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Diary

20 September 2013

ISTOCK

Cause and effect?

"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.


Burning question

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 bun-fights.

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 ruffled him.


Island pilgrims

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 blessing lingers.

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.

Alexander 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.

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