|The Rev Richard Page
(creator: Maggie Hamand)
|The Rev Richard Page is the middle-aged vicar of the (real-life) parish church of St Michael and All Angels, London Fields in Hackney, "one of the poorest boroughs in the country". His mother, he tells us, "had killed herself when in a deep depression following the birth of her second child, my brother Philip", and he himself "had visited a psychotherapist while at university". He had been agnostic as a teenager but after he had married, in his late twenties, he had an experience while visiting the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem that led to him to take a three-year theology course at King's College, London. "I felt there was some mystery here to which I wanted to find the key."
But he found that the course actually undermined his faith, as "all those beliefs about Christ were worked out much later". So, although he became ordained, he was left not knowing what, if anything, he could really believe. He admits, "I, like many other Anglican clergy, do not believe in the physical resurrection". But he is quite popular with his congregation, and is happily married with two small boys.
Maggie Hammand is a London journalist and author of many non-fiction books (mostly on health and child care issues) as well as short stories and two novels . She teaches creative writing at Morley College and at The Groucho Club. In 2000-2001 she was a writer-in-residence at Holloway Prison, and from 200407 was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at London University of the Arts.
Resurrection of the Body (1995)
The story starts with the vicar, Richard Page (who is the narrator throughout), conducting the three-hour Good Friday service during which he hears shouts outside, then is horrified to see a man, looking like a young immigrant, staggering in, bleeding from knife wounds. There is no identification on him. He later dies, but no-one comes forward to claim the body. Then it disappears from the mortuary, leaving the police baffled and suspicious.
But a church member, and later Richard Page himself, see a gardener who closely resembles the dead man. "Don't you remember me?" the man asks. And the man seems to have a remarkable likeness to the painting of Christ in his church. Determined to find out what is going on, Page is drawn into an obsessive search which brings him into conflict with the police, his superiors, his congregation and even his wife. As the trail gets odder and odder, he even finds himself behaving like a Peeping Tom and starts to doubt his own sanity.
This is a fast moving story told in very short chapters that make it very easy to read, but it raises profound questions about Christian belief. Page tells a journalist that he belongs to the liberal wing of the church: Liberals "on the whole believe in change, in reinterpreting Christianity to make it more relevant to our age .... I believe that the virgin birth and the resurrection didn't happen in actual fact, but they have an important symbolic meaning. They are important because of what they reveal about ourselves and our relationship to God, and about the nature of God, revealed in Jesus Christ."
"So, what do I believe in? I believe in the truth of the myth, the importance of its symbolism." Yet, as he comes to realise, "Emotionally I was not ready to accept this. The tragic loss of my mother and the presence of a father who cared for me only in a cool and distant way had created in me a desire for unconditional love from somewhere else .... So strong was my inner need for this personal God, the Christ of faith, the worker of miracles, that I had created him out of my imagination, and projected him on to this poor young immigrant whose face was sufficiently like that of Jesus to accept him." Or could there more to it than that? Recommended.
|The Maia cover has a particularly evocative design.
Each chapter heading is accompanied by a small cross, as shown below. Another imaginative touch.