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The Space Between, by Mark Bradford

27 August 2021

David Wilbourne reads an engaging book on being ready for change

A FORMER physiologist, John Habgood maintained that creation invariably happened at the interface between order and chaos. Something as messy as creation is strictly verboten in an over-regimented system; something as fragile as creation would soon be stamped on by anarchy.

In The Space Between, Mark Bradford explores such liminal zones, the heady pauses between one order passing and another emerging — cue Covid-19. Through the lenses of waiting (likened to weaving a web to eventually catch God), exile (being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with), the wildernesses, storm, and pit, he focuses on biblical episodes featuring significant change and concomitant lament.

John Holdsworth in his magisterial Honest Sadness (Books, 30 April) laments lament’s current low profile. So does Bradford, homing in on the seasons of Advent, Epiphany, and Lent, and Good Friday and Holy Saturday, to champion lament as railing against our losses and failures, in order to save us from apathy and despair.

Unfettered by slavish obedience to excessive biblical criticism, Bradford skilfully re-enacts stories of disturbance, featuring Jacob, Abraham, Jonah, Job, and John the Baptist, juxtaposing them with the Passover, the Exile, the Revelation of St John, and, supremely, Christ.

Along the way, he gives a scholarly verse-by-verse commentary on the psalms of lament, 29, 42, 43, 63, 66, 130, and 137, illustrated with vignettes of historical and modern saints, including contemporaries’ life-changing stories, anonymised and somewhat contrived. But when Bradford draws, self deprecatingly, from his own life, he does so with authenticity, insight, and humour: “there is no evidence to suggest anyone asked a prophet home for supper more than once.”

He quotes extensively, and I was particularly struck by Walter Wink’s “Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of the church.”

Bradford walks Wink’s talk, wrestling with God and ending each chapter with a selection of arresting prayers. It all makes for an engaging book, rooted in everyday parish ministry and a dynamic rather than static personal faith, proving a worthy prequel to his Encountering the Risen Christ (Books, 24 March 2016).

The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is an hon. assistant bishop in York diocese.


The Space Between: The disruptive seasons we want to hide from, and why we need them
Mark Bradford
BRF £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

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