A few years ago I uncovered a path underneath the lawn in our back garden that I didn’t realise we had. It was simply concrete, but it was really useful. It reminded me of Jeremiah 6:16 ‘Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’
Why are we marking 50 years as a church in 2021? Does that not seem like a focus on the past, on being nostalgic – perhaps saying ‘Why aren’t things the same any more?’ The verse in Jeremiah ties up with the message I gave in my first Foundations talk earlier this term: just like Jacob, as the Lord leads us, we allow our history to encounter our destiny. We have to go back in order to go on. I’ve been interested for a few years now in reading about revivals – the Welsh revival was particularly powerful – and also I’ve been interested in the stories of how Chichester Christian Fellowship was birthed, back in 1971. It was part of the charismatic renewal that swept over America and the United Kingdom, as well as elsewhere. It affected the Church of England, as well as other denominations – some of CCF in particular hailed from the Brethren. I have been delighted to read Molly Hawkin’s book giving accounts of events in Chard, as that was a well for many in the 70s, and also Mike Davies book ‘Ello Duck’ which includes events in Chichester Christian Fellowship. I believe that in particular moving in the baptism and the gifts of the Spirit was a strength and something we are still called to move in. Martin spoke of ‘unblocking the wells’ and this is really important.
As a Leadership we had some prophetic words that I feel feed into our time of change into 2021. One was that this is going to be an important time for intercession, and that our prayers will save many around us. Can we be faithful in this and respond in obedience? Secondly, that Leadership is not called to ‘direct’ what happens among us – we’re not called to ‘cap’ or to limit what God is doing. Even this week we have seen giftings continue to be released among us, and there are more to come. If God gives you something to run with, go for it with our blessing!
Another word was that there will be some groundwork in the Spirit that will enable us to rise – a picture of a bird taking off from water, looking serene, but actually there is a lot of work going on underneath with the legs to make that happen. Yes, it’s the Lord’s church, but in obedience there is sometimes hard work to be done – foundations are often the most challenging part of the building to complete.
Finally (not the last word but the last one I feel led to share at the moment!) there was a pool of light that everyone in the church family was walking into. How do we get into that pool of light? We just choose to step into it! No one’s going to pull you into it. But it’s where we want to be – and because as a church we firmly believe in the priesthood of all believers, all of us lead and all of us follow. We can copy those who are following close behind Jesus! As you continue being yourself in Him, others will copy you – so be encouraged by that! Remember that others see you differently to how you see yourself. As we move into 2021 there will be some more teaching on copying – children learn by copying parents and other adults and those they see. So as we are called to ‘hand the baton on’ we need to allow people to copy us, and move on in discipleship. It’s both fun and a challenge at the same time!
This follows the verses where God promises to bless Abraham and he points out that he has no heir.
7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Questions to consider:
Are there any differences between this promise and the one given in Genesis 12 v.1-3?
How does the narrator make the conversation with God more tense? What does this make us aware of as readers?
Why doesn’t Abraham take part in the ritual? What does this show about God’s intention towards Abraham?
What might have been the effect on Abraham of knowing that his descendants would be slaves in a strange land?
Write down ONE MORE thought / question that occurs to you as you look at this passage (you may find the Did You Know? box helpful here)
Did you know?
This was the third reference in Genesis to Abraham inheriting land.
This act of cutting animals in half has no other event like it in the Bible
Abraham fighting the vultures off symbolizes his role as protector of the covenant, and the vultures could represent the enslavement that Israel is to experience in Egypt
This is the first time that God appears as fire, but not the last. The smoke may represent ‘divine inscrutability (that God is unknowable).
The land God promised to Abraham in this passage:
PASSAGE TWO: Genesis 18: 16 – 33.
This is just after the men visiting Abraham have promised his son will be born next year, and Sarah laughed.
Abraham Pleads for Sodom
16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
20 Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 The LORD said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”
“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”
He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”
30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”
He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”
32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
33 When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Questions to Consider:
Abraham is a patriarch (the father of the Jewish nation) yet what is the main role he plays here?
What does he believe about God and how does this get expressed?
What do we learn from this passage about bringing requests before God?
What does v.22 suggest about how God appears to Abraham here? Does this raise further questions, and if so, what are they?
Write down one more thought / question that occurs to you as you look at this passage.
ALTERNATIVE STUDY:Hagar, Sarah and Rebekah – look at how they are referred to in the NT. Sarah is the only woman in the Bible whose name was changed by God. Could you argue that Sarah had a greater faith than Abraham? She had to conceive, carry and deliver Isaac in her 90s! Both Hagar and Rebekah hear from God and receive blessing from Him. Hagar is referred to in Galatians 4:21-31. Sarah is referred to in 1 Peter 3:1-6. There are some excellent articles on Women of Faith here.
LOOK AT THE NEW TESTAMENT:
Abraham is used in several key New Testament passages, there are 73 occurrences of his name.
The gospel of Luke makes many parallels with the Abraham story including Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, and many references to Abraham, e.g. Luke 6:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which refers to Abraham’s bosom.
He is referred to in John 8:31-59 several times as Jesus argues with the Jews. Here the important point is to be the spiritual children of Abraham rather than simply his physical children.
He appears in Acts 7:1-8 (among others) in Stephen’s sermon before he is stoned.
He also appears in Paul:
Romans 4:1-25. This tells us how Abraham was justified by faith, not through the law. Compare James 2:21 which appears to contradict this! What was the role of the law according to Paul in Romans? Look at Galatians for more on this.
Galatians 3:6-29 – John Stott on this argues that the ‘blessing’ of v.8 is a double blessing of salvation through Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is a very complex passage, and it could be argued that Hagar and Ishmael come off very badly. This may help: “But In his analogical application, Paul was not addressing the question of whether or not Hagar and Ishmael had faith in the Lord; rather, he was only using them and the incident to support his point about removing things that threaten the fulfillment of the promise in Christ Jesus. Those adopted into the covenant through the Seed, Christ, are like Isaac; they are to live in freedom from the bondage of the law (Gal 5:1).” Ross, A., & Oswalt, J. N. (2008). Cornerstone biblical commentary: Genesis, Exodus (Vol. 1, p. 137). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Possibly the BEST use of Abraham in the NT is in Hebrews 11:1-40. This is a tremendous chapter to read through and be encouraged. You could do a whole series of studies on this chapter looking at the characters who are referred to.
This is a word given by our Elder Emeritus, John, last Sunday – it was at the end of an Open Meeting and a spontaneous word:
The Lord’s been laying something on my heart for the last few days, which I’ll just share fairly briefly with you. Let’s turn to John 5. It’s a story you all know very well, of the fellow at the Sheep Gate, the Pool of Bethesda. v. 3 ‘in these lay a multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralysed, waiting for the moment of the water.’ It’s interesting – we forget that angels were active in that time. They’re still active today. It’s easy to think – not much was happening before Jesus, but there was angelic activity.
Whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well. When Jesus saw him lying there, he said to him ‘Do you want to be made well?’ It’s a very interesting and perceptive question. The sick man answered him, ‘Sir I have no man to put me into the water but while I’m coming another steps down.’ Perhaps he thought, maybe this fellow will get me down into the water. He was looking at Jesus as a man, in his humanity. Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walked’. Immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. When did the healing take place? Just after the comma. ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ You can’t take up your bed until you’ve been healed. Rise.
That’s the word that has been on my spirit for several days now. Rise. I believe God is speaking to his church and saying in these days we must rise. We must stand in the authority, in the grace and in the calling that is ours.
And we need to respond to that in faith. We’re a heavenly people. Philippians 3:20, I’m sure you’re all familiar with this, but in case you don’t remember the reference, you’ll be familiar with the verse: ‘Our citizenship is in heaven.’ We’re a heavenly people, not an earthly people.
We don’t draw our sustenance primarily from the earth. We draw our ideas from the earth.
We don’t draw our strength from the earth. We don’t draw our validity from the earth. We don’t draw our authority from the earth, we don’t draw our being form the earth, or our identity from the earth. We don’t get anything from the world. All we get from the earth is that which sustains our physical bodies, that that is not who we are.
We draw from heaven. We mustn’t forget that. The only people on earth who have power and authority over the enemy is us. There’s a job we can do in these days that nobody else can do. We alone have that authority, as Jesus says I give to you authority over the devil. It’s ours. You remember Colossians 3, ‘if then you were raised with Christ,’ you are all raised people. We’re not self-raising. God has raised us. ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.’
I believe God is saying to his people “I want you to rise in these days.”
How we do that is a more difficult question to answer. We’re obeying the government. But we must find a place in the Spirit where we rise up. That’s a key methodology, if you like, in the church, is knowing how to rise in Jesus. Knowing how to rise up above our circumstances and above what’s going on. I’m not talking about denying our circumstances, being in denial about what’s going on, but to rise above them.
Some people, when they’re infirm, are under their infirmity. Some people rise above their infirmity. You can be people not healed but still rising under your infirmity. Where do you see your identity? What do you think your authority is, and rising up above it. I know a number of people in the church who have daily problems physically. But they rise above them. They ascend. You can either view yourself as defeated, crushed, locked down – or free. It’s about how you think. It’s the thinking that transforms us. It’s our mind – be transformed by the renewing of our mind.
So we need to set our mind on heaven. If you’re in Christ, by definition you’re an overcomer. I’ve preached this many times. By definition you’re the victor. No matter what’s coming against you, you have overcome. I’m not saying some of the things that come against us aren’t painful, aren’t grievous – but somehow we have to find that hidden place.
Our life is hid with Christ in God. It’s the hidden life we’ve got to seek out an draw from. We’re not functioning as it should be, so we have to dig deep, we have to dig the well. We have to sing to the well, saying Rise Up within me. Digging into the Word of God, as we’ve heard already this morning. Finding a place to praise the Lord on our own, even if we are tone-deaf.
What we mustn’t do is just lie down under Covid19. We have to be active in the Spirit. What did Jesus say: Rise. And what did the man do? He got active. Faith was ministered to him, and he stood up. Stand up, beloved, in faith.
‘Lord I want to lift my hands up in prayer. You said, pray ‘Our Father who is in heaven.’ We lift our hands to heaven this morning. You reign. You haven’t been moved by this. You foresaw this from the beginning of the world and you have made provision for your body. You have not left us and your Holy Spirit is with us now. I want to pray that we as a church, that we as individuals, will look at you, and see the Lord in his glory, and feel filled with the Holy spirit. Our Father, my Father. I’m your son today, God. As a son I have rights. I come before your presence, and lift up my hands in prayer. I pray, Your Kingdom come. We ask that your kingdom will come in Jesus’ name. We pray for a manifestation of the kingdom of God within us. We pray for a breaking out of the Kingdom of God within us. I don’t know how we do it God but I pray that you will show us in Jesus’ name. Let your will be done, on earth even as it is in heaven. I don’t know whether your will’s being done, I strongly suspect it’s not, but I pray that it will be. We have the authority to call down the will of God onto the earth. We call down your will, o God, and we say, Let your will be done. We reject the will of man, we reject the will of scientists, and we call for your will to be done on earth even as it is in heaven. This is what we look for God. I pray you will stir up your church in prayer as never before. Lead us to be seeking you and praying to you. We don’t accept this disease. We don’t accept the rulership of void19. We don’t accept the bondage of covid19. Not to be stupid or revel, but in our spirits to rebel. Let healing come to your body. Let us walk free. None of these diseases, the scripture says, so I pray in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I pray for our government, give them wisdom, and we pray your grace on them, that the will of God might be done. I pray people will stop turning to scientists, stop turning to the politicians, and start turning to you. From the Lord our God comes deliverance. We put our faith and trust in you. Those who are feeling lonely, suffering, depressed, who can’t get hospital appointments – we pray for all these people. Under the surface there’s a whole bunch of suffering going on – deliver us from this, and we stand in the gap, and ask for your deliverance. We put our trust in you. And all the people of God said – Amen.’
I am now just into Part 5 of The Mirror and the Light, and I should warn, this contains spoilers. I have read hundreds of pages since my last review, and at one point I certainly said to myself, ‘If it’s a choice between reading and writing a review, I’d much rather continue to read.’ This has to be a compliment to Mantel’s superb prose.
It’s only this novel, recently, and Atwood’s Testament, that in hardback has furnished this reader with a thread marker; this has become enormously useful due to the size of this volume. It’s now unwieldy to hold and read at p.655, with a mere 230 pages to go. Too much to read in one day, I note (with the rain tumbling outside, its an attractive prospect to entirely immerse myself in Cromwell’s final doom).
I cannot hope to cover in this short review the few hundred pages I have read, but I note that last time I was commenting on Cromwell’s indiscretion with a woman – it would be remiss of me not to note an even bigger mistake, as a conversation with Bess Seymour turns on a mortifying misunderstanding: Cromwell believes he is wooing on behalf of his son, but Bess assumes that he is after her himself. This dialogue set-piece repays careful re-reading from different perspectives! Who knows when you might find yourself in a similar delicate position. This piece of dialogue is Austenesque (is that the word?) recalling Elizabeth Collin’s presence of mind during Darcy’s proposal, and I do think Cromwell’s precipitous failures with women in this volume are a substantial indicator of how the tide will turn against him, try for example this retort:
‘In other respects I agree,’ her voice is icy. ‘I think there has been a misunderstanding. I am offering my person to one Cromwell only, the one I marry. But which Cromwell is it meant to be?’
His mind flies back to his conversation with Edward. It lands, light as a fly, and begins to crawl over it: over every meaningful pause, every ellipsis. Were names spoken? Perhaps not. Could Edward have supposed – could Edward have mistaken – yes, he supposes he could. (.481)
Part of the fun here is the confusion present in a conversation we as readers did not witness. Cromwell is desperate to marry into the King’s family (as Bess is Jane Seymour’s sister) – it is unfortunate shortly after that Jane Seymour dies, leaving his son Gregory not so well-attached as he would have liked. Mantel captures well throughout the novel the stance that women have to take in being bargaining chips – recently we are given Mary’s words on possibly being married: ‘she says she will do as her father tells her, but that given her choice, she would rather stay in the land of her birth and remain a virgin. It is a modest answer, which no one can fault.’ (p.646). This reflects the religious tenor of the time, and Mary’s devout piety – but also the lack of control that women had over their destiny, similar to Bess Seymour. Her final parting shot at Cromwell as he recovers from the impression that he has been wooing her for himself (and perhaps this would have been preferable – to make his last years happier?):
‘He is all together better than me – ‘ I, he thinks, who am so soiled in life’s battle, so seamed and scarred, so numb, so unwanted, so cold.
‘Stop,’ she says. ‘First, too few words. Now, too many.’
‘But you will? You will wed Gregory?’
‘Tell me when and where, and I will come in my bridal finery and marry whichever Cromwell presents himself. I am an obliging woman,’ she says. ‘Though not so obliging as you thought.’
She walks away on the grassy path, but she does not hurry.
Just to pause and appreciate the asperity and dignity of Bess’s dialogue here, conversing with a powerful man (and having expressed moments before the desire to have Thomas Cromwell’s children) – her irony that Cromwell had failed to supply enough words to make it clear that Gregory was the Cromwell being offered (yes, younger and fresher – and highly satisfactory as it quickly transpires, but coming with no titles, unlike Cromwell who is a Lord, a Baron and soon to be Knight of the Garter). In seven words she judges Cromwell, and I wonder if this might stand as an epitaph for him: First, too few words. Now too many.’ Mantel certainly gives the reputation that Cromwell cannot be read, cannot be second-guessed. He appears currently (which is around 1539, so not long before his execution) to prefer to supply Henry with pregnant pauses, rather than supply enough rope to hang himself with (although we guess that’s coming, and wonder which of his bad-tempered judgments will indict him). But what a superb final position-statement that Bess gives: ‘when and where’. The sarcasm over ‘bridal finery’ is not lost. It would be humorous, almost farcical, if the damage had not already been done between her and Gregory. When Gregory lets slip shortly after that Bess has informed him about the misunderstanding, Cromwell seems crestfallen as if he hoped she would keep it quiet.
For me, one of the great pleasures of the novel is the rapport between Cromwell and his cronies, his proteges – both his son Gregory, Rafe Sadler, and in this novel Call-Me. It is part of my interest in the final section as to how those relationships will settle at last. This set piece appears to put Cromwell at odds with his only son, who has to insist that Cromwell does NOT write to Bess, and leaves her for himself alone.
I must mention one other episode (I won’t dwell on Hans’ painting of Henry, although that occasioned several wonderful scenes) – and this is the burning of Father Forrest, who does not appear to recant his Popery. It is ironic that I have just read of another burning (described in much less detail, just hinted at) of Lambert – this time a Reformation man – and Cromwell is unable to stand and defend him. This appears to me very much the beginning of the end for him. But Mantel’s description of Forrest’s burning is transfixing, almost as dramatic as Anne Boleyn’s beheading in ‘Bring up the Bodies’ – I will give a snippet:
When the heat reaches him Forrest draws up his blistered bare feet. He contorts himself, screaming, but is obliged to let his legs down into the fire…this stage seems to last a long time, the flames reaching upward, and the man’s efforts to escape them ever more feeble, until at last he hangs and does not resist, and his upper body begins to burn. The friar raises his arms, which have been left free, as if he is clawing towards HEAVEN…at a signal, the executioners step forward and with long iron poles reach into the flames, hook the roasting torso from its chain, and pitch it into the fire below. It goes with a scream from the spectators, a rush and spurt of flame; then we hear no more from Father Forrest.
Cromwell appears increasingly obsessed with executions, not only his childhood memory of seeing Joan Boughton burned, but also what he anticipates will be his end. Currently he is suffering from a fever, as I read, and it is getting so bad that he has been asked who he would like as his final confessor. I was moved a couple of pages ago as Henry asked him could they pray together, and enquired how Cromwell proceeds in his prayers. Feeling as if I am inside Cromwell’s head, I know that Cromwell does not pray too well – perhaps has little headspace for it – and sadly I can relate to that at times! Perhaps he has already got to the point where he doesn’t hope for mercy any more.
However Mantel tries to play it, or tries to hide it, we are following the documented fortunes of a monster – at least, someone who became a monster through his rise, and ultimately became obsessed with something intangible, something other than simply modernizing England, but also about his own posterity. She is starting to paint his life in large tragic brushstrokes now – the chimera of greatness hanging around and off him since the start of the novel – a greatness that never really materialised for him. This is more akin to modern tragedy than to Shakespearean – more like a Krapp from Beckett (‘I wouldn’t go back, not with the fire in me now’) or even a Dame Blanche from ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ who had the pathetic desire to die in innocence.
I have just reached past the end of Part Two in the novel, up to p.306, so don’t read this is you’re not that far yet! The purpose is to reflect on what I am reading and largely to appreciate the reading experience.
I am mindful as I read that Cromwell (or Crumb as Henry calls him) is heading for an untimely death, but we really are seeing this tireless worker, this haunted crusader, at the peak of his powers. In one extraordinary outburst, Henry has more or less announced Cromwell in full council as his successor. If that isn’t enough to stir and provoke Cromwell’s enemies into getting him to the a Tower, I don’t know what is.
Mantel bequeaths Cromwell a feminine sensitivity. I was filled with a pang when Wolseys daughter turns her nose up at special gifts from Cromwell, particularly an embroidered handkerchief by Rafe’s wife. According to Mantel, Cromwell uses his appreciation of what were then the feminine arts to inveigle especially with women of power. Cromwell has yet to arrange, it seems, various political marriage alliances with more of these superb conversations.
Most electrifying just now was the dialogue with Wolsey’s daughter where Cromwell is horrified to find himself proposing to her. This is so NOT the Cromwell that Mantel has presented so far. He appears to be losing his self-control:
‘Or if you would consider me, I could, I myself-‘. He stops. Appalled. That is not at all what he meant to say.
She is staring at him. You cannot take back such a word….
Mantel uses this indiscreet offer of matrimony, to a nun, (perhaps emerging out of his present need to find a wife, to dispel the gossip that he was wooing Mary, Henry’s daughter, with a view to taking the throne), to reveal that Dorothea genuinely believes Cromwell to be the villain who betrayed her father and brought him down. We know, even in the pseudo-first person present tense style, that Cromwell is weeping with rage and mortification after this interview, as Richard Riche frequently urges him to be consoled. It is very unusual for Cromwell to be visibly moved.
In fact, I wonder if this is Mantel deliberately starting to unravel his smooth facade. It would be easy enough to show Cromwell’s guilt, fear, regret, ambition, through his interior life as she has done all along so adroitly. Part of the magnetism of the writing is that every encounter that Cromwell has is significant, people’s reputations and future are at stake. But now, everywhere in the texture of the novel, there are premonitions of Cromwell’s demise, from Chapuys laugh which is like a rusty key in the lock, to the aforementioned overreaching on Cromwell’s part voiced by Henry himself (just after a member of the council notes Cromwell rarely kneels now before the king):
“If I say Cromwell is a Lord, he is a lord. And if I say Cromwell’s heirs are to follow me and rule England, by God they will do it, or I shall come out of my grave and want to know why.”
There is a silence.
A silence indeed, who would dare to speak after that? Stunning writing. I must read on!
So I am in the closing years of the imagined Cromwell’s life. What a treat, to be in the hands of Mantel! How many other privileged eyes are lingering over these fantastic pages? Warning, I will post as I read and there will be spoilers. I am up to p.225 in the hardback currently. If you haven’t read it yet, why not bookmark this blog for when you have to compare notes?
I bought the novel from Sainsbury’s at the start of lockdown. It’s very rare for me, understand, to shell out £12 on a brand new novel. Perhaps it was the prospect of the impending rigours of lockdown, mayhap it was the experience, I believe only at Christmas, of encountering Bring up the Bodies. What new ground can there be tread in this tome?
I am a little confused historically as I have been since perusing Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell, composed since the triumphs of Mantel’s first two novels in the sequence, unprecedented (there’s that timely word) in that they both garnered a Booker Prize. Events are occurring in the novel that seem to me to already have happened (e.g. the whole Ann Of Cleves saga I know about but it has yet to transpire, seems to me to have already happened, but Henry’s displeasure with Cromwell is still focused on Anne’s death and the rumours that fly around the streets about Henry’s manhood).
For any who have not read the first two in the sequence, can I assure you, that this is an extraordinary work of fiction. I’m not widely read, I’ll admit, in modern fiction, although I enjoy reading anything that is acclaimed or admired by those I take note of. Much of my reading is spent in other categories nowadays. But read Mantel’s trilogy NOT to find out the historical details. There are historical accounts and other fiction enough for that, I think. Read Mantel for the prose. Read Mantel for the insights into mortality, into fear, into the sensuous detail of the life that she paints. For the escapism into a more luxuriant England, a coarser England, an England redolent with religion, with ghosts, with an even greater obsession for great ones and the problems they bring.
I mean to give a little commentary on portions I have read so far.
I sat down to read the book knowing that at the end of it Cromwell’s head will roll, because that is history. Cromwell has long been portrayed as a rotter in historical accounts, especially for helping to do away with Thomas More. It’s very hard when reading Mantel to see him as villainous because we are inside his head all the time. I always view him sympathetically in this world since the sudden loss of his wife and daughters whom he seemed to love, in Wolf Hall I think that was.
All through the book there are presentiments of his fate. Spoiler one: Cromwell has narrowly escaped handing a ring as gift to Mary, Henry’s daughter. No hint in Cromwell’s mind that he meant it as a troth, which would have been treason to him. Henry has said HE would gift it to his daughter instead.
But more interesting than the raw events, is Mantel’s recent riff on his being accompanied by the men he sent to the axe at the end of the last volume (or the start of this). It is quite believable that a man such a Cromwell has become, as a child getting another boy whipped for his misdemeanours, as a man is capable of engineering other men’s’ deaths for his own ends. Mantel juxtaposes it with Henry on his knees in prayer, an almost Shakespearean touch, shades of Claudius or perhaps Richard II. Perhaps we no longer are convicted of our guilt in this time because our sins are so diffused and it is harder to point a finger and to say what we did? All our sins today appear corporate, collective, enshrined in law, proclaimed as holy by the media and the atheists, even by the faithful. But not so in Mantel’s world.
Cromwell’s sins have become epic as crossing the Thames becomes crossing the Styx accompanied by the ghosts of the men he has sent to their deaths. And he has sweaty foreshadowing of his own incarceration in the Tower. The architect of that system of execution, who even keeps clerks and property at the Tower, is shortly to end up there himself (well we have a matter of a few hundred pages before that happens).
The Mirror and the Light is a pleasing hardback volume, the pages are substantial and the ribbon that comes with it is very elegant. Better than forcing a receipt or a leaflet between the pages to mark where I’m up to. I’m glad I’m not reading it on a Kindle. The luxury of the prose would be eviscerated on my small Kindle’s dull screen. When I pick it up to read I swim through a number of pages, the long chapters fall away, the shorter sections absorbing in every conversation, Cromwell indicting himself further, it seems, with every decision he takes. I don’t want this incredible narrative to end.
How much sweat and tears did Mantel take over this effortless prose? Mistress of sensual detail, and ventriloquist of believable dialogue, as well as indelible phrases: Beware, my Lord, of gratitude. Already this is a triumph.
I haven’t got any wise words on this subject – I am just muddling along like the rest of us. There are some things that draw us to prayer, and some things that draw us to the Bible (or to our source of wisdom if not the Bible – what’s yours?) and also to our most constant sources of pleasure.
Reading is a source of pleasure that, for some reason, I have not had the leisure really to avail myself of over the last couple of weeks. But I have occasionally been dipping into a book by Don Carson, ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’, and I am both challenged and struck by his even-handed call to prayer. It is full of wise and sensible comments such as:’All of us would be wiser if we would resolve never to put people down, except on our prayer lists.’ I know some people are a little cynical about prayer lists, and say that they’ve moved on. Whenever I come BACK to prayer, writing a prayer list is one of the first things I do.
While I would not say the book is for a beginner in the faith (if you’re looking for a great book on prayer for beginners, I imagine that Pete Grieg’s ‘How to Pray’ would be a great starting point), he does make basic observations that are helpful to everyone:
He explores the prayers of Paul in the epistles to look at how we can pray better and more like Jesus. It is reasonable – it’s not a guilt-trip. But at the same time, there is nothing more useful both for themselves and for the world, that a Christian can do, than to be close to their Lord, and able to put in a word or two for others.
The book is a delight to read – I had certainly read these words before but not realised where they came from:
The best prayer is the prayer we pray with no self-interest. And the most intimate prayer is when we express our love for God, without wanting something back. It’s the cry of joy to the Father, that just thanks Him for life, for Himself. We are to love the giver, rather than the gift. We are to take our eyes totally off ourselves, and to adore the Lily of the Valley.
A while ago, I was reading in an occasional way through Samuel Rutherford’s Letters. Through some means or other (perhaps Spurgeon) attention had been drawn to these. They are notable not so much for who he writes to, but for the richness of his intimacy with Jesus, and the powerful and unremitting way he expresses his love. I highly recommend them to give you a richer glimpse of what love for the Saviour looks like. He is the one, as J. John says.
So without wanting to keep you too long, I just wanted to put a marker in the sand, as it were, and say something about corona. For me, as a believer, the challenge before God is the same as it ever was. To love Him the most, as the only one, and to pray for and love the world as well. How can I step up a gear in my spiritual life, as I know that Jesus is calling me to at this time? What does that look like, during corona lockdown? Am I deliberately carving out time to be with him, to put down the phone and go to the throne (to misquote someone in our church!)? What does online fellowship look like? And how can I not only fellowship online with other believers, but share the good news? To bring hope, to bring joy, to bring truths that do not fade? When all around is being shaken, what things do I know will remain? God’s goodness, the offer of eternal life through Jesus, for anyone who believes. Jesus died on the cross for ALL who will believe.
If you will reach out, God will reach out to you. If you feel a prompting within you now, then respond to the Holy Spirit with everything you have.
A prayer to close: Thank you Jesus for a new day, a new start even in the middle of a global pandemic. Give me the grace, the humility, the selflessness, to love you Jesus today, and to set my eyes on heaven, even if everything around me starts to get stripped away. Set my joy on You Lord, not on material things, not on my role, not on my relationships. Amen.
You have ravished my heart, My sister, my spouse; You have ravished my heart With one look of your eyes, With one link of your necklace. (Song of Solomon, 4:9)
I re-watched the 1990 film ‘Ghost’ with my wife around Valentine’s Day, noticing that it was now available on a popular streaming service I subscribe to. Warning: I am going to give some spoilers in this post, so watch the film first if you’ve never seen it!
I was reminded of the 80s power-dressing, of shoulderpads, of how boyish Demi Moore looks in the lead female role playing Molly Jenson, and of how computers have moved on.
But also I was reminded of what an excellently-paced film it is, with superb writing. When you start watching it, with three masked figures banging down walls with hammers, and then suited up cracking jokes in elevators, you could be forgiven for wondering what genre of film you are actually watching. But no particular mood of the scene lasts for long; it switches very quickly (but smoothly) and moves from episode to episode with extraordinary variety and logic for a 2 hour film. Tiny vignettes such as the ghost who was ‘pushed’ from a subway have searing power in their performance (played by Vincent Shiavelli). Similarly, in a faux seance setup that has suddenly become real since Sam has activated Oda-Mae’s awareness of the after-life, we see a cameo of a scratchy husband-wife relationship where the wife is determined to find out where the insurance certificate is from her dead husband. Great detail writing.
Perhaps the best example of the sweetness of the timing is that (spoiler alert!) Sam, the lead played by Patrick Swayze never says to his girlfriend ‘I love you’ – he always says ‘ditto’ in response to her offer. And he is cruelly snatched away from her even as they are discussing marriage. However, at the very end of the film, in a ‘ghost-like’ state, suddenly after not being able to see or hear the ghost of her boyfriend, she can hear him again, just before he departs for the hereafter. And there he says: ‘I love you Molly. I have always loved you.’ A killer moment. It stands alongside the ‘penny’ where Molly finally realises Sam is actually there…
I think that for many people when they first watched ‘Ghost’, the film did new things to you. It’s a thriller, a romance, a comedy (Whoopee Goldberg, not to mention Sam’s attempts to move things and Patrick Swayze’s perhaps OTT acting as a frustrated ghost at times), and also a moving treatment of grief and loss. It also holds that sinister question about what exactly IS waiting for people the other side of death: will you be called upwards in a shaft of light, or will you be dragged away by snickering, horrifying shadowy creatures? The lines are drawn pretty clearly in the film, and the tone of voice as Sam says: ‘Oh Karl’ at the end shows the sympathy. Some quite easy life lessons to draw from that, I would say. Don’t defraud your company of millions of dollars, and don’t get your best friend murdered, or try to get with his girl after you’ve done it.
A slightly less morally easy case to deal with Sam’s role as a ghost in revenge: the ‘actions’ he is able to effect, especially with Willy Lopez, which lead to his death, and yet don’t seem to impact him being called upwards at the end. And with Karl, where his gruesome end seems more of a mishap than Sam’s intention, who is protecting Molly and Oda May, after all. And all good moral guides will tell you that it’s the choices we make IN the body that matter, rather than the ones after it.
I’m reminded of the verse in Hebrews 9:27 ‘Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement.’ I had forgotten a brief scene early on where Sam and Molly watch a plane crash and Sam winces at ‘how quickly’ life can be snatched away. A powerful foreshadowing for those in the know.
How is it that everyone seems to have forgotten that nowadays? That we only have one life to live, and that every day is a gift? They even seem to have forgotten that if it’s a long shot, that God doesn’t exist, that it might be a better idea to believe just in case (otherwise known as Pascal’s Wager – which you can read about in satisfying / confusing detail here). A cheery nod to the importance of the divine occurs near the end with a large sum of money and some rather nonplussed nuns – was that where the idea for Sister Act came from?
The film leaves you both with the lingering refrain of ‘Unchained Melody’ and the sense of completion and a good goodbye. With a sense of a pure life, if cut off early, at least with the ends tied up. It leaves life as a mystery and yet with a convincing sense that there is a force for Good that vies and fights with the evil that threatens to overwhelm everything we do. Agreed, it’s a long way from there to understanding the importance of the Cross, and what Jesus did for us. We have to take Sam’s essential goodness on trust, and it is almost a relief to be able to do that, considering the TV drama and characters we are served up with nowadays (think Killing Eve or Breaking Bad – both of course artistically far superior to ‘Ghost’).
‘Ghost’ is a light film and yet it raises disturbing questions and reminds us of what is most important in life. One observation Rubin, the screenwriter, made after the film played in cinemas, was that men held their wives’ hands differently afterwards. For more information about the impact of the movie see Why Ghost forever changed summer blockbusters
It’s worth a re-watch, if you’re looking for something easy but still moving.