The last two weeks have been pretty busy and a bit stressful, so I have been finding a bit of peace and quiet in a couple of books: a favourite, and a new book by a favourite author. The old favourites are the Harry Pottter series from the beginning all over again. This time it's quite interesting re-reading them because of our trip to Leavesden Studios in the UK for the Harry Potter tour. It was one of our must-dos on our (extensive) list of places we went. Each of us came up with some things we wanted to see and then we whittled down the list - well, if I'm honest, we took a sword to my list to chop it down to something even faintly resembling a reasonable length! The Harry Potter tour was on our daughter's must-do list and we were all quite happy to oblige her!
But back to the books. It's slightly odd re-reading them this time because of having visited the sets. Sure, I had my own vision of what the places looked like from my imagination, that was then coloured by the movies, but actually seeing the sets myself and walking among them has made this re-reading an unusually interesting and rich experience.
The other book I've been pursuing, somewhat slower because it requires more concentration, is the wonderful Silence: a Christian history by the outstanding scholar and church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. Professor MacCulloch has been one of my favourite historians for some time now, ever since my brother sent over recordings of his outstanding BBC documentaries on the history of the church that accompanied his brilliant (but extremely large!) book Christianity: the first three thousand years (yes, you did read that right). I got that book and read my way slowly through it (it's about two inches thick - it took me a while!), and have been planning to read the Silence book ever since I heard that he was writing on monasticism.
I finally got my hands on it and it is a really interesting take on church history: not only does it look at monastic silences, but the silences of shame, of politics, of collusion, of power and powerlessness, of "heretics" and women, black people and gays. It looks at the way silence is used to bring us closer to God, and to hide us away, to control and release us. He describes the Protestant Reformation as one of the noisiest periods of church history and the loss of personal silence before God (deeply distrusted by magisterial Reformers) as something that took centuries to come back. I am about half-way through and it is almost as much of a challenge, though in a different way, as the wonderful She Who Is (Elizabeth Johnston) that I read last year.
Professor MacCulloch writes his history "from below": he has a deep, inbuilt understanding of the hidden silences of the church from his own experience as a gay man, so he is particularly alert to the experiences of silence, power and powerlessness experienced by other groups. It chimes with another book I was reading recently called The War on Heresy, another intriguing take on history that suggests that the inquisition and the Albigensian Crusade weren't actually about belief at all, but about the use, establishment, and abuse of power, and there was no real "Cathar church", contrary to what the surviving medieval manuscripts say (to the victors, the spoils!).