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Angela Tilby: A time for reading — or spy dramas

17 April 2020

BBC iPlayer

A scene from Spooks. All 86 episodes are now available on BBC iPlayer

A scene from Spooks. All 86 episodes are now available on BBC iPlayer

DURING the first week of the lock­­down, I gave much thought to what I might profitably read during the days ahead, in the gaps between hand-washing and disinfecting surfaces, taps, doorhandles, mobile phone, and credit cards.

I wondered whether this would be the time when I read my way through Hooker’s Laws of Eccle­si­astical Polity, or embarked on a study of the writings of Maximus the Confessor, or tackled Rowan Williams’s Christ the Heart of Crea­­tion, which has been sitting on my book­shelves for more than 18 months.

Other possibilities presented them­­­­selves. Perhaps I should finish or rewrite the book on spirituality which I started 20 years ago, show­ing how various forms of contemporary spirituality have their roots in the ancient world. Or perhaps this was the moment for a ruthless edit of my digital photos. Or to read Dickens.

Of course, I did none of these things. Having cooked some cas­ser­oles and stocked the freezer, and having made sure I was unlikely to run out of gin dur­ing the next six months, I looked at what television had to offer — and discovered that the BBC had made available the entire ten series and 86 episodes of Spooks, the spy thriller that ran from 2002 to 2011.

Virus-anxiety responds well to thugs, bombs, and terrorist threats, I find. Traitors within and enemies without match a world in which other people are potential foes and the greatest threat of all is hidden from sight. In this household, we have limited ourselves to one epi­sode of Spooks a night, and often take in an episode of Masterchef as a pulse-steadying dessert (although watching complex culinary activity against the clock has its own stresses). The need for fictional danger does not end at bedtime. I have been re-reading the Lisbeth Salander books, shocking for their vengefulness.

My current viewing and reading habits are somewhat out of step with the spiritual advice that I have been giving myself and failing to apply in recent weeks. I had assumed that mindfulness and the daily Office would be the disciplines for getting through.

But now I wonder whether I should be exploring the more para­n­­oid side of Christian spirit­uality. There is a time for spotting the troops of Midian as they prowl and prowl around, and for beating down Satan under our communal feet. The fear-filled and vengeful verses of the Psalms (sometimes bracketed on the grounds that they are less than Christian) come into their own at such dangerous times. I am beginning to see the point of being a soldier of Christ as well as a handmaid of the Lord, and even why the Prayer Book describes the Church as militant here in earth.

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