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/.
Inderjit Bhogal has written a reflection on 40 years of ordination. Well worth reading as we think about our Christian discipleship, lay or ordained – https://theologyeverywhere.org/2020/09/28/ordination-40th-anniversary/
A celebration of Carlton (Sam) Young https://www.umnews.org/en/news/at-94-hes-mr-music-of-united-methodism
Anthony Reddie posted the following on 18th August 2020.
He points out the need to be careful in our use of familiar material in worship and even whether we should continue in its use. Tradition is not sufficient reason.
‘Speaking with Azariah France-Williams and others about his wonderful book ‘Ghost Ship’, I am reminded of the dangers of Whiteness as an unacknowledged generic theological and ecclesiological norm. I have NEVER spoken the words of the Methodist Covenant service because I have always found them deeply problematic. For a long while I couldn’t work out why I recoiled from speaking these words. Now as a Black liberation theologian I know the reason why is because they are steeped in privilege of patrician Whiteness. Black bodies have been colonised for centuries to the point where prior to the various Black power movements of the 20th century the notion of Black people having agency was an oxymoron. I remember as a young child sitting next to my Mum in church as she uttered these words of being ‘put to whatever use’ decreed by the White colonial God proclaimed by British Methodism and wondered how this applied to a poor Black woman who once literally broke stones with her hands for a White stone merchant in Jamaica in order to find the coach fare to travel home to see her dying elder sister before it was too late ( Andrea DA and Karen Hope that was your paternal grandmother Alvina). I didn’t have the words or the concepts to give voice to my anger at this exploitative framework that saw my family volunteering (no doubt under the guise that this was an expression of OUR discipleship) to clean the church floor prior to the 1978 Methodist Conference at Eastbrook Hall Central Mission but not good enough to be invited to the opening of the conference, when all the White people for whom the Covenant service of ‘being used by God’ didn’t include cleaning the floor, but were unsurprisingly invited and given seats of honour. And then remembering being scolded by the then General Secretary of the Methodist church for retelling the latter story at a Connexional event at Swanwick because presumably it was a worse crime to retell the story than it was that the only Black family in this church were deemed good enough to clean the floors but not good enough to sit in the balcony when Donald English was sworn in as President of the Conference. So the next time any of you have the unoriginal idea of asking me to stand for Vice President of the Conference again, please do remember this post and the stories contained within it and know that it will be a cold day in hell before I stand for such a post given the hypocrisy of White Christianity. Now, not only do I not recite the words of the Covenant service, I stay in my bed and not even dignify the service with my presence.’