A week of reflection

Brendan O’Regan is surprised by the week’s offerings

I find so much media output to be predictable, so it’s good to get a few surprises. In fact I think the whole feeling of being pleasantly surprised must be therapeutic!

These thoughts were prompted by last Friday night’s God Slot, on RTÉ Radio 1. While the rest of the media coverage was poring over the mystery of Flight MH370 and focusing, naturally enough on the possible finding of  debris, that show reported on a prayer gathering in Kuala Lumpur for the relatives of those on the flight. Muslims, Christians, Buddhist, Taoists and Hindus had an input, and this at a time when religious intolerance was on the rise. Always nice to see that good can be rescued from tragedy.

Another item on the show featured author Margaret Coles who was so moved by the story of the 14th-Century mystic Julian of Norwich that she wrote a novel The Greening, about a fictional journalist having a similar experience. Her joyful enthusiasm for the subject was palpable!

There was another nice, or should I say ‘nicea’, surprise in the story of a new film in the making. The Council of Niceadoesn’t sound much like a crowd puller but producer Charles Parlato, interviewed by Gerry McArdle and Barry McMillan  thought it had a good chance of success as it dealt with “the ultimate theological question” – Who was Jesus?

Another programme that works away discreetly, highlighting interesting personal stories is iWitness, nightly on RTÉ1. Last week there was a wide variety though I thought it was rather thin on Christian content.

On the Monday, St Patrick’s Day, Brian Flanagan from Castlenock spoke of his ‘living Shamrock’ business that helps support charity work among the street children of Calcuta; on Tuesday Swami Purnananda spoke of  the Dublin City Interfaith Forum, a story of friendship, dialogue and respect between different faiths; on Wednesday Méabh Nic Giolla Mhuire from Templeogue recommended the value of a positive outlook on life and what we can learn about growth from observing the patterns of spring; on Thursday Noel Scullion from Kilcullen, was working on a sculpture that represented the cycle of life – he called it a “piece of worship” and said that “the best art is a form of prayer” though it wasn’t clear what was being worshipped or prayed to;  on Friday David Cunningham described his marking of the Baha’i New Year – a time of fasting, meditating, looking within and making small improvements; on Saturday Ninan Thomas described the work of the Indian Association of Sligo. iWitnessis a hidden gem and valuable as such, but it deserves a higher profile – perhaps a mid-evening slot?

Meanwhile, on RTÉ Radio 1 A Living Word provides a variety of reflections early every morning and late every night. In an odd meditation for Monday of last week, St Patrick’s Day, James Harpur reflected wryly on the place of snakes in the saint’s story. It was a day, he said, when snakes kept their heads down in Dublin Zoo!

Snakes had a bad press from the Garden of Eden story, but in other cultures things were different, for example the snake-around-staff symbol for medicine.

The banishing of snakes might symbolise a victory over nature, but nature, he said, can’t be exorcised. Finally he waxed lyrical – fruitless to try and banish our “scaly monsters” so we should give them a “warm human hug”!

That day on BBC Radio 4’s daily reflection – Prayer for the Day–Rev. Dr Gordon Gray took a more serious view, remembering when he climbed Sliabh Mis in Antrim as an adventure, but found it became a pilgrimage instead as he was filled with a sense of wonder especially at a simple wooden cross he came upon.

And finally, a few other items worth noting. The media campaign for same-sex marriage proceeded apace last week with two particularly unchallenging and even obsequious interviews – Senator David Norris on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Tuesday) and gay rights campaigner Stuart Milk on Today With Sean O’Rourke(RTÉ Radio 1, Friday), presented by Keelin Shanley.

On the Thursday another Shanley interview promoted, in effect, the case for termination in fatal foetal abnormality cases. Nicky’s story was touching and emotional but the legal issue was raised without balancing arguments.

And yet, the media is supposed to have a duty of impartiality, so how does this continue?