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Showing posts from September, 2018

Poetry, Ecology & Faith in Christina Rossetti

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The nineteenth century in Europe is often depicted as a time of rapid secularisation. Matthew Arnold's sea was withdrawing over Dover beach and religion was under sustained assault - historical criticism roughed up the Bible's integrity, Feuerbach begat Marx and Darwin begat Freud. However, alongside these challenges, the century was also a time of religious renewal and experimentation both with and alongside the dominant Christian tradition.

In England, one of those renewals is represented by the Tractarian Movement that made explicit the continuing Catholic strand with the Anglican Church. It was grounded in both reflecting on the continuities between Anglicanism and Catholicism and on a re-discovery of common roots, most especially in the Church Fathers - of both West and East.

One of the people deeply influenced and shaped by this Movement was the poet and religious writer, Christina Rossetti, whose brother, the painter and poet, Dante Gabriel, was one of the founders of …

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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I was a very factual child who read mostly history and studied maps (and watched Westerns and documentaries). It was not until I was sixteen or seventeen that I stumbled into 'the arts'. They came along in a series of individual encounters, some of which excite me still, others of which have faded. The novel was 1984, the poet was W.H. Auden, music was Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring', art cinema was Luis Bunuel, painting was J W Turner; and, opera was The Magic Flute. Each incidence opened a door that, passed through, meant a world never the same. Imagination had been ignited and enriched.

This meant, however, that, on the whole, I had never encountered the classics of children's fiction (unless possibly adapted for television and not scheduled against a documentary or a Western)! In my twenties, I spent a happy fortnight at a friend's house in the south of France where I discovered shelves devoted to the literature of childhood and lay for hours under the o…

Learning to meditate

A piece I wrote recently for the next edition of the Prison Phoenix Trust newsletter http://www.theppt.org.uk and resonant with this recent article in The Guardian on the value of yoga and meditation in prisons https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/11/yoga-prisons-crime-cut-reoffending

"When I was thirteen, my mother learnt to meditate and she changed. She was calmer, more resilient, increasingly willing to learn new things like learning to drive; and, most importantly less likely to go off the handle at something I or my brother had done! I was impressed, so much so that, when she suggested I learnt, I did.

I sat there, twice a day, practising diligently, waiting to notice a similar change, I was going to burst forth from my anxious shyness, bloom in confidence, become popular, shoot to the top of the class; and, win my first significant other!

It did not happen quite like that. I enjoyed the actual practice. I quite enjoyed having a secret since back then you did not re…

Evolving desire: the life of Rene Girard.

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If you have ever stepped into a room that has young children, a range of available toys and an ongoing dispute because every child's focus is on possession of a particular toy, you have stepped into the orbit of the works of Girard.

Desire is primarily shaped by imitation. The desirable is what is possessed by the admired other. That mutual admiration sets up rivalry. The rivalry can lead to conflict. How we manage that conflict, in multiple contexts, becomes Girard's primary theme. In the case of the nursery, it might be as simple as the adult drawing one of the children aside with a competing object of their admiration or, if the object is shareable, their admiring of the virtue of collaboration that wins, for the time being, the children's approval.

What if, however, the admired object is indivisible such as Helen of Troy who triggers and is yet not the source of the conflict between Greek and Trojan or where the desired admiration is a whole social order that must be…

The Chosen - parenting and the path to a heart

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"Long afterwards it remains in the mind and delights," says the New York Times Book Review quoted on the back cover of the Penguin Classic edition of Chaim Potok's 'The Chosen'.

This is undoubtedly true. I must have read it twice- once when at university when enthralled with my first encounter with Martin Buber and fascinated by a novel that, at its heart, had a relationship between a Hasidic rebbe and his son. Subsequently, having enjoyed it and read its sequel, 'The Promise' and many of Potok's other novels, I must have read it again sometime later.

Now, after a significant gap, I found myself reading it once more - both anew and with the renewing of memory. I was struck indeed by how much flowed back as remembered delight.

The vivid baseball game at its opening with the two yeshiva teams facing off with blistering rivalry. The 'accident' whereby Danny, the son of the rebbe, injures Reuven, endangering his eye, and yet become friends out of…