"WHEN the Levite reached
home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into
12 parts, and sent them into all the areas of Israel." In his
sermon, the Vicar cracked merry jokes about what the recipients
must have made of the blood-soaked parcels. We had the whole
ghastly story (Judges 19-21) as the Old Testament reading. (Suffice
it to say of the church we had been taken to that it is an
epicentre of Evangelicalism.)
The concubine had run
away home to her own family, and "the Levite" had gone to fetch her
back. On their return journey, they lodge overnight with an unnamed
old man and his daughter. That night, a gang comes pounding on the
door, demanding that the old man hand the Levite over to them so
that they can rape him.
The old man proposes
that, instead, they do what they like with his own "virgin
daughter" and his guest's concubine, an arrangement that the gang
agrees to. The concubine does not survive her ordeal. (We're not
told the fate of the "virgin daughter".)
Back home, the Levite
offloads the corpse of his concubine from his donkey, gets out
carving knife and Jiffy bags, and sets to work. His grisly mailing
triggers a cycle of intertribal slaughter. "Go put the inhabitants
of Jabesh-Gilead to the sword, including the women and the little
ones," and so on.
The vicar's main point
about this unspeakable material was that moral chaos always follows
if God is not acknowledged as King. This is manifest nonsense. I
have many friends who do not believe in God, and not one of them,
so far as I know, has dismembered his deceased concubine and popped
the body-parts in the post.
DR PRINCE SINGH is the
Bishop of Rochester, New York. His recent sabbatical brought him
one Sunday, as our travels brought us, to the tiny Scottish
Episcopal Church of St Serf, Comrie. The Bishop preached - not,
thank God, from the hinder parts of Judges - but from the appointed
Gospel, the story of Mary and Martha. The Bishop gave due praise to
Martha. "Lord, do you not care. . . ?" she asks.
It is, as our witty, and
engaging visitor pointed out, a fair question.
In the heavenly city
THE circle is broken.
Once we were seven; now we are six. In the summer of 1965, Rosy,
Sophia, Chris, Colin, David, Dick, and I set off on pilgrimage. The
five men among us had just finished our leisurely days at Ridley
Hall. Our pilgrimage began in Bryanston Square, London W1, and
ended in the city of God.
We travelled overland in
a Volkswagen camper-van, a vehicle now invariably labelled
"iconic". We had a reunion, the seven of us, some years ago, but
otherwise we have kept in touch with one another only occasionally.
Yet there remained a bond between us, the enduring fellowship of
those who have spent many days and nights together journeying to
the Holy Land.
Now that bond is broken,
at least this side of the river; for our beloved Colin has reached
that city of which the earthly Jerusalem, for all its age-long
travail, is ever the emblem.
When, now and then, one
or more of us meet, we share memories of our pilgrimage. We recall,
for example, the menacing dishes sometimes set before us at Middle
Eastern wayside food-stalls. Colin would attack these "fell meats"
with unfeigned relish and gratitude. We used to tease him by
suggesting that this Evangelical readiness "to eat and drink such
things as they provide" would stand him in good stead if ever he
became a bishop and had to attend post- confirmation
Alone among us, Colin did
become a bishop - eventually, Bishop of Coventry. As John Saxbee
said of him in these pages, Colin was "seemingly unfazed by
whatever came his way". Having witnessed Colin's composure when
served with what looked like the scriptural "slime of purslane", I
am sure that nothing emerging from a church-hall kitchen ever
PAT and I visited Iona
for the first time recently. You cannot get to Iona in a hurry. You
have to take two ferries to get there. So you have to slow down, as
all pilgrims must. On the last evening of his life, Columba is said
to have climbed a little hill, and blessed his beloved island. That
George Macleod, who
founded the Iona Community, famously described Iona as "a thin
place". I suspect that that thinness, that porousness to the
beyond, antedates the coming of Columba. Older islanders say that
music from another enchanted world may yet be heard from the hill
of Sithean Mor. On Iona, we thank God for St Columba and for George
Macleod. We must also thank him for a clergyman whose ascent
through the ranks of the Anglican hierarchy was surely accelerated
by his glorious name.
Chinnery-Haldane, who ended up as Bishop of Argyll & The Isles,
built a house close to Iona Abbey as "a place of prayer, study,
contemplation, and the eucharist". For some years, until the
leaking roof became too much for them, the house was home to a
group of Cowley Fathers.
Today, Bishop's House,
its roof in good order, is a retreat house. Pat and I prayed
together in its lovely little chapel. Then, believing that we must
not cease from exploration, we set off across the island on foot.
Briefly, we got lost in a bog.
The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has
retired to Brighton.