Anyone at Nottingham University is warmly invited to join in a group which will meet for literary and theological chat, and to say the Anglican Daily Office, every Tuesday (2-3) and Thursday (3-4) in A53. I have been lucky enough over the last few years to enjoy a lot of stimulating conversation about literature and about Christianity with various colleagues and students (who know more about these things than I do), but it has often happened over chance coffees or at random times whilst walking across campus. I thought it would be a good idea to set aside particular times each week where people interested in the subject could meet and discuss things. There will be copious quantities (and varieties) of tea, and there will be a specific topic or very short text each week. Very short indeed. As in, a poem or a few pages of prose.
This term I thought we’d start by talking about pop culture, particularly fantasy literature, and the ways it engages with ideas around religion and God. We will pose such vital questions as “Do wizards go to church?”, “Is there a theology of the horcrux?”, “Does Christianity need a wardrobe-based interpretation of the Bible?” and “To what extent is Buckbeak like or unlike God?” (In future terms we may wrestle with great issues like “Did Shakespeare write the Bible?” and “Can Jesus truly be said to be my boyfriend?” We’ll also be tackling some of the medieval literary works which pop up on the first-year English course, but you certainly don’t need to be an English Literature student to attend.) I’ve deliberately picked topics on which I have a few halfbaked ideas, but on which I would particularly like to listen to other people. Do come and enlighten me. We’ll have about half an hour of chat and then say the Daily Office together; anyone is welcome to come to either half, or both. I personally find that my literary life is deepened, interrogated and frequently made somewhat weirder by the Bible readings and prayers which make up the Office, so you don’t have to be a Christian to participate.
Whilst this is a new group, since it’s going to meet for the first time in late September, in another sense we’re not starting anything but simply joining in with the hundreds of years over which these words have been spoken. The Office brings together texts from vast stretches of history – Elizabethan prayers, nineteenth-century hymns, theological letters from the time of Imperial Rome, religious poetry from nearly three thousand years ago – and invites us to speak them out loud in our own moment. It offers us the chance to listen to wildly different voices from the past, and at the same time it challenges us to make these words our own, to see what it might mean when we hear our voices saying them, or the voices of our friends.
Because we are simply joining in with what has already been going on long before us, I hope people will feel able to come without feeling that they must make a declaration of faith. As I mentioned, you don’t need to be a Christian to turn up, and you don’t need to speak any of the prayers or Bible verses if you don’t want to. You’re very welcome to come and sit and listen; listening quietly and thoughtfully is a very important part of what goes on during the Office. You don’t have to attend every time, or even in a regular way, it will still be going on if you come back another day. You may feel less certain some weeks, and less definite about your faith or God, but you’re nonetheless welcome to come. Many people find it comforting or engrossing to hear the liturgy going on around them even – or especially – if they’re not sure they could sign up to every word this time. You’re also welcome if you are a Christian, but not part of the Church of England, or you don’t know what the Daily Office involves.
I hope you’ll join us as we, in turn, join in with the centuries of reading, prayer and conversation which the Christian tradition has produced. There’s a Facebook page for you to connect with via the dreaded “Like”, listing what we’ll be doing and when.