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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Lost Sons

SPCK have just published my new book, Lost Sons: God’s Long Search for Humanity. I don’t want to indulge in self-promotion (moi?).  But now that it’s out I hope you’ll allow me to say a little about it.

Earlier this year the title felt as though it had a rueful irony to it.  A book is like a baby: a unique individual whom you have begotten. Its life becomes separate from yours; it has a character, temperament and will of its own. This offspring just didn’t seem to want to be born. It felt like a lost child.  The labour pains were considerable.

I’ve pondered why this might have been.  Maybe the content touched me too personally.  I am after all a (late) father’s son and a son’s father.  So the theme of sons who are lost and found was bound to bring up material from my own past and present.  It would take a psychotherapist (e.g. my wife) years to get to the heart of what all this might mean. 

The book looks at stories in the early part of the Bible that tell of sons who are ‘lost’ in various ways. Abel is murdered, Canaan cursed, Ishmael abandoned, Isaac destined for sacrifice, Esau supplanted, Joseph betrayed, Moses hidden. Adam is the archetype of them all, and us: the child who hides himself from God. In each case I try to show how Jesus in his passion and death is God’s ‘Lost Son’. It is not that these Old Testament stories are all ‘types’ who prefigure Jesus. But the first Jewish readers of the gospels would have known these stories intimately and would, I guess, have brought their own associations to the passion story, seeing ‘pre-echoes’ if you like in these lost sons.

But the wonderful thing about God’s Lost Son is that he is ‘found’ again in the resurrection.  And this turns out to be true of many of the ancient lost sons. Ishmael is rescued from the desert.  Isaac is not killed on the altar because an angel stays his father’s hand.  Esau is reconciled to the brother who supplanted him as Joseph is with the brothers who sold him into slavery.  Moses is discovered in the bulrushes and brought up in the royal palace. So the book is about resurrection as well as death, even if sometimes we have to go looking for it in dark and baffling places.

This may remind you of the parable of the Prodigal Son or, as I think it’s better called, the Lost Son and the Loving Father. It was constantly in my mind as I was writing.  In the introduction, I tell how that marvellous parable seems to have a counterpart in the Hebrew Bible in the moving story of Abraham and Isaac (depicted by Chagall in the painting on the book’s cover – see to the right, and don’t miss the little crucifixion scene in the top right-hand corner). In both stories it isn’t just the son who makes a journey to a ‘far country’ (an idea that appears in both stories) but the father as well: physically for Abraham, imaginatively for the father of the Prodigal. Perhaps the book is an invitation to make that journey as both father and son, ago into a far country and in doing so, enter more deeply into the mystery of the passion.

I dedicated the book to my wonderful not-lost son Aidan.  My three equally wonderful girls are asking when I intend to write a book called Lost Daughters and dedicate it to them.  I am thinking about that.

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