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Mud and faith

26 February 2016

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THE wisdom of the Bedu, of the psychotherapist, and of the medievals: so much to choose from, as the tone of early Lenten broadcasting turns introspective and penitential. In Lent Talks (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), the Revd Dr Emma Loveridge reflected on her experiences in the wildernesses of Sinai and rural Devon.

Delivered against the sound of wellies squelching through mud, her wilderness was not one of great privation or danger: after all, she had a “traditional shepherd’s hut” to retreat to, complete with log-burning stove. Not so much “glamping” as “frill-grimage”. But that, in fairness to Dr Loveridge, was her point. Retreat to the wilderness is not about hiding, or about abandonment. You must know the way back, and remember to trust that others have lit a fire to which you might return.

This was a beautifully written piece. Dr Loveridge was par­ticularly eloquent in her evocation of dusk and dawn: the times, as a Bedu once told her, “when you have to decide to live or die”; to abandon hope or be inspired. It doesn’t surprise me to hear that she runs a psychotherapeutic clinic.

There is no doubt as to the credentials of Susie Orbach, who has returned to the airwaves with an outstanding series of short interviews, In Therapy (Radio 4, weekdays). It is fair to say that these programmes — in which actors improvise interviews based on constructed profiles — are not for the psycho-cynical. If your stomach churns at phrases such as “She’s never found the ‘I’ in herself,” or “His internal furniture needs to be rearranged,” then this is not for you.

The scenarios themselves, although fictional, seem entirely authentic and are brilliantly played. An out-of-work actress comes for her first session, and confects a confrontation that enables her to withdraw. A successful lawyer turns the confession of a one-night stand into a confession of existential confusion. They are presented as excerpts only: there are no great epiphanies, no cathartic reso­lutions accompanied by tears and boxes of Kleenex. Therapy here is another form of pilgrimage: hard, often banal, and expensive.

If we are to believe some theologians and writers, the clarity of self-knowledge is bestowed on us only at the moment of death, when our lives — sins, regrets, and all — flash before us. This is the psychological world of the medieval morality tale: one that was cunningly recreated in last week’s Modern Morality Tales (Radio 3, weekdays).

In these five short plays by different authors, taking typically allegorical titles such as Pride, and Wrath, the one unifying force was the actress Rebecca Front. In each, she plays Eve; and, in the last, she is invited by her “spiritual estate agent” to assess the contents of her soul before death.

Each play came with an introduction by the scholar of medieval literature Dr Sue Niebrzydowski — a little touch just to remind Radio 3 listeners that this series was not to be equated with the sort of thing you would find at the end of your average Woman’s Hour.

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