Today I have the pleasure of sharing a feature from David Matthews, author of That They Might Lovely Be as part of the blog tour.
No-one thought Bertie Simmonds could speak. So, when he is heard singing an Easter hymn, this is not so much the miracle some think as a bolt drawn back, releasing long-repressed emotions with potentially devastating consequences… A decade later, Bertie marries Anstace, a woman old enough to be his mother, and another layer of mystery starts to peel away. Beginning in a village in Kent and set between the two World Wars, That They Might Lovely Be stretches from the hell of Flanders, to the liberating beauty of the Breton coast, recounting a love affair which embraces the living and the dead.
My mother was a staunch Anglican before she became a Jehovah’s Witness. Brought up in a conventional Church of England family (his father sang in the choir in Gloucester cathedral; his mother was a stalwart member of The Mothers’ Union), my father became a Quaker after the Second World War. I had a great-aunt who was a Christian Scientist. Some of my best friends at university were practising Roman Catholics. Christianity, in its various permutations, is in my DNA. It might seem odd, therefore, that I married an atheist.
The thing is, religion for me could never be something you take on board unquestioningly. How could it, when one person’s certainty meets with contradiction from someone else? Constant questioning and re-consideration are ever-present. Doubt is a constant. What better way to keep on one’s spiritual toes than to be wedded to Challenge? There is never any risk of stale belief or stagnant complacency.
I am a practising Christian in that I go to church every Sunday, more often than not, and I pray. I am also practising in that I hope to get better at it in time. I subscribe to The Bible as the essential Christian text but I respond to it as I respond to literature. I look for patterns. I keep my antennae waving, looking for anything which could be metaphorical or symbolic. I distrust the literal. I take little on face-value. I read between the lines. I am sensitive to authorial bias. I am aware that context is important.
If Christianity is going to go anywhere (and I happen to believe its combination of compassion with an understanding of the spiritual dimension means it deserves to) it has to be dynamic. That’s why I get excited when the patterns I perceive in The Bible and the life of Christ are reflected in ‘secular’ literature. If Christianity is profoundly relevant, it is most likely that its quintessence will filter through into that which is written today, whether the writer is a ‘believer’ or not.
That They Might Lovely Be contains patterns which overlap with some of the great Christian ideas. The novel does not seek to evangelise but it does aim to turn the reader’s gaze on crucial (the etymology of the word is significant) themes which relate to this religion. Discovering a pattern, plotting the connections and understanding their significance is what reading at its best provides.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Matthews was born in the middle of the last century to a Quaker father and a mother who left the Church of England to become a Jehovah’s Witness. After a number of years “in the wilderness”, he found himself back in the Anglican Church, active in the local community.
David had a fulfilling career as a teacher, including eleven years heading a comprehensive school in Croydon, where he still lives with his wife and sons. His play Under the Shadow of Your Wings was professionally directed and performed in the summer of 2015, as part of Croydon’s heritage festival. He now feels he may devote a significant amount of time to transforming ideas, hatched over countless summer vacations, into novels, poems and plays. He enjoys spending time in south-west France where he is renovating a stone cottage with an idyllic view, and making a garden for it.
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