until 24th October, 2021
Paula Rego DBE (1935-) was educated at the only Anglican school in Portugal. Which is to say quite a lot. She went to St Julian’s in Lisbon because her beloved father was both anti the Catholic Church and an Anglophile. It’s not clear that any English cool rubbed off on her. Rego’s work is famously passionate, anti-clerical, anti-authoritarian and is rooted in the folk tales of Iberia.
And it is correct to say Iberia. True, it is always Portugal which she paints just as her women are often a part of herself. Yet Rego is greatly in debt to Velasquez and to Goya. Goya especially in her bleak, unsparing view of humanity (leavened by a sense of humour not found in Goya) and in her love of illustration and her great skill in etching and printmaking.
After finishing school in the UK – the curators laud her as ‘transgressive’ and there’s no higher praise in the vocabulary of the Arts Establishment, but it’s hard not to think that she is very much an haut bourgeois rebel — Rego went to art school at the Slade. She chose not to follow the fashionable New York driven abstract modernism, preferring collage and surrealism. She later said that etching and printmaking were among the few parts of the course which she enjoyed. In her early years she was also an artist’s model (later she would claim that models had an equal share to the artist in the creation of artworks), only becoming a full-time artist in the early sixties.
As the catalogue exhaustively repeats, her career upto the mid-seventies was marked by fierce opposition to the Portugese Estado Novo, the Salazar dictatorship based on country, church and family. So ferocious was her opposition to the regime – in this she followed both her father and grandfather – that some of her work was considered too excessive to be shown in this country. However, she was able to move to and fro freely between Portugal and the UK before finally settling in London in 1972.
The sixties and seventies were difficult for Rego at the personal level. Her husband (Victor Willing) had been diagnosed with MS in 1966, the family business was seized by the Leftist revolutionaries in 1974 and she herself had begun 40 years’ of analysis for depression (from 1966). The depression and the cure which involved bringing out the shadow side of her experience, the relationship with Willing both in what had been an open marriage (the transgression loving catalogue tiptoes around this) and in his growing dependence on her, were reflected in the themes of her work in what was to be her most fruitful period, the eighties and nineties. With Willing’s encouragement – the catalogue recognises that the UK art scene was not a bad place for Rego – she moved away from collage to paint (and eventually pastel) and to story-telling, a move crystallised when in 1990 she became in effect the first Artist in Residence at the National Gallery.
This period is the heart of the exhibition (Tate had the wisdom to buy her works early). And these works are psychologically demanding in the way Goya’s are. But first, and this is largely ignored in the presentation of the show, they are powerful in their colour and the skill with which that colour is applied. The room in the show devoted to the ‘Possession’ paintings is breath-taking not because of its subject matter but first and foremost because of the colours of the painting. The same goes for the ‘Angel’ (1998) and ‘Bride’ (1994).
Rego is a stunning colourist and her attitude to colour is typical of her approach. She has said that she uses pastels because she is a drawer rather than a painter, a good, technical description of her narrative style. And the critics say that pastel allows her to be more aggressive in her subversion of the male dominated art world. Which may be true, but Rego also says the advantage of pastel is that it stops her from smoking all the time because she has to use both hands when applying the pastel colours. So, we have the slightly rackety bohemianism, the painting out of her love of narrative and the ferocity of her feelings. All this maybe more playful than the catalogue article which suggests men deserve everything that’s coming to them from Rego’s disproportionate off stage, hinted at revenges.
And to say that is not to take away from the political causes in Rego’s work – its support for abortion, possibly based on personal experience, and her concerns about female genital mutilation and the ill treatment of women by men. But Rego is a complex person and these are complex works which cannot be reduced to the purely political. It would be interesting, for instance, to know how much of her anger is a reaction to her own inner demons, something which her therapy might have dealt with. Or, ironically, how much of her anger is in the spirit of psalm 137, often bowdlerised by the powers that be but very much an expression of suffering and the anger it provokes.
This comprehensive show is rarely comfortable. It provokes and unsettles. The illustrations of nursery rhymes are not for children. But it is well worth the visit.
Coronet 2021 £20
ISBN 9781529336252 304pp
It can still surprise people to learn that Anglican dioceses have experts appointed to deal with the ministry of Deliverance, meaning cases which appear to involve the paranormal. The Revd Dr Jason Bray fulfils that role in the Welsh diocese of St Asaph, and this book aims to give an account of his work, written for a general readership. Such a work is useful, because it is one of the odder features of our secular or neo-pagan society that people may dismiss the possibility of God while displaying a ready belief in spirits, good and bad.
The nearest most parish priests are likely to come to such matters is the occasional request to bless a house where something is “not quite right”, or dealing with teenagers who have scared themselves playing with Ouija boards. The author explains that the remit of deliverance ministers goes wider than this. They are the ones called to investigate cases of poltergeist activity (well documented, and not to be confused with anything ghostly), houses with unexplained troubles like “cold spots” in them, hauntings due to place memories or sometimes the unquiet spirits of the dead, and instances of possible human possession by evil spirits.
Fr Bray, most commendably, tries to defuse the Hollywood-inspired glamour surrounding such things. (Extravaganzas such as The Exorcist bear hardly any likeness to reality, where the full exorcism of persons is rarely carried out.) Like most of his fellow workers in this area, he brings to his task a healthy degree of scepticism. Those trained for Deliverance ministry always consider medical and psychological reasons to explain reported unusual phenomena before they accept the presence of the supernatural. Also, they are on the look-out for hoaxes. (Claiming that your council accommodation is haunted can be quite a good trick for obtaining a move to somewhere better.) The author accepts the paranormal, of which he has experience, but does not automatically look for bogies round every corner.
As I have said, this is very much an introductory book. It would have benefitted from some more stringent editing. Given the anecdotal nature of much of its content, extended reported conversations become repetitive and wearisome, and there are pages taken up with unnecessary details about such matters as Benedictine life and the filling in of marriage registers. Also, the author occasionally slips into that kind of jokey talk which we clergy can adopt when trying put non-churchgoers at their ease. “I am the person at the front of the church on a Sunday dressed in a white robe and a coloured poncho who sings weird chants at you and tells you how much God loves you” might (but only might) raise a giggle in conversation, but in print it grates, giving the impression of treating one’s priestly work flippantly, which Fr Bray clearly does not do.
Given the book’s purpose, deep theological reflection on paranormal phenomena and the possibility of demonic possession is not to be expected. Those seeking fuller treatment should turn to the older book edited by Michael Perry and also called Deliverance, which is still available. It is clear, however, that we should not dismiss such matters too quickly.
Fr Bray knows the effectiveness of blessing houses and people, and of saying a Requiem Mass where appropriate, and he makes absolutely clear that this is no “white magic”, but bringing disturbed situations into the orbit of the healing work of Christ and his conquest of evil. This presents an interesting question. As Fr Bray points out (and my own experience confirms what he says), some church buildings, not necessarily old, have “bad vibes”, and exert an unhealthy influence on those who serve in them. Why should this be so, if the sacraments are celebrated there regularly, and what is the source of the trouble?
The book leaves us with two points to note. The first is that the Deliverance ministry – at least, beyond the house blessings mentioned above — is emphatically work for trained professionals who are under the authority of their bishop. Secondly, we need to ask ourselves whether we take seriously enough the truth that as Christians we are involved in a conflict with spiritual wickedness. Too many clergy appear uncomfortable with teaching the reality of the Holy Angels, and are therefore inclined to play down the possibility of corruption in the spiritual realm. Our Lord and the writer of Ephesians had no doubts about the matter, and it will do us good to learn again that the petition “deliver us from evil” is a form of exorcism prayer and means what it says.
Barry A. Orford
Light on Christian Controversies
ISBN 9798718788198 £4.99
Fr Twisleton gathers together here a series of brief essays (few longer than four short pages) on topics which are controversial among contemporary Christians. Among them we find Anti-Semitism, Evolution and the Bible, Hell, Experience of the Holy Spirit, Marian controversy and the Ordination of Women. We must commend the author for tackling such issues head-on.
A self-confessed Anglo-Catholic, Fr Twisleton’s writing fits clearly into the balancing act of Scripture, Tradition and Reason which has distinguished Anglican theological method, and it is refreshing to engage with a Christian writer whose background lies in the sciences. Would that more scientist-theologians would put their heads above the parapet to challenge the shallow scientism which is pedalled enthusiastically in the media.
The author provides concise material for those who might be wondering whether they can with intellectual honesty commit themselves to Christian belief, and he does a valuable job in clearing away some of the ludicrous and ignorant travesties of Christianity which have common currency. No reader is likely to agree with him at all points (I do not), but anyone looking at these pieces honestly will have to accept that being a Christian is not a guarantee of being stupid or superstitious.
Does the brevity of presentation work? Yes and no. The essays frequently give the basis for thought and discussion, as in the excellent chapter on Reasonable Faith. On the other hand, there are some topics which are frustrating because they require lengthier treatment. For example, the question of euthanasia cannot adequately be dealt with when crammed into a chapter also dealing with abortion. The question of Assisted Dying is a pressing one, given that secular humanists are relentlessly pursuing their case to see it permitted by Parliamentary legislation. Informed Christian engagement with this is essential. Perhaps New Directions might like to devote an issue to the subject.
Fr Twisleton’s commitment to the scriptures is welcome, though he is sometimes less critical in his approach to them than he might be. Occasionally he tips over from valuing tradition into traditionalism. Tradition is not static and cannot avoid the legitimate challenges of widening scientific knowledge and increasing human understanding. Also, the book is a slightly uneasy mixture of doctrinal matters and Church practice. But it packs much solid thought into a limited space, and shows that Catholic Anglicans have a significant contribution to make to Church reflection if they are given the opportunity to do so.
Barry A. Orford
Let us Break Bread Together!
Recipes from All Saints Notting Hill
All Saints Notting Hill £10
My last review for New Directions dealt with politics and faith, this month I am taking a different turn to focus on another one of my passions – food! This wonderful collection of recipes has been collected together to mark the 160th Anniversary of the consecration of All Saints Notting Hill; a parish known to many readers as a centre of hospitality and pastoral care for Christians in this country and around the world. The international, and in particular Caribbean, flavour of the book pays tribute to this. There are of course recipes from Sweden as well where All Saints continues to have links with Sister Gerd Swensson.
I have on my shelves a large collection of cookbooks, perhaps an obsessive collection of them to be quite honest. My favourites are never those by famous chefs, like Nigella Lawson or Fanny Craddock, but by local community groups and churches. ‘Let us Break Bread Together!’ is certain to become a favourite of mine. Primarily, the interest lies in the recipes collected by parishioners of the parish, but the compilers gave done a great work in soliciting contributions from people in all parts of British society. So there are recipes from several bishops, politicians (including the Prime Minister), members of the House of Lords (as a Playschool Baby my favourite being from Baroness Benjamin!), as well as various figures in the life of the church.
Perhaps the contributions of interest to many will be those from members of the Royal Family. There are recipes from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, HRH The Duchess of Kent, and HRH Princess Alexandra. It is wonderful to think that members of the Royal Family and their households are willing to take the time to contribute to these collections which will help the ministry and mission of one of our parishes.
So where will I begin when it comes to cooking: I think I’ll begin with a negroni from the Bishop of Fulham, follow it with Lockdown Lentil Soup from William Nye, then feast on some Bobotie and finish off with some Scrummy Tucks. I could spend the afternoon with a large glass or three of rum punch from Allyson Williams MBE. All in all this recipe book is a joy to read and to contemplate cooking your way through. Get yourself a copy, and why not buy one for someone for Christmas!
Available from All Saints Notting Hill for £10 including P +P. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to order a copy
The Unbroken Thread
Discovering the Wisdom of
Tradition in an Age of Chaos
Hodder & Stoughton 2021 £14.75
ISBN 978-1529364507 320pp
Is new-est true-est? Not always, but it takes a brave soul to assemble the evidence against. With the benefits of economic and technological advance comes a price tag linked to illusory emancipation of intellect and will from constraints upheld by age old wisdom across faith traditions. Sohrab Ahmari outlines the price we are paying from such unshackling from the past across western society. His parents fled religious oppression in Iran and their son is concerned for his son, Maximilian, to escape the more subtle oppression of ‘Me-first’ contemporary liberalism. A Roman Catholic, Ahmari draws on great minds in his own and wider faith traditions in challenging the cult of the contemporary, especially where it undermines the common good. His starting point is the graphic self-sacrifice in Auschwitz of St Maximilian Kolbe, his son’s namesake. Kolbe exercised his freedom in giving his life on behalf of another prisoner in imitation of Christ. Such use of freedom for the good of others is set forth as a core ideal applauded down the centuries.
‘For millennia, philosophical, ethical and theological reflection was commonplace among the intellectually curious. But the wisdom that some of the greatest minds across the centuries continue to offer us remains routinely ignored in our modern pursuit of self-fulfilment, economic growth and technological advancement… To be or do whatever we want, subject only to consent, with everything morally neutral or relative – are at odds with the true freedom that comes from the pursuit of the collective good. Rather than the insatiable drive to satisfy our individual appetites, this collective good involves self-sacrifice and self-control. It requires us to diminish so that others may grow. What responsibility do we have to our parents? Should we think for ourselves? Are sexual ethics purely a private matter? How do we justify our lives?… By plumbing the depths of each question, the book underscores the poverty of our contemporary narratives around race, gender, privilege (and much else), exposing them as symptoms of a deep cultural crisis in which we claim a false superiority over the past, and helps us work our way back to tradition, to grasp at the thin, bare threads in our hands, while we still can’.
Sohrab Ahmari is a high profile journalist and edits the New York Times. As a storyteller he speaks truth laterally and powerfully as for example in his telling the tale of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. This is a tale parallel to that of his own family. Solzhenitsyn, on escaping Soviet totalitarianism, shocked everyone by raising the question: ‘Could it be that the liberal West, having reduced freedom to a bare legalism and the absence of natural and traditional barriers, was also unfree, only in a different way? This was Solzhenitsyn’s early intuition, and the more time he spent in the West, observing its ways and attempting to navigate them, the more the thought gathered strength in his mind. The loss of many barriers against the individual will, he concluded, had paradoxically robbed Western life of its true freedom. An excess of rights had paved the road to a new serfdom.’ In his book Ahmari draws on similar counter-cultural figures such as John Henry Newman, C.S.Lewis and feminist Andrea Dworkin’s whose life and thought exposed how our ideology of sexual freedom masks a deeper unfreedom. More widely the author presents the wisdom of Confucius in relation to family life and Thomas Aquinas on the rationality of faith. In addressing twelve questions he exposes strands of age old wisdom designed to stay unbroken or unfrayed. From these he weaves advice for his son, including ‘to read old books before new ones. To make all your big decisions by the light of sound authorities, above all that of the Holy Church… to recognize that the moral precepts you expound demand to be acted upon-by you, in your immediate, everyday surroundings, rarely in some lofty domain of the mind’. As its subtitle implies, this book opens up a vision of life lived in an age of chaos yet anchored in solid ideals secured by owning the wisdom of tradition.
Still Love Left
Faith and Hope in Later Life
YoUCaxton 2021 £9.99
ISBN 978-1913425685 155pp
‘What is the secret of your long innings? Have you any tips to pass on to us? Try and grow used to the place of every star and forget your own dark house’ (KW Gransden). It is indeed true that the wise are those who have learnt to see the bigger picture in a ‘long innings’ and value it in their lives. For those of us who are Christians, that bigger picture is framed by the incarnate God who loves us to the end’. Such conviction about the call of love permeates this book by Michael Jackson which seeks to engage with the challenges and encouragements that surround ageing. Framed by three obvious perspectives – our past, present and future – the book draws on the author’s experience in serving the elderly as a priest in Hampshire and Yorkshire. There are numerous quotations but they feed into the book’s clear structure: addressing how we make the most of our life experience, grow in contentment and engage with the certainty of death.
Reaching outside of ourselves, from ‘our own dark house’, to others and to God is set forth as the key to healthy ageing. I was particularly struck by examples of people growing in patience, resilience and humility through hardship and the call to build gratitude for the riches we can see in life if we choose to do so. ‘The practice of gratitude provides the nursery slopes for contemplative ageing’ (Ann Morisy). Taking the rough with the smooth is a grace, especially the need to depend on others which can be alien to many of us. ‘There is an art to knowing when to let some of the independence of spirit go, and acknowledge we need help and accept that graciously. If we can do that we can achieve what one writer in her eighties calls ‘heroic helplessness’’. As WH Vanstone outlines in his classic ‘The Stature of Waiting’, devotion to Christ in the helplessness of his passion complements devotion to Jesus in the active ministry we share with him by the Spirit. ‘Revealingly Vanstone says… ‘The word ‘passion’ does not mean, exclusively or even primarily, ‘pain’: it means dependence, exposure, waiting, being no longer in control of one’s situation, being the object of what is being done’.
Outside of the Gospels the scriptural focus of the book lies in Paul’s candour about bearing hardship expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:16: ‘So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day’. Michael Jackson draws out the power latent in these words in the face of ageing, especially deterioration of body and mind. ‘At the heart of living well as we age is a realisation that spiritually we can remain as active as ever, renewed daily by God’s grace. Being aware of this can give us the understanding that we can continue to grow’. In one of several autobiographical passages Jackson writes of his mother contracting Alzheimer’s disease. ‘‘Does she still know you?’ they would ask. I know that this was well meant. They were in a sense empathising with how awful it must be not to be recognised by someone you love. But I came to find this an unhelpful enquiry which grated because I felt it carried a sort of sub-text along the lines of ‘I do sympathise because if she doesn’t know you then there must be no ongoing relationship’. To that sentiment I wanted to protest ‘well actually it doesn’t matter because I know her’. I had such knowledge and love of her as to be able to continue to sustain the relationship even if she was unable to articulate that for herself. It was my calling to enter into her passion and be her memory’.
Ageing has a future perspective where there is the gift of faith. St Francis de Sales explains preparing for death as akin to transplanting a tree to another soil. ‘One must dexterously disengage each little root one after another, and since we are about to be transplanted from this world in death, we must withdraw our affections from the earth’. Acceptance of the loss of physical and mental faculties, naturally seen as regrettable, releases us for our great forward journey. Jackson presents cultivation of the spiritual life as a vital complement to such acceptance since it deepens love and ‘over love’s depths only the surface is wrinkled’ (RS Thomas). Ageing brings with it the spiritual challenge to tackle the fear of death in which putting faith in Christ’s resurrection is key. ‘The timeless — if only we can let go, and open ourselves to receive — can heal our past, make our present rich and full, and give hope for what is to come’. As the book’s title and subtitle affirm, through keeping faith and hope in God, contemplative ageing guarantees there is love left at and beyond the end of life. In contentment we are invited to ‘let our last thinks be all thanks’ (WH Auden).
Vicars of Walsingham 1921 – 2021
Little Walsingham PCC, 2021 £10
Such is the centrality of Walsingham to Anglo-Catholicism that just the title of this attractively produced book will immediately appeal to all those with an interest in the movement. And nor do its contents disappoint; a series of fascinating insights emerge from its pages into the lives and ministry of eight parish priest resident in the pretty North Norfolk village of Little Walsingham and its parish church of St Mary’s. It is all the more admirable for being a piece of research intensely focused on a place, its people and associated events and yet produced during a period in which access to contributors was severely restricted.
The book has been released to mark the centenary of Fr Alfred Hope Patten becoming the incumbent. Readers will be well aware of the significance of this appointment to the Anglo-Catholic movement for it was Fr Hope Patten who went on – ten years later in 1931 and thus an anniversary in its own right this year – to restore the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Shrine developed in such a way that Fr Hope Patten was the first and last priest in modern times to hold both the Shrine and the parochial roles in tandem. The splitting of the role set up a succession of parish priests whose ministry in that place has formed a worthy parallel to that of the Priest Administrators based at the Shrine. It also inadvertently provided the opportunity for this book to be written.
While the Shrine has a national and international profile, those outside Anglo-Catholicism might well wonder how the interest in the parish church arises. The best answer, I imagine, would come from the many thousands of pilgrims who, as part of their pattern of pilgrimage over the last 45 years or so, have attended Mass in the parish church on a Sunday morning. So what can readers hope to take away from this book? I would say three things: a sense of the people, a sense of the place and a sense of the changes – often dramatic – which the Church experienced during the century in question.
On the people, it is of course entirely to be expected that the book provides biographical details of the eight parish priests and accounts of their period of ministry in Walsingham. Elements of the chapter on Fr Hope Patten, who we learn – among other things – should really be referred to as Fr Patten, may already be familiar to readers from other published material or from their own pilgrimages to the Shrine. However, you will need to buy the book to find out which incumbent managed to rebuild St. Mary’s just over three years after a fire which wreaked terrible damage, which two of the incumbents also acted as preachers on the local Methodist Circuit and which incumbent always carried a purple stole in his pocket in case of immediate pastoral need.
The author quite rightly does not shy away from charting not only the highs but also the lows experienced by the subjects of his work. Not only does this make it an authentic account – there would inevitably have been a temptation to romanticise events given the location and its place at the heart of Anglo-Catholicism – but it also reminds us very firmly that “Domine, non sum dignus.”
On the place, the book sets out the challenges faced by Anglo-Catholic clergy, often accustomed to ministering in towns and cities, adjusting to rural life, albeit bolstered by the seasonal influx of pilgrims to the Shrine. The role played by the parish patrons, the Gurney family, is another theme running through the book – at times supportive, at other times puzzled by the churchmanship on display. Readers will also gain an understanding of the development of the benefice and the shifting level of support available for the churches in the benefice outside Little Walsingham.
On the changes in the Church, we gain insights into the impacts “on the ground” of the initial rise of Anglo-Catholicism, and often Anglo-Papalism, of the edicts following Vatican II, and the Church of England’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood. This weaving together of the life of the parish church in Walsingham with wider developments in the life of the Church is at the heart of the book and will appeal to readers, many of whom will have experienced the reforms described at first hand.
Our thanks should go to Fr William Davage for this fine documentation of this important aspect of Anglo-Catholic life and witness. I thoroughly recommend it, particularly for the way in which it tells a good deal of the story of one hundred years of the Church through the life of a prominent parish church. Perhaps others, on reading this book, will be inspired to write on other issues of common interest?
Available from St Mary’s, Little Walsingham and pilgrimgifts.co.uk