Simon Parke  
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      Picture of the cover of One Minute Mindfulness.   Cover of Solitude   Cover of The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover
 

This rumoured space

Posted by Simon Parke, 18 September 2018, 10.28am

There is rumour of it, an inner room within, a particular space, though the entrance is bricked up, weathered and hidden from view.

Our experiences do not take us near it, not now. Indeed, they take us away from the place and with good reason.

It’s best if it doesn’t exist, this is the wisdom, best for everyone, ‘a wall of silence, please!’

And we acquiesce; we fear it, to be honest.

We knew the place once, and knew it well, but we had to leave, we won’t talk about that; and now the path back is overgrown, its existence widely denied.

‘I don’t know of any such place,’ is what people say, and these are sensible people, tuned-in people, people who wish for a bit more positivity, so you have to listen.

Though should you ever wander that way, beyond the memory wall; should you ever feel that it’s time, that it’s time, that it’s time to walk back down the path, still just a visible way – well, you may find yourself there, the old brickwork crumbling, as if it’s begging you to enter… and inside, if you stoop low, a soft and vulnerable space, as sad a child’s cry.

Some speak of this space, and they may be mad, but I myself am a witness, I have seen some who’ve stumbled there…

... and left laughing tears of ridiculous joy at the homecoming.

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A legacy of spies

Posted by Simon Parke, 17 September 2018, 5.09pm

A review of John le Carre’s recent spy thriller, A legacy of Spies.

Spying is a disease, an illness, a compulsion.

It is the art of lying, the skill of deceiving and the torment of second and third-guessing, which can be fun, like some bloody difficult crossword you work on for a life time… until you put it down and wonder why you bother – or in Peter Guillam’s case, why he did it for so long and for what purpose?

It’s not an unusual question in retirement.

This novel is his story revisited, as he is dragged out of retirement and forced to return to things done long ago…without a friend in sight.

Will the government, faced with embarrassing historical allegations, now throw him to the dogs? It might be easier for everyone.

So 2017 revisits the 1950’s, we move between the two, compare and contrast. Old behaviours and secrets are unearthed, different rules then, of course, different world; though with Salisbury as evidence, maybe not.

Le Carre creates a morally ambiguous universe where good and bad are not labels easily pinned on anyone’s lapel. Are we to swoon in admiration for these spies and their brave/dark deeds – or spit on their graves in self-righteous revulsion?

The Secret Service is called The Circus because the old offices used to be off Cambridge Circus.

You join the Circus, by special invitation, (in the good old days at least) and find yourself in a grimy pot of internal power struggles and dangerous continental tourism.

As in all work places, the most serious hate is saved for colleagues down the corridor.

Joint Operations compete with Covert Operations; Bill Haydon, still the undiscovered traitor, competes with George Smiley, the stumbling, shuffling, mind-like-sharp-mustard Christ-figure.

Bill Haydon’s a rat, we know that. But what’s behind George Smiley’s savage calculations, with their tragic and unintended outcomes?

For good is sometimes bad, and bad is sometimes good.

Agents struggle through both the shifting sands of personality-politics and very clear and terrifying danger; and, in theory, they do it for the good of the cause.

But what is the cause? ‘Land of hope and glory’ is not on many of their lips.

Le Carre’s terse prose is always a joy; as Carly Simon sang, ‘Nobody does it better’.

The dialogue is also a delight. One reviewer observes, ‘No writer has ever been better at turning the act of two people talking politely to each other across a desk into a blood sport.’

It’s really very savage…and so polite.

And it’s also a rattling good yarn.

I am a fan of le Carre. Two of my top five novels were written by him, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ and ‘The Secret Pilgrim’.

And while this is Guillam’s story, not Smiley’s, the two men’s lives are woven together; and the punch line in The Legacy of Spies is discovering just why Smiley did what he did.

His reasons could hardly be more topical.

(But turn away now and cover your eyes if you don’t wish to know.)

It was for England, he says ‘But whose England? Which England? England all alone, a citizen of nowhere? I’m a European, Peter. If I had a mission…it was to Europe. If I was heartless, I was heartless I was heartless for Europe.’

This is a whodunit and a whydunnit and like all his spy work, a meditation on identity.

It is a confession, an unattainable ideal, a noble scream in the dark…

...and everyone’s story.

‘A legacy of Spies’ is published by Penguin

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Small things

Posted by Simon Parke, 17 September 2018, 10.23am

Each day we are given the strength to do small things; for our life is comprised of such events.

There are no big things; just small things well lived.

Perhaps we do the washing up after supper, chair a meeting, write a card or speak with a world leader.

Perhaps we invoice a client, listen to a child, leave our job, ponder a holiday, make a speech, practice the piano or drive up the motorway.

Perhaps we make coffee for a colleague at work, pilot a plane over France, email a job proposal, ponder a loss, collapse on the sofa or notice a rainbow over the bus stop.

As I say, there are no big things, just small things well lived daily.

Tomorrow’s small things are a mystery, safely beyond our knowing. They need not detain us.

Today’s are enough, arriving like a string of pearls, one after the other.

I do not know what they will become, though I suspect they all add up rather merrily.

As van Gogh said, ‘Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.’

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Boris Johnson: the interview

Posted by Simon Parke, 10 September 2018, 12.38pm

In 2004, I interviewed Boris Johnson, shortly after his political novel, Seventy Two Virgins appeared. I was surprised by the man I found. Looking at it again now, in 2018, it feels quite prescient.

So you are now a novelist. What’s that about for you? Therapy? Crusade? Vanity? Money? A bit of all four?

Vanity. I’ll settle for vanity.

And is being a novelist harder than journalism?

Harder. Harder. Harder. There’s more of it.

You play many different games. You are an editor, an M.P., a TV celebrity –

Up to a point perhaps – a B or C-list TV celebrity.

And of course now a novelist. Is this all by glorious accident or cunning design?

Sheer unwillingness to settle for any particular thing and a desire to keep my mind constantly spinning over. If you can find lots of little engines to spin your own hamster wheel, then it takes a lot of mental effort away. Because I do so many different things, I never have to worry about what I am going to do next, because there are so many things that I just have to do next, a lot of them in the next couple of hours.

I have an everlasting agenda of things to do, which is a brilliant system for avoiding introspection, and brilliantly dispenses with the need for all abstract contemplation about the meaning of existence - or the purpose I might have on this planet.

I remember when I first became editor of The Spectator. There would be this time on Thursday afternoons when I had made all the phone calls I had to make, and I’d suddenly be conscious of the black cloud of depression moving in from the west, and it was really about not having enough to do, and that’s partly why I do it.

To be honest, I was always a little like that at school and university. I would always ceaselessly and pointlessly engage in just about every activity going. The debating society, rugby, acting – all mental displacement activity, but I don’t think there’s any harm in that. I don’t believe a life of abstract contemplation is necessarily suited to me and I’m very happy just blasting on. As Bismarck says, “He goes farthest, who knows not where he is going.”’

You seem to fear introspection.

I probably do. I just don’t dare look under its stone. And I won’t. The cupboard will remain locked. I will never go to that terrible fridge marked ‘psyche’. I’ll never open it. No, forget it. Someone else can do that. Sod it. The truth is, it’s probably like Peer Gynt. I’d probably find nothing there anyway. That’s what I’m terrified of.

Or you might find something better than you could possibly imagine.

I might.

I see two sides of you. There is the benign Boris, overflowing with buffoonery and camaraderie, in public at least. And then there is the quite profoundly angry Boris.

I have got a bad temper sometimes, actually. It comes through in my writing. It can be quite savage. I don’t know what it is. I’ve always had natural aggression. If there was a ball on the ground in rugby, I had to go for it. I just loved that feeling of flinging myself at it. It’s the cave man thing, I suppose, and I think I am largely composed of it.

I have moments of imagination and intelligence. I’m acutely conscious of my mental equipment being pretty good, but it’s not as good as some people’s. I’m not a brilliant mathematician or anything like that. So energy and aggression is a great help. After school and university, where you merely compete on an academic level, it’s the energy you need, it’s all about energy…and taking exercise. That’s incredibly important, because it’s all hormonal.

The secret of life – and here’ I’m afraid, I take a completely reductionist view of things, an approach I find very useful – the secret of life is that we are all composed of drugs. Our mood swings are entirely generated by our own personally selected pharmacopoeia.

And the human soul?

The human soul might be another way of describing the same thing. I’m convinced that rather than taking artificial drugs, you can become aware of the naturally occurring substances in your body. There are lots of things which affect our moods, and if you are cunning, you can create them in yourself.
There is a bloody good book waiting to be written about this, a fantastic super-seller, How to make your own mood.

I think we should think more positively about manufacturing our own moods…and how to deal with that five o’clock paranoia after you’ve been drinking at lunchtime which is the worst thing. If you drink a bottle and a half of wine at lunchtime, five o’clock comes round, and God, it hits you. And you cannot bear it, you know everyone wants to kill you. Paranoia, self-disgust, horror.

And is it all gone by six o’clock?

If you start drinking again, it goes.

There’s a stain of inner bleakness across all this.

I suppose there must be. Bleak, bleak, bleak. But I do believe in people’s goodness. I think people will tend towards good.

Non-chemical goodness?

Yes, oh certainly. It’s fascinating to watch. Each generation faces different sorts of moral problems, and we all fumble towards solutions.

And is it possible for a good person to succeed in party politics?

Sure. I think Blair in some ways is quite a good person. Michael Howard is a good person – a very good person. These are not bad guys. I think the public would find them out quite quickly if they were bad.

I’m very struck by people in the House of Commons, by how hard working they are, and by how much they know about things and care about things you wouldn’t expect them to take an interest in. I have a higher regard for politicians now than when I used to be a journalist.

The accepted line in Britain is that they are idiots, scum, self-serving twits, and I don’t think that true at all. Obviously they are all driven by their ego – their ego desire to feel important and liked, and in a certain sense, these are vices…but maybe they can be made to work for the public good.

Are the egos of politicians any different than those of the rest of us? Or is it just that more massaging goes on the nearer you get to power?

I think their egos are getting larger. They do swell under substantial stroking. But we all need an ego massage. We all have people who do that for us, otherwise our lives would be hell.

Unless we said goodbye to our egos. Then they wouldn’t exercise that power.

Very hard to do. And not what is required necessarily. I don’t think God demands that we say goodbye to our egos.

I’m not talking about God. I’m just pondering how to find happiness as a human.

I don’t know about that. To say goodbye to your ego and try to be happy? I’ve never tried that.

Ego puts us on a treadmill of pleasure and pain.

Yes it does, yep.

And if you are happy with that treadmill –

I’m always interested in the Stoic idea, living free from care, benign – what’s that like? I can’t imagine what it would be…tranquil, undulating trance. But for myself, I want to stay on the treadmill, because I enjoy it. It’s great fun.

Except sometimes at five o’clock.

Boris laughs.

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Keep karma and carry on

Posted by Simon Parke, 10 September 2018, 9.13am

Karma.

We tend to think of it as a Hindu or Buddhist thing; though Jesus’ teaching is shot through with the idea.

In eastern religion, it is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.

In the west, it’s used more informally, in the sense of ‘What goes round, comes round’.

Behave badly, and it will come back and bite you. Behave well, and around some future corner, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

‘That’s karma, that is,’ we say, when someone gets their comeuppance.

And it’s subtly different from western morality. Western morality posits right and wrong as the reason for doing things:  ‘Do this because it’s right and don’t do that because it’s wrong.’

And there’s a big authority figure – god/father – standing over us making sure we do.

But karma has no authority figure but ourselves. The only authority is the choices we make; the judgement is in-built.

And Jesus drew on this karma principle in his teaching.

It isn’t about right and wrong; but about the consequences:  ‘If you do that, this will happen. Simple as.’

So he just points things out, noting the karmic consequences. 

‘Where your treasure is, there your heart is also. Please don’t imagine otherwise. So be honest about your treasure.’
‘Don’t judge – and you won’t be judged. Start judging others and you’ll be the cruellest judge of yourself.’

‘If you practice your piety publicly, with a view to applause, there’s no reward; just an emptiness, a hollowness, a void.’
‘Happy are those who weep for they shall laugh; tears are a gateway, so that’s how it will be.’

‘Give and things will be given to you. It’s how creation works, how relationships work.’

‘Love your enemies, do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and reward will appear.’

The message is clear: What you do to others, you do to yourself. Call someone a fool – and you become the same.

Our insincerity, our negativity, our self-righteousness, our judgements – these things find us out. We send them off to visit another ...and they come back and bang on our door!

Just as the goodness we send out showers us with blessing .

Karma…it’s not Buddhist, or Hindu, or Christian or anything really: it’s just true.

For instance, all the powerful people I’ve met – whether in business, politics, business, media or the church - are made anxious by their power, for the ego always seeks more. As we’ve been told:

‘Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.’

I remember writing about a murderer who dumped a body in a beautiful lake.

In his childhood, he had loved the lake; and it had been a sweet refuge for him as an adult.

But from that day on, whenever he drove past, all delight was gone, and the sweetness was bitter, choked by fear and guilt.

Others still sit on its banks, laughing. But not him, not now…he can only sweat at the sight of it.

Karma.

It’s less about right and wrong, less about some big judgement figure with a stick - and more about ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’... like a nutritionist saying: ‘If you carry on eating those pies, you will get obese.’

Or, ‘If you do that, this will happen. Is that what you want?’

Karma is a savage and immediate truth, a most present thing, making us authors of both our happiness and despair.

It is a terrible freedom to possess, for we don’t always act well; and we can no longer blame anyone else for the lives we create.

Though fortunately, there’s more than mere karma in the world; there is a different magic.

In the story of the prodigal son, karmic unhappiness and despair, when the grabby son ‘gets his comeuppance’ - is trumped by grace.

What goes round, comes round…this is true.

But sometimes it comes round better than before, the vicious circle made kind.

 

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Mindfulness at home

Posted by Simon Parke, 10 September 2018, 8.01am

Perhaps mindfulness is most difficult in the home.

Home is where deep-rooted patterns of behaviour have established themselves, and where our reactions are habitual, automatic and often emotionally-charged.

Bringing awareness of the present moment into our home life is both challenging and refreshing.

We begin to notice what we are feeling, moment by moment, and the everyday occurrences and exchanges that cause us to behave in a certain way.

It makes honest people of us.

And even as we notice these things, we place a holy pause in proceedings before our habitual reactions kick in.

One helpful act is to pause at the door of your home before entering.

We stop, breathe...pause.

Whatever we have come from, and whatever we face now, we become a clear space for a moment, before turning the key…and then we take your mindful selves inside.

There is now the possibility that we might respond rather than react…

...because the present has no history.


(This is taken from Simon’s book, ‘One Minute Mindfulness’ published by Hay House)

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Julian of Norwich: Question and Response

Posted by Simon Parke, 05 September 2018, 4.48pm

I was recently sent some questions about my latest novel on Julian of Norwich.

Here they are, with my responses.

1. What is your book about and why did you write it?

The Secret Testament of Julian is Julian of Norwich telling her own story. She is famous for being the first woman to write a book in English, and for giving us the famous line of hope, ‘All shall be well’.

But the more I pondered her writings, the more I pondered the woman behind the writings and wanted to give her a life of her own.

Sometimes spiritual writers, with their fine-sounding phrases, seem to float three feet above everyday life. So I wanted to put this remarkable woman right in the middle of life, knee-deep in difficulty, where the rest of us are.

And if her words can live in the emotional desolation of the 14th century, then truly, they can live anywhere. I admit I don;t make life easy for her…

2. Julian Norwich lived in a cell for forty years. Was she confined to the cell or could she go outside? How did she spend her time?

Julian was probably confined to her cell all the time. Some anchoresses had small gardens or could go into the church adjoining their cell. But not all - and there’s no evidence this was so for Julian.

In my story, I even suggest reasons why she did not want it to be so, why she wanted to be completely enclosed.

But the initial walling in of the anchoress, stone by stone, must still have been a time of terror. The bishop outside conducted a service of burial, they listened to their own funeral - for they would never now leave their cell, until they were carried out dead. (And some went mad at this containment.)

As to how they spent their time, I imagine it varied, depending on the person. Clearly they would recite all or most of the eight daily offices of the church. People would also come to their ‘Visitors window’ for counselling. I suspect this was an important part of Julian’s life, for her writing is kind to the human spirit, which would have made her an attractive listener.

And she’ll have spent a fair amount of time writing. In her cell, she re-wrote her Revelations, with a shorter version becoming a longer version. And I’m sure she read. She must have been aware of others writing in English. There’s no evidence she could read or write Latin.

Perhaps one or two of these English books were smuggled in, I imagine so, away from the bishop’s gaze? And she may also have been a weaver, like some other anchoresses.

She’d enjoy cheese or fresh Norwich herring on special days. But no TV…and no smart phones.

How did she survive?


3. How did she find optimism is such conditions?

That’s a very good question, because there wasn’t much optimism around her at the time.

14th century England was particularly bleak, with repeated famines, terrible bouts of the plague (estimated to have killed well over half of her home town of Norwich) and political unrest and repression…while the church responded to people’s suffering by majoring on hell in their sermons.

Nothing keeps the faithful in line like fear and guilt. The wall paintings in the churches did the same work, routinely featuring the flames awaiting the damned.

Yet somehow Julian spoke differently…there was really no similarity at all in her approach.

And the evidence strongly suggests that Julian’s unique voice, completely counter-intuitive to her times, came from a set of visions given to her when she was thirty-three, and which she spent the rest of her life contemplating and growing into.

It is rare in history that such a different voice emerges. Indeed, it still sounds different today, which may explain the intense interest in her work. There are Julian Groups everywhere! Check them out…there will be one close to you.

The contemplative Thomas Merton believed her to be, along with Cardinal Newman, the greatest English theologian…yet she was a woman with no theological training.

So how did that happen?

4. She was the first woman in the world to write a book in English. Can you say more about that?

The 14th century was the time when the English language emerged from the shadows of the French and Latin spoken by the elite. And it emerged in the brilliant minds of writers like Geoffrey Chaucer and John Langland…and, rather differently, in the minds of the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing and Julian of Norwich.

As she says to a visitor in my story, ‘We chatter in English, we weep in English, we scream in English, we love in English, we barter in English, we sing in English – so why do we not write in English?’

But writing in the native tongue was not encouraged by the church. They regarded it as a subversive act, making God much too common.

‘We speak of turnips in English. We can hardly use the same language for God!’ Latin, which few could understand, was thought to maintain his mystery.

And as for a woman writing in English!? As some of the friars said, ‘The devil laughs when a woman writes!’

But perhaps Julian was unimpressed by the devil and didn’t listen to him greatly.


5. Why did she pray for a near-death experience and did she ever have one?

She certainly had one, for she speaks about it in pained detail in her book, The Revelations of Divine Love.

And she writes about it because it was during this trauma that she was given the visions which changed her life. Those around her assumed she was dying, she assumed she was dying and, after all, death was no stranger to their home…she had probably already lost her father, husband and child. The priest had even given her the last rites.

But having lost all feeling in both her upper and lower body, and while gazing on the cross, another world opened, and over the next few hours her remarkable ‘showings’ were given to her.

She admits that as a child she prayed for a near-death experience such as this, which seems odd at first sight. Why would you?

It’s possible she was influenced in this prayer by stories from Europe where women in particular brought suffering on themselves as an act of devotion. Catherine of Sienna, in deciding to eat only the bread of the Eucharist, effectively starved herself to death.

Though I believe there may have been more particular reasons why Julian prayed for this terrible experience, and I consider these in the book.


6. And finally – was Julian great?

Greatness is an interesting thing, there are different sorts.

When most people think of great women, they think of women of action – whether the child-warrior Joan of Arc, the steely Queen Elizabeth 1, the brave suffragette Emily Pankhurst, the reforming Florence Nightingale or the courageous black rights campaigner Rosa Parks.

These women were out there in the world, taking bold action.

I believe Julian was equally great – but great in a cell, doing nothing. She lived a life of extreme entrapment; yet knew and wrote of a freedom that still tantalises seven hundred years after her death.

In an activist world, such greatness appears incomprehensible. How can you be remarkable doing nothing? How can you stay indoors… and be great?

And perhaps that’s the question that led me to write my novel.

‘The Secret Testament of Julian’ is published by White Crow books. And please make sure she’s available in your local library. It won’t help my sales but I think local girl Julian would like that…

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The Kingdom by Emmanuel Carrere - A book review

Posted by Simon Parke, 04 September 2018, 10.42am

You won’t have read a book like it; I doubt it, anyway.

‘Thrilling, magnificent and strange,’ said Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times

And as for it’s genre, well - you tell me. Carrere stands at the crossroads of fiction, biography, autobiography and history. It’s an attempt to get into the psyche of
Luke, the writer of the gospel of that name and also of the Book of Acts.

But perhaps more important, it’s an attempt by the author to understand his own psyche. Is he right to have jettisoned his faith? He’s clearly still wondering, still hanging around the edges of belief. (He has a little get-away home on the island of Patmos, the home of the Revelations of St John.)

For Carrere is post-Christian man.He likes compassion… but not miracles.

He had a rather obsessive and self-punishing Catholic faith in his thirties, but like a slow puncture, the air of commitment has leaked, the tyre of belief is now flat, and he is parked up in no man’s land: an intrigued and self-obsessed agnostic…but one who writes like an angel.

He writes screenplays for a living, and the last book I read that read so effortlessly was William Goldman’s ‘Adventures in the Screen trade’...yes, another screen writer.

St Paul, though, is problematic for Carrere because – whisper it quietly - he doesn’t seem to know Jesus the man at all.

Paul knows the risen Christ, because he appeared to him in a vision on the road to Damascus. But concerning his life on earth, the words Jesus spoke, Paul has no interest at all…and probably not much knowledge.

And this strange lack - given that he is busy founding churches which are meant to follow Jesus - isn’t helped by the fact that the people who did know Jesus – like Peter and James – well, they don’t trust Paul at all, are not overly keen to help him and keep their church building and Jesus stories to themselves.

And so Paul, perhaps not too reluctantly, got on with his own project. 

‘Paul was a genius,’ says Carrere, ‘but also the kind of guy who time and again says things like “I have to admit, I have one big fault: I’m too honest” or “I’m the most modest guy around.” He was a bore, in fact . . . the opposite of Jesus.’

Carrere likes Jesus. He particularly likes the Jesus of the beatitudes – words that don’t interest Mark or John at all in their gospels.

But the beatitudes do interest Carrere.

Suppose, he says, that neither Paul nor Christianity existed and all we had were these words. ‘I think that we would be staggered by its originality, its poetry, its authoritative, self-evident tone, and . . . it would take its place among the great texts of human wisdom. If there is such a thing as a compass that can tell you at every moment in life wrong direction, this is it.’

(Matthew 5 - 7, if you want to remind yourself.)

This, for Carrere, is the real Jesus, away from the massive invention of so much of the gospels - which, by the way, is why he identifies with Luke: they are both fiction writers. Not that there aren’t truthful stories in Luke, there are plenty. But as a writer of fiction himself, Carrere believes he can discern the wheat from the chaff; the reality from the myth; the truth from the invention.

And unlike any other New Testament writer I’ve known, he ties this in with a discussion of his love for online pornography, and in particular, a clip of a young woman masturbating - a scene he keeps returning to. (And which he discusses with his wife.)

It’s important to him that she is a real person in her bedroom, and not an actor in a studio trying to look like a bedroom. He wants authenticity in both his pornography and his scripture. 

But authenticity was harder for Luke when it came to Jesus, because he never knew Jesus - not like he knew Paul, and Luke loved Paul, he travelled everywhere with him.

He writes of Paul with first-hand knowledge; but writes of Jesus using other people’s sources…and some of the other people who’s sources he uses, he doesn’t like very much, and so he changes what they say.

Mark, for instance, is reckoned to write Peter’s version of events. But while Luke uses much of Mark’s material, he effects significant changes to the text and the meaning when he doesn’t like it. 

‘I don’t believe Jesus was resurrected,’ says Carrere, getting that issue out the way. ‘I don’t believe that a man came back from the dead. But the fact that people do believe it — that I believed it myself — intrigues, fascinates, troubles and moves me.’

Though with so much fictionalising going on around Jesus, one does wonder how this global faith ever got off the ground. For a fiction writer and film director, Carrere is a bit weak on motivation at this point.

He faces many things head-on. He prods, he confesses, he amuses, he shocks and he questions with cleverness and insight; he brilliantly de-mystifies the much-less-than-perfect creation of the New Testament canon.

But he doesn’t really tackle the question which any fiction writer must grasp, and it’s this: ‘If nothing happened after the (largely fictional, and, by this time, largely abandoned) Jesus was killed, where was the motivation for the subsequent energy and heroics?’

I’ve never thought ‘Group delusion’ really cuts it, and neither does Carrere… but he doesn’t offer much in its place.

In the end, this erudite writer, this self-deprecating narcissist, this successful man (a jury member at the Cannes film festival, no less) sounds like the wistful boy I suspect he once was.

After all his literary pyrotechnics, he closes the book with these slightly guilty lines:

‘And what I wonder, as I leave this book, is if it betrays the young man I was and the Lord he believed in, or if in its way it remains faithful to them.

I don’t know.’

The Kingdom, by Emmanuel Carrere, is published by Allen Lane, a Penguin imprint.

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The five fingers of resilience

Posted by Simon Parke, 30 August 2018, 5.17pm

And so we stay awake.

We try and stay awake to the day, whether it’s brilliant or awful, or somewhere in between.

We stay aware of ourselves, of what’s passing through us, whether a trickle or a torrent.

We accept the reality that presents itself, not fighting it, not rejecting…we allow.

We find meaning in the day, perhaps small moments that chime, that rhyme, that lift our heads.

We are inventive in adversity, intrigued by it, not closing down, but rising in some way.

And sometimes we stop and we breathe and recover our balance of mind – the balance of survival, feeling and assessing.

We might call these the five fingers of resilience, which is the ability to live well - flexibly and openly - through times of uncertainty, ambiguity and change.

Which is a fair description of life.

And so we try and stay awake.

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Summer's lease

Posted by Simon Parke, 30 August 2018, 2.50pm

‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’

This letting go of a love or a season can be harsh; though maybe beginnings and endings are ghostly fences of our imagination, erected in fear - and do not exist in themselves.

For start and finish, and finish and start, they merge into one, without clear lines of demarcation.

Sometimes we shall say ‘This is an end.’

And sometimes we shall say ‘This is a beginning.’

But there is just the forming and reforming of life; an endless collapse and creation, like the waves.

Today is both ending and beginning, a shift in the tectonic plates, a re-configuration of our adventure.

Tomorrow, we will not be able to return to today…any more than we can return to a wave.

But this is goodbye and hello.

Watery change, ceasing to be one thing, becoming another, occurring in the darkness of the night…change occurs, but always out of sight.

Always unfolding, but the rise and the fall are one; and the more we greet and plunge and swim…

... the more we live.

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