Unravelling the Mysteries – Marjorie Dobson

Some while ago I posted information about Marjorie Dobson’s book Unravelling the Mysteries. As a consequence of Conferences and events being cancelled due to COVID, together with her husband’s illness and death, less has been made of this book than might have been. In that light it seemed right to raise its profile again in case you missed it.

In a review of the book in the Hymn Society Bulletin, Claire Wilson had this to say:

In a short poem Marjorie Dobson recalls her childhood, when hand-knitted items of clothing, once outgrown, could be untangled and rewoven into a new garment. Something along these lines happens in this refreshingly unconventional assortment of hymns, poems, monologues, dialogues and prayers. Biblical narratives are creatively re-told in the first person from the perspective of the main character.

In ‘Afterwards’, for example, we find an imaginative depiction of the fear and confusion experienced by Jesus’ mother in the early days of her pregnancy. Later, in a monologue, Mary takes us graphically through those harrowing hours during which she ‘wept and railed at God’ while cradling her son’s crucified body.

Christians’ need for confidence is frequently highlighted and  inventively explored. Psalm 100 encourages us to ‘Sing to the Lord’, but what if we have reservations about our musical ability? No worries, we are told: the many diverse contributions listed in the poem will  successfully blend in a chorus of praise. To quote just a few lines,

Come crooners and crows,
Come singers from shows,
Come tone-deaf or sweet.
Or those with a beat:
Musicians or not,
Just give what you’ve got! 

In each of the book’s sections (Beginning, Faith, Grace, Choices, Sorrow, Resurrection) we encounter a God who is waiting to empower us. We are all potentially effective disciples, however incompetent, grief-stricken, ashamed, guilty, or doubt-filled we may currently feel.

Unravelling the Mysteries never descends into shallow religious optimism, though. The reality of human despair and anger is fully acknowledged, and people experiencing depths of anguish are given a voice, as in the hymn, ‘God, hold us, unfold us, through desolate loss’.

What ultimately matters, we are told in the Epilogue, is the love of God which is at the core of our existence.  

For whom is this book likely to be a resource? Well, preachers faced for the umpteenth time with crafting a sermon on some all-too-familiar Old or New Testament passage will surely welcome Marjorie’s inventive take on around twenty biblical characters. Her adventurous ideas are colourfully expressed both in poems and hymns.

Those who shy away from “religious literature” since they know from experience that quite frequently they have given up after the first chapter should be encouraged to give this book a try. It is eminently suitable for dipping into at random! A message of comfort, stimulation, forgiveness or hope may leap out to us from any page.

Finally, this treasure-chest of insights, biblical exploration and encouragement to reflect and ask questions finds expression in a variety of hymns and songs. Living with uncertainty as to what the future holds takes courage, and this is emphasised in ‘A man set off for Bethlehem’, where we encounter Samuel setting off in trepidation before God’s purpose is finally achieved. Jesus’s own experience of fear and loneliness is imaginatively portrayed in ‘Afraid and alone’. Those attending a service of healing could find themselves be moved by ‘The touch was so light’.

The collection includes hymns appropriate for use during Lent, Holy Week (‘A towel and a basin’), Eastertide, Pentecost and at Holy Communion. Others, equally sing-able, could be used on ‘public’ occasions such as infant baptisms or Remembrance Sunday, where those leading worship might welcome fresh ideas and where people who attend church infrequently might find their conventional expectations enjoyably challenged. The hymns are somehow ‘transferable’ in character: most, if not all of them, would fit as well into an informal gathering as into a more solemnly traditional service. Many tunes are familiar, and new ones not difficult to learn.

You may well know Marjorie Dobson as a hymn writer and contributor of material to https://theworshipcloud.com/ 

You might have a copy of her book of worship resources: Multicoloured Maze (https://stainer.co.uk/shop/b882/). You can get Unravelling the Mysteries from Stainer & Bell at: https://stainer.co.uk/shop/b959/.

Published by

Andrew Pratt

Andrew Pratt was born in Paignton, Devon, England in 1948. For his first degree he studied Zoology (B.Sc. Hons., London) before going to the University College of North Wales in Bangor. Andrew obtained a M.Sc. in Marine Biology which was partly dependent on a thesis on the Effects of sympathomimetic drugs on the rectum of Pleuronectes platessa (effects of drugs on the guts of the plaice). From here he went to St Luke’s College, Exeter, since absorbed into Exeter University, to study for a PGCE. Andrew taught in Essex, Wrexham, and Liverpool together with some brief spells of supply teaching since entering the ministry. Subjects have ranged through biology, chemistry, religious studies, swimming, personal and social education, and health education. During his M.Sc., he began to foster a belief in God. He became a member of the Methodist Church in Exeter. Moving to Essex he saw little of the church as both his parents died in a space of a year and he was away seeing them at weekends. In Wrexham (Gresford) he sensed a call to the ministry and in 1979 went for theological training at the Queen’s (Ecumenical) College in Birmingham. He was there for three years, partly doing a post graduate Diploma in Theology at Birmingham University and partly doing ministerial training. It was here that Andrew began to write hymns as a means of exploring theology. He had already written poems (mainly for private consumption!) one of which was published in a college magazine at St Luke’s in 1972. Since leaving Birmingham, Andrew has been stationed in Northwich, Nantwich, Leigh and Hindley, and Orrell and Lamberhead Green (near Wigan). While in Nantwich he began to achieve publication of his texts, firstly in Hymns of the City and then, under the guidance and constructive criticism of Bernard Braley, with some regularity in Hymns and Congregational Songs. Andrew was asked to be part of the groups that edited Story Song, Big Blue Planet and Sound Bytes. He has been regularly published in Worship Live and has had articles, hymns and reviews published in the The Hymn, The Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland(of which has been the Editor since 2004) Theological Book Review, Writers News, Writing Magazine, the Methodist Recorder, Reform and Crucible. For some time he broadcast regularly on BBC Radio Merseyside. From 2004 he was a member of the Music Resource Group appointed to compile Singing the Faith, convening the words group until its dissolution in 2009 when he resigned. Blinded by the Dazzle, his first hymn collection, was published in 1997 by Stainer & Bell. Further collections, Whatever Name or Creed, Reclaiming Praise and More than Words were subsequently produced. Over a period of three years, with Marjorie Dobson, he wrote material for the Revised Common Lectionary which was published on www.worshipcloud.com HymnQuest includes over 1400 of his hymn texts. He is a Non-Executive Director of Stainer & Bell Ltd., and was instrumental in their establishing a web site (www.hymns.uk.com) carrying contemporary hymn texts which could be downloaded for local use. He is Chair of the Pratt Green Trust. On two consecutive years Andrew entered the Pratt Green Essay Competition, achieving second and joint first prizes. This work acted as a springboard for his research in hymnody. In 1997 he gained a M.A in English from the University of Durham for his research into Frederick Faber’s Hymns on the Four Last Things. He has researched the origins of the Methodist Hymn Book (1933) for a Ph.D., at Liverpool Hope University College. A book based on this research, O for a thousand tongues – the Methodist Hymn Book (1933) in context was published by the Methodist Publishing House. In 2004 he was appointed as a tutor and then Acting Principal at Hartley Victoria College (part of the Partnership for Theological Education in Manchester) to its closure in 2015. He continued as an Honorary Research Fellow with the Partnershp. While there he wrote Net Gains (Methodist Publishing House) and Study Skills for Ministry (SCM). He has lectured and led workshops in the UK, USA, Finland, Poland, Ireland, and Germany. He has written and contributed to many books relating to hymns and worship including Charles Wesley: Life, Literature and Legacy (2011, Epworth, edit., Ted Campbell, Kenneth G.C Newport), Why Weren't We Told? (2012, Polebridge Press, USA, R.A.E. Hunt) Hymn, song, society (2014, Unigrafia Finland, edit Tapani Innanen, Veli-Matti Salminen), Methodism Abounding (2016, Church in the Market Place, edit., John Vincent), The Servant of God in Practice (2017, Deo, edit., J.W. Rogerson and John Vincent). He has written a series of reflections on selected hymns of Charles Wesley (Inextinguishable Blaze) and co-written with Marjorie Dobson two books of worship resources, Poppies and Snowdrops and Nothing too religious (both Inspire, Methodist Publishing House). In 2017 with Jan Berry he edited and contributed to Hymns for Hope and Healing (Stainer & Bell Ltd). He was one time Chair of the Methodist Peace Fellowship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s