On Saturday I was able to enjoy a streamed ‘Festival of Faith and Literature’ organized by the Church Times newspaper. This normally takes place over a weekend, and I was fortunate enough to attend three years ago. However, for obvious reasons, this year it was online. This year’s theme, most appropriate as we all cope as best we can with the restrictions imposed by the Government, was ‘Light in darkness’, and some of the comments made were both thought-provoking and memorable.

Those who know me will realise that this festival encompassed my two favourite themes, intertwining them in a fascinating way.

The final speaker of the morning was Canon Mark Oakley, someone I have heard before, and it was during his session that I jotted down most quotations. As he discussed poetry, he compared it with faith:

The language of faith is the language of the poet and the novelist, he said. And: Poems are not about information but about formation.

 It is possible, of course to read the psalms in the same way that we read poems, allowing the language to wash over us, the richness of the imagination of the psalmist comparable to that of the poet.

As he was asked about the books he had been reading during the pandemic he commented:

Books and friends chart the first buds of hope of Spring.

 And on the same theme:

You can cut all the flowers, but you can’t stop Spring happening.

 And a final reference to faith and poetry:

God is in the world as poetry is in the poem.

 The great thing about Mark Oakley is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously and this was reflected in the title of one book he has read recently:

‘Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious’. I didn’t make a note of the author, but it sounds promising.

However, it was another speaker who provided a thought-provoking statement, which is worth pondering over:|

Every human city is an outer suburb of the city of God.

 To which Mark Oakley responded, tongue-in-cheek:

The Church of England is a polite suburb of the city of God!

 Faith and Literature – the two combined themes have helped make me what I am and have helped me cope with the isolation of shielding and absence of all social contact. For that I am grateful.

 

[Thelma Shacklady]