Saturday December 14th
Feel led to keep a diary. A sort of spiritual log for the benefit of others in the future. Each new divine insight and experience will shine like a beacon in the darkness!
Can't think of anything to put in today.
Still, tomorrow's Sunday. Must be something on a Sunday, surely?
Maybe I’m a tough nut to crack, but it’s rare I find a book that makes me laugh out loud. Which is why it was with particular pleasure this week I came across a copy of The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37 3/4 that someone had donated to my local Little Free Library. Had I not known what a gem it was I might not have picked it up – the cover with a cartoon of some people with hymnbooks and a bearded man with a bandaged thumb doesn’t exactly scream ‘read me’ – but luckily I know this book of old. Back in the day I used to go to an evangelical church in the town of Harpenden where hymns were sung with endlessly repeated upbeat choruses accompanied by a live band on stage, where people held their hands up to let the spirit in, regularly broke into tongues at the least provocation and healing meetings and bible-study groups were the norm. For this former Church of England child it was all very exciting, and although I’ve long since let go of the beliefs (sadly, as a reader I was going to come to Richard Dawkins sooner or later, and indeed did), what I do retain are fond memories of a warm community that I was a part of for a while. Looking them up, I see they are still going, with a snazzy website now and weekly seminars on things like ‘Musings in the desert: Choosing the right diet’ and ‘Trusting God – Waiting? Why? What? How? When?’
The genius of the Sacred Diary is that Plass gently pokes fun at some of the absurdities of this world while at the same time celebrating all that is wonderful about it. The diary entries by Adrian’s fictional alter-ego describe his daily life as he balances work and his church life with his own struggles, doubts and trials and tribulations as he tries to put his ideas about how best to serve God into practice. It’s not just funny, it’s hysterically funny – although I concede perhaps it has an extra edge if you’re familiar with the scenarios. Do you have to be a Christian to enjoy it? I don’t think so. It’s a book about ordinary people trying to figure life out as they go along with the story of a small family, Adrian, his wife Anne and their teenage son Gerald, at its heart. People have problems, not everyone always gets along, Adrian is at war with one neighbour over his untrimmed hedge and another over his rabbit that keeps escaping and eating her vegetables, but generally issues are resolved with mutual tolerance, respect and support and it all made me wish rather wistfully that we could behave like this without having the imperative of Edwin the church leader to keep us on track. Well, lots of people do, of course, but not the man without a mask on who shouted abuse at an older woman who tried to tell him off about it in front of me at the Post Office the other day.
Have you ever read any Adrian Plass. I’ve been puzzling over why I haven’t ever read anything else by him (he has another twenty-one books to his name). I think it’s because this book to me is as perfect as they come and I’d hate to spoil it with another that wasn’t as good. But maybe what I need, as Edwin would no doubt tell me, is a little more faith!
Buy The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass from Bookshop.org
Further reading: Ever since I read Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession I keep coming across books that would make good companion reads. I think these two would sit very nicely alongside each other on the shelf. Also, take the religion away and you have the snort-with-laughter humour of Bill Bryson. Try Neither Here Nor There, Bryson's hilarious account of travelling round Europe with his friend Stephen Katz, who turned out to be the worst travelling companion imaginable. Notes from a Small Island, his tour round England, is also good. But my favourite Bill Bryson book – the one that just makes my jaw drop with amazement every time I dip into it because it is SO GOOD, is his science book A Short History of Nearly Everything. It's a brilliant feat of research that also manages to be incredibly entertaining. I think it should be required reading, not just in schools, but for everyone.