Cries for a Lost Homeland. Reflections on Jesus' sayings from the Cross.
Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2019
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Mini Review by: John Clark
In May 1980, a fourteen-year-old girl arrived with her parents in Britain from Iran, following the upheavals of the Iranian Revolution and the trauma of attempts on the life of her father, the Bishop in Iran and the kidnapping and murder of her beloved older brother. She was never to return to her homeland.
Four decades later that young girl is now the Bishop of Chelmsford. In this short book based on talks given as the 2019 Good Friday reflections at London’s St Martin in the Fields, she skilfully and movingly draws on her life experience with its background in Iran, its poetry and its Anglican Church, to relate to Jesus’ seven words from the Cross. Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin’s, provides a forward and David Monteith, Dean of Leicester, closes the book with a reflection on Holy Saturday.
The reflections are based on what she describes as her ‘unusual childhood’ which has profoundly shaped the person she has become. She was born in Isfahan to a Muslim convert father, the first indigenous Persian Bishop, and an English mother, the daughter of missionaries, nurtured in the tiny Anglican Church, itself formed by missionaries, a small part of the wider Christian community in a country where Shi’a Islam and nationality were coterminous. She was uprooted from it at the impressionable age of fourteen leaving her feeling robbed of a proper sense of belonging.
This personal search for identity informs her reflections on Jesus’ commendation of his mother to John. It is her own father’s remarkable prayer for those who murdered his son that informs her comments on Jesus’ words ‘Father forgive them…’. Her memories of long journeys through the waterless deserts of Iran lead to an account of her family’s experience as refugees in England and the vulnerability of having very little, to illustrate Jesus’ cry ‘I thirst’. The launch of the Church of England’s Communion Service translated into Persian is drawn into the reflections on Jesus’ final words.
The inside front cover of the book is a picture of a tile, known as the Jesus’ Star, found above the entrance to St Luke’s Church, Isfahan (and also included here on page 13). It is shown in situ on the inside back cover. Using Iran’s much-loved calligraphy, the name of Jesus Christ is at the centre and around the edges are eight descriptions of Jesus’ character, each with a long Persian letter pointing to his name at the centre. It is this tile that provides the framework for a unique set of reflections.
Featured in Bible Lands, Winter 2021