Thursday, June 21, 2018

In the days of rain

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My pal wrote this Amazon review of ‘In the days of rain’ by Rebecca Stott which I had recommended to him:

A friend who is a priest highly recommended this book. I'm so delighted he did. It has not been an easy or comfortable read despite or perhaps because of the author's brilliant story telling, beautiful language and fascinating human interest. Reading it seemed to draw up old shadows lurking in my genetic memory, old stories whispered by my parents, old habits observed in my grandparents, old religious anxieties. My own family came out of the Exclusives after several generations in the 1960's when under James Taylor Jnr's leadership, increasingly pedantic and cruel rules were adopted and the formerly strict Christian sect descended into a closed and controlling cult. This was a dark decade, and Stott recounts testimonies of the shattered minds, broken families, suicides and worse. My grandfather - a respected ministering elder - and grandmother (descended from a line of Victorian Brethren) were 'silenced' after grandad said it was not the Brethren's concern if a maid working for two spinster EB sisters owned a radio in her room. But the other elders disagreed - the brethren were to be 'separate from the world' and that meant no maid with a radio in the house ....grandad's worldly view meant he was disciplined and separated.

Grandad refused to march to this warped rhythm and left, but so ingrained was the spirituality that throughout the 1960's & early 1970's he helped lead a meeting for ex exclusives who did fellowship on old exclusive lines. Stott atmospherically explains the meetings which as a young girl she observed, but not participated in, being female. I once attended a gathering as a young boy - the men sat separated from the women and stood and 'prophesied' as the Spirit led and 'broke bread'. It left a lasting impression - but so did a subsequent conversation with grandma who said that same old men say the same old thing every week - so much for the spontaneity of the Spirit! Grandad was a good man, but closed in on himself, he carried a great sadness, I don't recall ever seeing him laugh.

Rebecca Stott's book reminded me of these family aches. Reading it was harrowing but also hopeful. She showed how people could come to their senses, could awaken out of a nightmare, could break free and indeed did, in large numbers, when the whole thing unravelled before their eyes when the supreme leader Taylor was displayed for all to see: an immoral, foul mouthed, bullying, blaspheming, liar, spiralling into uncontrolled alcoholism in the infamous 'Aberdeen incident'. But where do those who have been caged go? What do they do? To walk away from the Brethren was to forfeit your job, your house, your community, your family, your whole rhythm of life. But many on leaving found their souls and drank in deep draughts of newly brewed grace. Rebecca Stott powerfully invites us into the anxiety and delight of her family's new found liberty - I particularly loved reading of her friendship with a Roman Catholic family and her tears at the beauty on attending the Mass and the mother's hand tenderly holding hers. Had Rebecca remained in the Brethren she would not have been allowed to go to university let alone become a professor of Literature and creative writing. But for her father the freedom was mixed: the joy of rediscovering the arts and literature and wide friendships and acting was intoxicating, however chaos pursued him without the bearings and boundaries of Brethrenism and I suspect haunted by what he had been and done. Rebecca's boyfriend secretly wrote every day to her father when he was imprisoned for fraud - an act of tenderness contrasting starkly with the sharp treatment inside the Exclusives.’

The story 'In the days of Rain' will be almost unbelievable to some - a window onto a world few know anything of. But to those whose family were involved it is a painful but cathartic read. This book is revelatory and shows how religion gone bad can crush the soul when man (yes generally male) made rules rule. And this book is redemptive because it shows there is life outside and after a cult - wholeness and fruitfulness and flourishing humanity and contributing and bettering society, as indeed the brilliant Rebecca Stott herself has.

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