MOST of the Sandford St
Martin Trust awards are for outstanding radio or television
programmes, and are chosen by juries of distinguished judges. This
new award is to re-cognise the most significant contribution
towards raising the profile of religion in broadcasting in the past
year, and is chosen by the trustees. The year 2012 provided such an
outstanding example of what we were looking for that the decision
was immediate and un-animous. . .
In brilliantly depicting
what it means to be British in the 21st century, the 2012 opening
ceremony skilfully wove religious threads into a tapestry depicting
our national life and character: it acknowledged and celebrated the
beliefs that have helped to make us who we are.
should make us increasingly aware that we cannot embrace and
celebrate other cultures if we are uncertain, insecure, or
apologetic about our own. The opening ceremony showed us not only
who we are, but, in the words of William Blake's prophetic poem
"Jerusalem" - his vision of a more just and caring society - what
we could be.
In his blog the day after
the opening ceremony, the Dean of Durham, the Very Revd Michael
Sadgrove, wrote: "There is more to 'spirituality' than when it
surfaces and becomes explicit. It has an in-tuitive side that
doesn't get ex-pressed in words, but is still alive in most
people's experience of life.
"Perhaps, in the joy and
exuberance of [the ceremony], some-thing more about life and about
God was hinted at. Perhaps some may have experienced it as a kind
of liturgy. Perhaps, even, the sight of thousands of people of
every age, background, and ethnicity, throwing themselves into this
genuinely democratic celebration, offered a glimpse of Jerusalem
and of the kingdom of heaven itself. . .
"I believe there was
spiritual truth to be glimpsed in what we saw and heard. Yes, it
was a performance, and a great one. But the trick was to make it
more than a mere per- formance, to enable it to say some-thing
intelligent and interesting, even profound, about how we are to
ourselves and to our world. And, the ceremony seemed to be saying,
how we are before God, too."
I'm inordinately proud of
having played a part in creating the opening ceremony. I'm
especially delighted that you found Christian resonances there.
Some of them - such as the hymns - we knew about and planned. Some
just seemed to visit themselves upon us - like Thomas Heatherwick's
beautiful cauldron, with its tongues of fire and its unexpected but
overwhelming echoes of Pentecost.
I would sound a note of
caution, however. When we look at a work of art, we all tend to see
our own reflection first. You saw Christian witness. The MP Aidan
Burley famously saw "multicultural crap". Boris Johnson saw - in
the figure of Mary Poppins vanquishing Voldemort - an image of
Margaret Thatcher defeating the miners. I came across one website
that saw the whole ceremony as a satanic ritual ushering in a New
World Order. I quote: "It opened with Elgar's Nimrod.
Nimrod was the world's first dictator, the builder of the Tower of
Babel. . . The moment when the Queen leapt from the helicopter was
OF COURSE meant to recall Isaiah 14.12: 'How you are fallen from
Heaven, O Lucifer.'"
In a sense, it was all
these things - well, not the satanic ritual, and not "crap". But it
seemed radical and progressive, while at the same time containing
one of the most affectionate portraits of the mon-archy we've ever
contradictions, and so do we - as individuals and as a nation. True
tolerance is about appreciating and accepting our dif-ferences, and
not about manufac-turing a superficial equivalence.
Michael Sadgrove says
that "some may have experienced it as a kind of liturgy." In fact,
I did several times overhear the volunteer members of the choir
referring to it as "the liturgy". Many of the volunteers were, of
course, from faith groups. They excelled for the sake of their
country, for friendship, for fun.
You have very kindly said
that the ceremony seemed to "say how we are before God". But, to
me, the amazing thing was not what it said, but what it was. Those
volunteers worked for no pay. They rehearsed in the torrential
physical rain, but also in the constant drizzle of a terrible press
that warned it would be rubbish. They "kept the surprise" for
months. To walk into the stadium in the few days before the show
itself - to mingle with people of every race, creed, ability, and
class - was to walk into a temporary utopia.
You kindly said that
Danny Boyle offered a "vision of a more just and caring society" -
but what you saw was not a vision. What you saw was a more
just and caring society. It may have existed only for a few weeks,
and only for one purpose, but exist it did. All utopias - even the
most temporary - reveal how we are before God. Therefore they all
contain the promise of the possibility of Jerusalem.
One of our inspirations
for the ceremony was that living contradiction, G. K. Chesterton.
The ceremony's title, "Isles of Wonder", came from one of his most
famous aphorisms: "The world is not perishing for lack of wonders,
but for lack of wonder." So I'll end with a different quote from
We have all forgotten
what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality
and practicality only means that, for certain dead levels of our
life, we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and
art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant, we remember
that we forgot.
If the opening ceremony
helped us to remember who we really are, then it did its job.