Magazine article The Spectator

Heaven and Hell

Magazine article The Spectator

Heaven and Hell

Article excerpt

'Keep your angels about you, ' was the inspiring advice given by William Blake in Peter Ackroyd's Drama on 3 (Sunday), based on 'the story' of the visionary poet and artist who was born 250 years ago in 1757 and who is famous for giving us 'Bring me my bow of burning gold' and 'Tyger tyger'. It was stirring stuff. And particularly apt for the Christian season of Lent, which so often is depicted as 40 days (or rather, as those who, like Eddie and Lilian on The Archers, have given something up for the duration will have calculated, 46 days) of painful penance for sins past, present and future. It should rather be seen as a period of quickening anticipation of the approaching revelation, of searching for insights, profound and meaningful, to sustain us through another year. But inspiration and angels were in short supply in the Lent Talks on Radio Four, a series of six 15minute expositions on Christian themes -- sin, temptation, justice, Pilate, the Trial and the Cross -- which have been buried deep in the schedule on Wednesday evenings as if to avoid offence.

So far we have heard the satirical writer and broadcaster Armando Iannucci disclosing his struggles to make sense of his Catholic upbringing, and an advertising executive trying to reconcile Christ with the moneylenders. Iannucci has never got over being scolded by his parish priest when he was ten after confessing a minor misdemeanour, 'You little devil, you!' He is still raging that anyone, let alone a priest, had the effrontery to criticise him in such a way.

Creativity, he was taught, is sinful; it's showing off, indulging the ego. He quoted from Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poet-priest who tormented himself with the thought that crafting words into verse was a sinful waste of time. The adman meanwhile sat in a branch of McDonald's and drank a plastic cup of coffee while worrying away about the incident of Christ in the Temple, when He turned over the tables of the men who were lending money to the poor. 'What's the godly opinion on trade?' he asked.

It was all so banal and downbeat. There was no sense of divine mystery, no searching for an inward and spiritual meaning.

Nothing deeper than the thought that we need to find 'a modern Jesus' who understands the pressures of living in the 21st century. Next week we are promised Cherie Booth, QC, on 'restorative justice', talking about Zacchaeus, the rich man who climbed into a sycamore tree to watch Jesus' triumphant procession into Jerusalem. …

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