed in secret. There are certain shots – Menashe gobbling a sandwich alone in a convenience store after a disastrous date, his listless face in a van window after another gaffe at work – that feel intensely private.

But there is a kindness to the film that reminded me of certain Bible verses about God’s eye on us – the God who knows every hair on our head. “You keep track of all my sorrows,” reads Psalm 56. “You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Despite the close-knit nature of the community, Menashe cuts a lonely figure. He’s often caught in the reflection of windows, or pictured in doorways, peering into the contented, organised lives of others. He’s not even the first “Menashe” that comes to the mind of his cousin, on receiving his phone call. It is only the camera that is intimately present, there to capture moments of triumph among failure and ineptitude.

The most beautiful scene shows father and son on a hill overlooking the water at dusk. Rieven’s kippah has been gently caught and returned to its proper place after it flies off while he swings on a tree branch. The duo are set apart from the other families, but together.  It carries a sad echo, later, when it is pages of kitchen paper that Menashe is pressing to the back of his son’s head, after a fall in the kitchen. But the love that this Dad has for his son is never in doubt, and there is something precious about the playful innocence of their time together.

Menashe is a prankster and, in some ways, still a child himself. He’s heavy-footed, stolid, careworn, but has the unlined face and rosy cheeks of a boy. At the synagogue, he steers Rieven away from learning about the correct behaviour in a cemetery to passages about the animal qualities they are advised to emulate, encouraging him, despite the hushed atmosphere, to perfect impressions of a leopard, eagle, and lion. It’s not that he doesn’t take his faith seriously – in an early scene he worries that unwashed lettuce goes against the Rav’s instructions – but he is passing it on to his son as something alive, tangible. It is while washing a baby chick that he teaches him why a Jew must be clean outside. The discovery of the same chick, dead in its box, is another mark against his capacities.

This combination of playfulness and irresponsibility has been explored in other films about single fathers, most recently Captain Fantastic. They test our sympathies, occasionally pushing us to side with those demanding greater maturity of the Dad whose antics come with a risk. Menashe is a “schlimazel” (a consistently unlucky or accident-prone person), urged to “become a mensch” by his brother-in-law. It’s interesting that one of the departures from Lustig’s life is Menashe’s decision to fight for his son. “It was very hard for my family,” Lustig told IndieWire. “They were good people. They thought I was full of emotions and didn’t want me to destroy my son.”

In Menashe the camera often lands gently on face of the Rieven, frequently an onlooker over-looked by the adults around him. It watches him observe his father, capturing embarrassment, disappointment. It is perhaps here that the film’s sympathies lie. Occasionally, the camera is placed at his eye-line, as at the BaOmer bonfire, so that the black-hatted men dancing ecstatically around leaping flames are seen looming above.

Although the film celebrates the place of Jewish ritual in grief, it is in a storeroom with Hispanic colleagues, sharing bottles of drink, that Menashe finally articulates his feelings, and we learn how complex they are. And it’s notable that what’s offered in return is not secular wisdom, but the words of Jesu Cristo: “If you forgive, he’ll forgive you. So your son is going to be alright. When he gets older he will understand.” It’s a nice reminder that perhaps the most authentic inter-faith encounters are not being carried out in seminar rooms, but on the streets. Menashe asks questions about the strictures imposed by religion, but also respects the comfort, the “fold” it offers, even if the threat of expulsion hangs in the air.

At the end of the film, the missing person, Rievat’s mother comes into view. “Her soul is in heaven,” the Rav pronounces. “She prays before the creator that you may raise Rieven well. All should say of your son ‘praised be his father’.” And to Rieven: “You had a very dear mother. She’ll always protect you.” There is discipline in this community, but there is also assurance. As the film ends, we see Menashe descend into the waters of the mikvah, faintly obscured by a hazy green light. It is another private, sacred moment, respectfully documented. As when gently bathing the chick with his son, he is demonstrating care – towards himself, finally – and making an outward sign of inward purification, preparing for a return to responsibility. We leave him walking the streets of Borough Park, wearing the coat and hat loved by both his wife and his son.

“All beginning are hard,” observes the Rav. “It will never be the same, yet life must go on.”

Menashe, directed by Joshua Z Weinstein was distributed by A24


The radical history of Protestantism

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2018 at 1:35 pm

Five hundred years ago this week, a professor put a notice on a board proposing a debate. It sparked a revolution in political history.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Reformation made the Europe we have today. The anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses – said to have been nailed to the door of a Wittenberg church – has inspired numerous political op-eds. The claims about its impact included the somewhat questionable notion that he gave us both Brexit and Donald Trump. Others tried to discuss the theological origins of the Reformation.

The commemoration allows us to bring all these disparate religious and political threads together, to remind ourselves that religion was once inseparable from politics, culture, the whole of life, really – and that, whether or not we claim a religious identity today, we are the inheritors of this faith-infused world.

As professor Larry Siedentop wrote, in Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism: “We no longer have a persuasive story to tell ourselves about our origins and development. For better or worse, things have just happened to us.” The Reformation is a fundamental part of that story.

To briefly summarise what took place in Wittenberg, Martin Luther – a monk and professor at the university – was concerned about the use of indulgences. These were certificates promising remittance for some of the punishment for sin after death in exchange for good works or money. He was horrified by the abuse of ordinary people, including the “false understanding” of sin and forgiveness to which the practice gave rise.

His exploration of the Bible led him to the revelation that, as the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, put it in his commemorative sermon at Westminster Abbey this week:

“We are saved entirely, confidently and unfailingly by grace alone, through faith, and not by our own works.”

Convinced of the truth of this insight, Luther refused to back down when challenged by the Church. His explanation – “Here I stand, I can do no other” – sits happily in modern discourse. It speaks to the autonomy of the individual, the assertion of freedom of conscience, and expression. In 1520, Luther burned the papal bull announcing his excommunication. He became the most famous man in Europe.

From his protest flowed intense upheaval and division. Peasants revolted, and popular acts of iconoclasm were undertaken. Images of saints were desecrated; art was ripped from church walls. Huge swathes of populations abandoned the Roman Catholic Church and wars of religion erupted within and between nations, as political leaders made calculations about where their religious loyalties should lie. It was “the first great era of ideological politics“.

As religious divisions hardened, authorities were able to exert control by demanding the confession of the ‘right’ religious doctrines. This week, half a millennia later, the Catholic Herald urged readers not to forget the “bloody horrors” of the period.

Despite the growing imposition of political authority, post-Reformation Europe provided countless examples of acts of defiance. Many paid the ultimate price for echoing Luther’s “here I stand”.

But the violence wasn’t just inflicted on people. It went both ways. Authorities faced rebellions from within, as doctrinal justifications for the deposing of ungodly rulers took hold. This was not limited to Protestants. Marshall argues that tyrannicide became “something of a Catholic speciality”.

Edicts, inquisitions, laws, and wars failed to extinguish people’s religious convictions, or insistence on articulating and sharing them. Luther did not die for his beliefs but thousands did in the two centuries after his proclamation.

Last week, commemorating William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake after translating the New Testament into English, the theologian Dr Jane Williams suggested that there are still “some things so constitutive of what we are and what we long for the world to be that if we foreswear them we forswear all that makes life worth living”.

Unable to unite people behind a single religious system, leaders had to accept plurality of belief and practice. “Modern Europe’s pluralistic and broadly tolerant society does not represent an inevitable triumph of progress, but the specific historical outcome of a contested religious past,” Marshall said.

While Luther might have agreed with Dr Williams’ defence of fervour, a persuasive case has been made that he would have been horrified by what transpired in the wake of his protest. Certainly, he opposed the popular revolts that took place against secular authorities. He advised princes, in a pamphlet published in 1525, to kill “robbing and murdering hordes of peasants”. He sought to reform the Church, not establish rivals. Nor was he advocating a “free for all”.

He had an authority: the Bible. “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture, or by evident reason, I cannot recant,” he told the church authorities in 1521, “for my conscience is held captive by the word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”

What could not be pinned down though, given that all human mediators were held to be fallible, was the correct interpretation of it. As Dr Williams argued last week, the gift of scripture put into everyone’s hands was a glorious but dangerous gift. “It enables each person to interact and to begin to form their own faith.” Interpretations may be as numerous as individuals.

Brad Gregory, a biographer of Luther, argues that Luther inadvertently sparked a more pluralist society. If the only source of authority was the Bible and people could engage with it without mediators, multiple interpretations and rival views were possible.

The legacy of the Reformation, and how Luther would have felt about it, will remain contested. Perhaps he might have been most disappointed by the way his original revelation – “the generous love of a gracious God” – was somewhat lost along the way. Many popular representations of Christianity misread it as a life of endless striving to be “good enough” for God and earn a place in heaven.

But Luther’s discovery was different. It was that God’s grace was a gift, one that delivered him from acute anxiety. It was a doctrine he expected to bring freedom, if a different sort of freedom to the one which emerged. Like the experience of John Wesley, whose heart was “strangely warmed” by grace on Aldersgate (a plaque pleasingly marks the “probable” spot), it transformed one man, before his movement transformed the world.

This piece first appeared on on 3 November, 2017


Those who applaud the decline of the church will miss it once it’s gone

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Whenever studies on the decline of the Church are reported in the press, certain responses are guaranteed to materialise. There will be questions about the methodology, a hunt for the silver lining, and cheers from those who consider all religion to be antiquated, dangerous, or plain evil. There is also likely to be a fair amount of shrugging. No antipathy as such, just a fleeting acknowledgment and perhaps a half-hearted attempt at analysis.

This week, in the Guardian, Barbara Ellen suggested that claims that Christianity encourages a sense of community “seem a tad overplayed in modern times”, before arguing that “even the most isolated individual is likely to have access to the “community” of television, phone and internet – far from ideal, but, if you’re not religious, neither is sitting in a draughty hall with a Bible group and a digestive biscuit.”

I read this after getting back from the evening service at my church, where the trainee priest had shown a film about work with elderly people in the parish. For the past two years, the church has been running a project that enables some of the most isolated people in the community to meet up for company, conversation, and, most recently, access to Asda (hugely popular, apparently). For many, it is the only time during the week that they leave the house. These are women and men who have lost spouses, whose children live far away, and who might otherwise be among the one million older people who haven’t spoken to a friend, neighbour or family member for at least a month.

Read the rest of this entry »

Songs of agony and ecstasy: a review of “Music on the Mind”

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2016 at 11:19 pm

Harvey Brough conducts Vox Holloway at the Premiere of Music on the Mind, 29 November 2015

It was the loss to suicide of four friends within two years that inspired Justin Butcher and Harvey Brough to create “Music on the Mind”. A new choral work, drawing on texts by “unquiet minds”, including those of Sylvia Plath and John Clare, it was performed for the first time at St Luke’s, Holloway, in November. I was in the pews and deeply moved.

I think it was the sight of members of the Maudsley Hospital’s Mind and Soul Choir shouting “KICK IT DOWN! KICK IT DOWN!” that thrilled me most. Comprised of staff and service users, their friends, family and carers, the choir was the beating heart of the performance. As they delivered with gusto this refrain (part of a choral adaptation of “An Unquiet Mind”, Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir of manic-depression) they were both deliberate – eyes firmly fixed on their conductor – and free, exhilarated.

Read the rest of this entry »