*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Radio review: Free Thinking: Religion and ordinary lives, The Passion in Plants, and Slow Radio

17 April 2020

istock

Free Thinking: Religion and ordinary lives (Radio 3, Holy Tuesday) examined the routine ways in which faith is expressed

Free Thinking: Religion and ordinary lives (Radio 3, Holy Tuesday) examined the routine ways in which faith is expressed

“WHO sweeps a room as for Thy laws, Makes that and th’action fine.” George Herbert’s pithy couplet, a paean to the religion of the ordinary, might have served as a motto for the story told by Dr Naomi Pullin in Free Thinking: Religion and ordinary lives (Radio 3, Holy Tuesday). Two Quaker women, en route for Alexandria, are captured and impris­oned as heretics on the island of Malta. After four years of incarcera­tion, the doors of their cell are finally opened for their release, and they are discovered contentedly knitting.

The quiet, heroic piety of women such as these is becoming of increas­ing interest to social historians, who, we are told, have typically over­looked religious practice. Simply stated, ordinary faith is expressed in ways that are routine, and whose virtue is in their unchanging ritual.

Yet historians, as Professor Han­nah Barker here admitted, like to say that whatever period they are study­ing is one of profound change. For her, as a historian of the post-Enlighten­­­ment, there is the added challenge of convincing us that faith did not dis­appear from ordinary people’s lives as soon as Voltaire put quill to paper. Her research includes study­ing 19th-century family Bibles that contain children’s scribbles and doodles; and evidence of how famil­iar an artefact the Good Book was in the households of the Industrial Rev­o­lu­­tion.

Last week, The Passion in Plants (Radio 4, weekdays) provided an ex­­cellent companion piece to this dis­­cussion. In the company of the writer Bob Gilbert, and a Franciscan friar, Brother Samuel, the Holy Week story was revealed through the folklore and symbolism of nature: the pussy willow traditionally used to replace the palm, the bitter tansy herb, hawthorn, and cuckoo-pint. As rich and densely illustrated as a medieval herbarium, this series gave us social history and science, the­ology and poetry.

Ordinary lives of a special kind were the focus of last week’s Slow Radio (Radio 3, weekdays; originally broadcast in 2017). This was a timely repeat: no doubt we are being en­­­cour­aged to learn from the monks of Belmont, Downside, and Plus­carden abbeys how to deal with life lived at a radically different pace. The sound­­scape created here of changing acoustics, occa­sion­­ally punctuated with human voices, was of virtuosic quality, com­­promised only by the occasional utterance that fell on the wrong side of the line between pro­fundity and banality.

If, as a remedy for our disordered times, neither celebration of the or­­­di­­­­nary nor reduction of the heart rate is effective, then radio also offers a portal into a past so immersive that it might be regarded as a parallel universe. Saturday mornings on Radio 4 Extra are currently full of comedy from the 1950s, and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra last week presented the entire commen­tary of the third Ashes Test from last year: the one in which Ben Stokes snatched a victory from certain defeat. A story of death and resurrection if ever you saw one.

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Festival of Pilgrimage online

Monday 14 September, 9.30am - 4.00pm BST

A free, one-day online festival from Christ Church Oxford.

With speakers Martyn Percy, Stephen Cottrell, Graham Usher, Dee Dyas, and Sally Welch.

Book free tickets

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)