Prayer in Time of War


Prayer in Time of War

Can you breathe through spreading pain?
Can you bear the suffering again?
Can you bleach the blood-red stain?
Can you stop the rape of Ukraine?

Can you dull the loins of those on heat for war?
Can you block their guns as you’ve done before?
Can the hope of peace-talks cry, ‘No More!’?
Can fiery minds change their very core?

God, so implement the love of Calvary,
Your eirenic Spirit blast the fighters free,
Caress the world with mastery,
Your love that heals painstakingly.

Transfigured

Our face completely mirroring his features.


Paul Claudel, Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Mark (Mk 9:2-10)

Transfiguration:15th Century ikon, Theophanes the Greek, Gallery Tretiakov

Mark 9:2-10

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

  • New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

………………..

“Let us go up to Tabor with him: Jesus is ready. The host is going to be elevated for an instant, we come to the heart

of the Sacred Mysteries.

The perfect man in the Christ fulfils his perfect

appearing,

And by themselves, his feet are separated

from the earth.

The grain is hard, the grape is swollen, it is summer. The time has come when God at last crowns

His entire creature.

Human beings are perfect animals, Jesus is the

consummate human being,

Every living form in Him attains His paragon

supreme.

His clothing becomes like snow,

his flesh shines like light.

The Law and the Prophets suddenly appear in his

presence.

Like the iris where the sun is reflected, and like the Son

when the Father is present:

“You are my well-loved Son to whom I have given my

consent.”

Do we understand that at this moment our Brother

has changed us?

His face, his eyes, – his heart; – his feet that

we have touched?

Our face completely mirroring

His features.”

  • Paul Claudel, Poetic Breviary, Paris, LGF, the “Livre de Poche” collection, 1971, pages 153-155.
  • Translation : Ted Witham tssf, 2022
  • Paul Claudel (1868-1955) was a French Roman Catholic playwright, poet, exegete and diplomat.

Never war


Make love, not war.

Make love, not war.

Make love, not war.

This is the first and great commandment – at least, as it applies to nation-states and other tribal entities.

We have been so quick to fall victim to the narrative of Ukraine the victim and Russia the aggressor. We prayed this morning at church only for Ukraine. Even if it is the simplest case of Ukraine: victim and Russia: aggressor, Russia still needs praying for. We pray for its leaders that they stay their hand, that they make love, not war.

But we know the situation is more complex than Ukraine: victim and Russia: aggressor. That may be a summary of the politics, but there appear to be some in Ukraine wanting war, wanting to show how great the Ukrainian resistance will be. There are Ukrainians hiding trembling in the Metro and there are Ukrainians actively hunting Russians as ‘the enemy’.

And in Russia, think of those braving the Kremlin and protesting in the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg against their leaders. Think of the Russian legislators compromised by their allegiance to Russia and their reluctance to be the aggressors. Think of those in Putin’s inner circle who he has bullied into support for the war. And Putin himself: He is a brutal dictator, but does he not need prayer too?  He is a human being.

It’s complex, as all human relationships are complex.

So, I protest. I protest about praying for Ukraine as if the ‘blame’ is all on Russia’s side and not on both. I protest that our support for Ukraine is so easily subverted into supporting Ukraine’s war effort.

War can never be the answer. Even the great prosecutor of war Winston Churchill said, ‘Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.’  

We need to pray. We do. So, let us pray for all caught up in this conflict. And above all, let us pray for peace.

Caravanning around

…extremely funny and bitingly serious about the state of the arts in Australian society.


Wayne Macauley, Caravan Story, Melbourne: Text, 2012 (2007)

ISBN 9781922079121

208 pages

Paperback from $15. Kindle $11.96

Reviewed by Ted Witham

The humour is Australian; the settings are banally Australian. There is a lot to like in this savage satire by Melbourne writer Wayne Macauley. Caravan Story was his second novel.

Wayne Macauley

Since the original publication of Caravan Story in 2007, Macauley has published The Cook (2011)and Simpson Returns (2020). A book of stories Other Stories was released in 2011. He has received a number of prestigious prizes for his writing.

In Caravan Story, the writer, ‘Wayne Macauley’, wakes up one morning in a caravan being towed away. The destination is a country town on the footy oval turned into a caravan park.

He finds himself in an oval full of artists, carted here by the Government. They are instructed to make themselves useful members of society. They are fed and housed while they create.

The painters and the actors soon find ways of turning a dollar, but the writers are unable to be so enterprising. Their writing efforts are collected, but it turns out that the rejection slips have already been written. The plot shows ‘Wayne Macauley’ and his partner escaping home from this crazy world of disillusion, and on the way is extremely funny and bitingly serious about the state of the arts in Australian society.

As a writer, I revelled in this book, both for its questioning of the ‘usefulness’ of poems and stories, and for the loving attention to the details of footy clubs, high schools and caravan living. But it is a book for people other than writers, simply to have a laugh at Governments’ total incomprehension of the arts, and the importance of writers, and all of us, to ground ourselves, to have a place that is ours — a home.

A Universe of Delights?


I have been luxuriating in the images of Brian Cox’s Universe (BBC 2021), and being amazed by the new discoveries in astronomy. Professor Brian Cox is a friendly guide to a story that spans nearly 14 billion years.

It is intriguing that the BBC uses a mixture of images generated by real telescopes and CGI ‘imaginings’ of far-off worlds. They are all designed to make the viewer gasp with astonishment.

The series has taught me more about the history of how stars are formed and their conglomeration into galaxies. I think I understand a little more clearly the ways in which space and time bend at the extremes, making it impossible for our minds to grasp whether the universe is infinite or bounded in some way.

If viewers’ wonder at the beauty and extravagance of nature is aroused, you would grade the series as a success. The wonder of it all leads me as a Christian to praise the Creator God who is at the heart of it.

Yet there lies a paradox. ‘Science’ is the Professor’s god, yet his story of the origins of the cosmos, ‘where everything begins and ends‘, as the series’ tagline puts, strays from straight science into philosophy and theology. It has to: the themes are so large.

You could expect ‘Science’ to stay within its domains, yet many times, Brian Cox points out the beauty of the stars and the galaxies. ‘Science’ is not aesthetics, but it would be a dull program that told the story just as the interactions of physical and chemical forces – science.

Professor Cox even uses the phrase ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ to describe how the cosmos came to be. I wonder if he was even conscious that that phrase was the title of a 1965 epic film of the life of Jesus! Cox would contest the idea that the Greatest Story Ever Told was the Creator consenting to become part of his Creation.

By emphasising the drama of the Big Bang and the formation of galaxies and stars, Universe tries to give meaning to the formation of the cosmos. The series implies that there is a connection between human understanding (‘Science’) and the reality of the Universe, even though human beings are such a minuscule part of the whole. We humans, asserts this program, are the Universe made self-aware.

This is intriguing speculation: but it is not, strictly speaking, ‘Science’. It lies far outside ‘Science’ and is more the domain of philosophy and theology. This is the language you might expect in a theological book on the Cosmic Christ.

I sympathise with the makers of Universe: to make a film with the tagline ‘the story of the cosmos is meaningless’ would attract few viewers, but the truth is there can be no scientific evidence that the Universe has meaning.

It is at this point that Universe slips into intellectual dishonesty. To ask the audience to respond aesthetically (the Universe is beautiful) or philosophically and theologically (the Universe has meaning) is a request to step outside what science can show. Viewers should be on the lookout for these category errors.

Satire kicks our consumerist world

The Transition is the funniest – and best crafted – novel – I have read this year.


Luke Kennard, The Transition, Fourth Estate (2017)

Paperback (Used) from $10, Kindle e-book from $8

ISBN 9780008200459

Reviewed by Ted Witham

The Transition is the funniest – and best crafted – novel – I have read this year. Well-known in Britain as a poet, this is Luke Kennard’s first novel.

Millennials Karl and Genevieve are struggling to make ends meet. Locked out of the housing market with Karl unemployed, Genevieve is a Primary school teacher. She loves her job, and despite her day-to-day frustrations in the classroom, believes in its importance to society.

Karl writes online ‘cheat’ essays for university students of English literature. He is drawn more into the online world of writing for cash until he finds himself convicted for fraud for his almost intentional participation in an illegal scam.

Instead of jail time, the couple is offered a placement in ‘The Transition’, a program that invites a commitment of six months to turn their finances, and lives, around. They are billeted in the spare room of Stu and Jenna, who follow a mysterious Manual to reform their guests.

‘The Transition’ turns out to be not quite as advertised. As Karl explores the scheme’s underbelly, Kennard reveals a wider community based on inequality, where the poorer middle-class are shut out of the common wealth of their society, and where big data distorts and dictates their lives.

These forces override people’s compassion for mental illness, and Genevieve’s descent into illness is sensitively described.

The themes are serious. Kennard treats them seriously, but with a joyous lightness that helps us sympathise with a couple just trying to make it through the week.

I plan to re-gift my copy of The Transition this Christmas – and I have no feelings of guilt whatever in doing so. It’s the sort of novel you want to share!

Attractive snapshots of the Christian family: review of Greg Sheridan’s new book, Christians.

…an attractive portrayal of Christianity for those who do not share the faith


Greg Sheridan, Christians: The urgent case for Jesus in our world, Allen & Unwin, 2021.

From $26. Paperback.
Available from St John’s Books, Fremantle

Reviewed by Ted Witham

First published in Anglican Messenger, Perth, October 2021.

Greg Sheridan introduces his new book on the people of Christianity with his cheerful description of our faith:

‘On the inside, Christianity is full of feast days and family, full of fellowship, full of friendship. And everyone is welcome, surely never more so than at Christmas. It’s full of care for the sick and elderly, and for infants. It’s full of sport and play, hard work and rest. It’s full of good music and laughter, happy rituals and lots and lots of food (it’s very big on food). It is the principle of human solidarity. It’s the search for decency. It’s a conversation with each other and with God. As John Denver might have put it, in Christianity you routinely speak to God and rejoice at the casual reply.’ (Page 11)

Christians is Greg Sheridan’s second book in defence of Christianity. Sheridan writes of a large Christianity, catholic in the widest way. One of his principal arguments, first advanced in his 2018 God is Good for You, is that it is more reasonable to believe in God than not. The first book was mainly a rejoinder to the new atheists. In it, he took on writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and showed how much bigger Christianity is than the caricature Dawkins and Hitchens attack.

In this second book, Sheridan tells stories: the stories of Jesus, Mary and the remarkable Paul. Stories of the faith of Scott Morrison, Alpha’s Nicky Gumbel and the Melbourne Anglican founder of Converge, Jenny George. He tells the story of China’s Christians, and the difference they may make to the future of China. In London, he compares the neighbouring churches of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) and the Brompton Oratory, where traditional and informal liturgies, high classical church music and Matt Redman’s Gospel songs are all quite different and all nourish believers.

Christians compresses Christianity to its simple heart. For a reader like me, Sheridan sometimes makes Christianity seem too simple. But his purpose is to provide an attractive portrayal of Christianity for those who do not share the faith. In that, Christians reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity,and Christians is a more entertaining read than Lewis.

Greg Sheridan’ s writing is compelling and accessible. He works as foreign editor for the Australian newspaper. In Christians, he is open about his political stance (he describes himself as centre-right). In a throwaway line, he suggests that Christians are likely to be centre-right or centre-left in their politics. Extremes are likely to lack love.

Christians is endorsed by well-known journalists and by church leaders as diverse as Russell Evans from Planetshakers International, Peter Comensoli, Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne and Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, President of the US National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

It is a book that can be shared both with non-Christians and Christians alike. Those unfamiliar with our faith will find an attractive picture of how Christian faith is lived, and Christians will be encouraged that such a positive book will speak to such a challenging time.   

Fun and a frisson of fear in Mordew


Alex Pheby, Mordew, 2020, Galley Beggar Press.

312 pages
Kindle edition $7.59
Paperback $28
Reviewed by Ted Witham

Alex Pheby’s Mordew is a satisfying fantasy. Mordew (the name is said to be derived from the French mort and Dieu, death and God) seethes with all sorts of life and unlife. There is the Living Mud. There are flukes, non-viable life-forms in the shape of human body parts. Other babies and conceived and born in the normal way by human beings. There are chilling gill men who guard the city’s ports and the houses of the very rich.

A magic glass road leads up from the Slums, through the mercantile section to the Manse where the Master, the creator of this dystopia, lives and weaves his magic.

Nathan Treeves, a boy from the slums, is recruited into a gang consisting of the leader Gam, the Joeys (are they conjoined twins?) and Prissy, whose sister works as a prostitute. Nathan believes they may help him fund medicine for his dying father.

Nathan catches the Master’s eye. We don’t learn the reason for this adoption until much later in the novel. The Master sets Nathan up, under the eye of the faithful Bellows, in luxury in the Manse, where he is educated. The end point of the education is for Nathan to learn the Magic which sustains Mordew and the other worlds.

Where Nathan himself ends up is a surprise, and I am not sure that I liked Nathan’s destination, although the fact that his destructive spree is his destiny is clearly drawn.

The story is fast paced. The many weird and intriguing characters, the vicious Fagan-like Mr Padge among them, help or hinder Nathan on his discoveries.

The last quarter of the book, after the conclusion of the narrative, is a glossary setting out the world of Mordew in detail, how the Magic works, the connection between the material and immaterial realms, the place of time and some of the history of the worlds. I savoured this ‘theological’ section as well, even though it was not necessary to the telling of the story.

If you enjoy dystopian fantasy with a steampunk-like aesthetic, you will find much to like in Mordew.

Blessed are Christians through the Pandemic

We Christians will be stronger and our faith will be deeper – we will be more blessed – because of living through this moment.


Irene Alexander and Christopher Brown (editors), To Whom Shall We Go? Faith responses in a time of crisis, Cascade 2021

Paperback ISBN 9781725289550
Hardback ISBN 9781725289567
eBook ISBN 9781725289574

Available from the publishers, Koorong, or from the authors at holyscribblers.blogspot.com

Hardback $40, eBook and Paperback $25

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Part of us wants to pretend the Coronavirus pandemic has not happened, and that the Church can go back to its old ways after the worst of this is over. I have no doubt, however, that there will be enduring changes, not least in the way Church organisations use technology.

The collective of Christian writers behind To Whom Shall We Go, who call themselves the “Holy Scribblers”, are also convinced of permanent change. Their interest, as shown in this series of eleven essays, is in changes to our spiritual lives more than technology.

The book is loosely structured around the Beatitudes and this structure gives the book an optimistic feel: we Christians will be stronger and our faith will be deeper – we will be more blessed – because of living through this moment. Their grounds for optimism are historical. We have before lived through past pandemics and challenges and emerged changed and stronger.

The authors are an eclectic mix of academics and thinkers who are looking for thoughtful Christian readers, clergy and lay. Two Franciscan Tertiaries, Terry Gatfield and Charles Ringma, are among the contributors. As is always the case with essays from diverse authors, individual readers will find some essays stronger than others. For example, Chris Mercer’s explorations of Desert Father Evagrius’ “eight deadly thoughts” (gluttony and lack of thankfulness for food, sexual lust, sadness, boredom and apathy, vainglory and pride) resonate for me.

I have some quibbles with the structure of the book. Each section gave rise to prayers and questions for reflection. The reflection questions were at the very end of the book. In the eBook format, especially without hyperlinks, this rendered the questions almost useless.

The prayers were crafted along quite traditional lines, so some could be used or adapted, for example, for intercessions at the Eucharist. I found them a bit too stolid, with none of the creativity of the stunningly beautiful prayers of another Australian, Craig Mitchell, in his recent Deeper Water (Mediacom).  

To Whom Shall We Go is a timely book and will stimulate lively thinking about where God is now leading God’s Church.

Short and Narrow: the charming redemption of Silas Marner


George Eliot, Silas Marner, The Weaver of Raveloe, Capuchin Classics, 2009.

Paperback 250 pages

In Public Library System
New from $AU9.99, used from $AU8.99 online.
E-book from $4.

Reviewed by Ted Witham

George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans 1819-1880) wrote Silas Marner as her version of Pilgrim’s Progress. Like Bunyan’s masterpiece, Silas Marner also has the feel of a universal fable, the redemption of a man from desolation to love and riches.

Unlike Progress, however, the characters in Silas Marner are well-drawn and invite sympathy. Knowing how shabbily Silas has been treated and knowing the inner journey of Silas and the nasty young Squire, makes the reader care about the characters.

Eppie, the toddler who appears in Silas’ life after his precious gold has been taken, is less believable as an individual. She is beautiful in body and soul, humble in aspiration and devoted to Silas. But she is lovely because she is so deeply loved by Silas, her ‘Papa’.

The inner journey Silas makes is not like the ‘ascent’ of Pilgrim to the river and the City of Heaven. Nor is it in the tradition of the ‘ascent’ to God mapped by medieval mystics like Bonaventure and Richard of Saint Victor.

Silas’ journey to redemption stays in the gritty reality of Victorian poverty. Grace – in the form of the toddler he names Hephzibah (Eppie) – comes to Silas once and all at once. The name Hephzibah means ‘My delight is in her’, and it is used in the Hebrew Scriptures as the symbolic name for the restored Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:4). The redemption takes the miser, Silas, with his short-sight and propensity to fitting, and teaches him how to love deeply.

Eliot contrasts the emotional and spiritual poverty of his former state with the richness of loving and being loved: the gold is even returned to Silas and secrets, liberating once shared, are brought to light.

Names are important to Eliot: Silas is named for the companion of the Apostle Paul. The New Testament’s Silas and Paul are put in prison and God releases them. God also releases Silas Marner from the darkness of the cultish Lantern Yard and from his self-imposed prison and. Both the New Testament and the village of Raveloe rejoice greatly at Silas’ release.

Is the name ‘Marner’ a reference to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner published 90 years earlier?  

Silas Marner is my introduction to George Eliot. I found the novel charming and satisfying. There is a central goodness in the novel which will be evident to readers whether or not they are Christian believers. But it is ultimately a Christian novel, an exploration of the journey we all in our own ways make in Christ.