Something Understood

Episodes

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Advent20181223

The Reverend Robin Griffith-Jones, Valiant Master of the Temple in London, explores the nativity narratives recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

The familiar tales of virgin birth, shepherds and Magi are intriguing and laden with symbolism and meaning. "There is far more to them, as they were written then and as they have been read over the centuries, than meets the eye," he says.

Robin explores Matthew's desire to show that all the events in his telling are there to fulfil prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures. "In Jesus, Judaism’s most venerable prophecies and vastest hopes were coming to fruition. The prophet Isaiah had written of gentiles and kings coming to Jerusalem’s God-given light, bringing gold and incense and singing the praise of the Lord.”

Luke meanwhile with his shepherds and the link to John the Baptist’s birth, has another agenda. “Luke sees two stages in God’s dispensation for the world - the old order, centred in Jerusalem and its Temple, and the new order, realised in Jesus. In Luke’s grand narrative, the new grows out of the old, confirms it and transcends it.”

To illustrate his thesis, Robin introduces music from Handel and Bach and the poetry of TS Eliot and John Donne.

Presenter: Robin Griffith-Jones
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Robin Griffith-Jones, master of the Temple Church, re-examines the Nativity stories.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Beginner's Mind20190407

Suryagupta, chair of the London Buddhist Centre, explores the Zen Buddhist concept of Beginner’s Mind, which encourages the viewing of the familiar with fresh eyes.

She discusses the first time she discovered the benefits of Beginner’s Mind, at a retreat in Wales. While meditating, Suryagupta became fascinated by the sound of birdsong, feeling as if she was hearing it for the very first time. This meditation encouraged her to experience life anew, through help from texts such as Suzuki Roshi’s classic title Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Suryagupta considers the obstacles that can hinder Beginner’s Mind, such as pressure and the burden of expectations. She suggests that attempting to return to the simple and spontaneous innocence of the child’s mind can help us overcome these obstructions, in order to experience moments of revelation and wonder. She concludes with a quote from Henry Miller, who celebrates the benefits of sharing these discoveries with others. In doing so, we can connect deeply with one another, and experience an interdependence that is freeing and refreshing.

Presenter: Suryagupta
Producer: Oliver Seymour
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Chair of the London Buddhist Centre Suryagupta examines the zen state of Beginner's Mind.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Brides of God2018042920190901 (R4)

Musician Jahnavi Harrison interweaves music, prose and poetry in a celebration of the women who choose to dedicate their lives entirely to God.

She explains that she has always been fascinated what it is that drives a woman to leave behind worldly affairs and adopt a life of seclusion and near-constant prayer. Though the tradition is timeless, with today's calls for feminine independence and gender equality the choice to be a nun feels just as radical and relevant as it might have in the past.

Jahnavi explores the life of Emahoy Maryam Tsegue-Gebroue, an Ethiopian nun whose prodigious talent as a pianist has led to her records being adored all over the world. We also meet the "maharis", Indian temple dancers who were dedicated at a young age, considered to be brides of God, taking part in a wedding ceremony and wearing all the markings of married women.

With readings from the 13th century Christian mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg, St Saint Clare of Assisi, the Bhagavad Gita and ancient Buddhist poetry from the Therigatha and music including the work of Christian polymath Hildegard of Bingen, The Flamingos and Yamuna Devi.

Presenter: Jahnavi Harrison
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Musician Jahnavi Harrison celebrates women who dedicate their lives entirely to God.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Brides Of God2018042920190901 (R4)

Musician Jahnavi Harrison interweaves music, prose and poetry in a celebration of the women who choose to dedicate their lives entirely to God.

She explains that she has always been fascinated what it is that drives a woman to leave behind worldly affairs and adopt a life of seclusion and near-constant prayer. Though the tradition is timeless, with today's calls for feminine independence and gender equality the choice to be a nun feels just as radical and relevant as it might have in the past.

Jahnavi explores the life of Emahoy Maryam Tsegue-Gebroue, an Ethiopian nun whose prodigious talent as a pianist has led to her records being adored all over the world. We also meet the "maharis", Indian temple dancers who were dedicated at a young age, considered to be brides of God, taking part in a wedding ceremony and wearing all the markings of married women.

With readings from the 13th century Christian mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg, St Saint Clare of Assisi, the Bhagavad Gita and ancient Buddhist poetry from the Therigatha and music including the work of Christian polymath Hildegard of Bingen, The Flamingos and Yamuna Devi.

Presenter: Jahnavi Harrison
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Musician Jahnavi Harrison celebrates women who dedicate their lives entirely to God.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Brilliant Mistakes, Blessed Failures2016071020190512 (R4)

Artist Grayson Perry has said that ‘creativity is mistakes’. Journalist Abdul-Rehman Malik agrees, and explores through poetry and prose how mistakes, although a reminder of human imperfection, nevertheless have the ability to reveal something new and hidden.

The programme features the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Costello and Puccini, and readings from theologian Paula Gooder, the Qu’ran, and the Old and New Testaments.

Presenter: Abdul-Rehman Malik
Producer: Jonathan Mayo
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4

Abdul-Rehman Malik explores how mistakes can lead to unexpected insights.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Cars2017102920190811 (R4)

The poet Michael Symmons Roberts takes us on a journey to reveal our complex relationship with the car and how it means much more to us than simply getting from A to B.

"Cars have only been around for a century," he reminds us, "but in that short span of time they have not just become ubiquitous in our towns and cities, but a permanent fixture in our cultural and metaphorical landscape. Why has the car grown into such a potent symbol, and what does it point to in ourselves and in the world?"

In a search that includes fast cars, car crashes, sat navs and the car wash, Michael reveals that our vehicles have even entered our spiritual psyche - something he doesn't find that surprising. He explains, "It doesn't seem odd to me to find cars cropping up in mystical or religious stories or imaginings. There's something about the combination of the car as a sealed-off private space, like a monastic cell, and as a way of crossing great distances that lends itself to that treatment."

Illustrating his journey with the poetry of Colette Bryce, Les Murray and Seamus Heaney, along with the music of Schubert, Janis Joplin and Tracey Chapman, Michael celebrates the mystery and meditative quality of driving and wonders, with the help of playwright and screenwriter David Mamet, whether the second coming itself might be by means of a mid-sized sedan.

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Poet Michael Symmons Roberts explores the spirituality of the car.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Cars2017102920190811 (R4)

The poet Michael Symmons Roberts takes us on a journey to reveal our complex relationship with the car and how it means much more to us than simply getting from A to B.

"Cars have only been around for a century," he reminds us, "but in that short span of time they have not just become ubiquitous in our towns and cities, but a permanent fixture in our cultural and metaphorical landscape. Why has the car grown into such a potent symbol, and what does it point to in ourselves and in the world?"

In a search that includes fast cars, car crashes, sat navs and the car wash, Michael reveals that our vehicles have even entered our spiritual psyche - something he doesn't find that surprising. He explains, "It doesn't seem odd to me to find cars cropping up in mystical or religious stories or imaginings. There's something about the combination of the car as a sealed-off private space, like a monastic cell, and as a way of crossing great distances that lends itself to that treatment."

Illustrating his journey with the poetry of Colette Bryce, Les Murray and Seamus Heaney, along with the music of Schubert, Janis Joplin and Tracey Chapman, Michael celebrates the mystery and meditative quality of driving and wonders, with the help of playwright and screenwriter David Mamet, whether the second coming itself might be by means of a mid-sized sedan.

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Poet Michael Symmons Roberts explores the spirituality of the car.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Epiphany: The Duty To Be Happy20190106

It is a matter of contention whether happiness should be the proper aim of life. The right to pursue it is enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence and the Dalai Lama has called it “the purpose of our life”. Nietzsche, however, remarked that “only the Englishman” strove for happiness. Denominations of many faiths often seem to place more emphasis on atoning for sins than striving to be happy. On the feast day of the Three Wise Men taking “good news” out into the world, Mark Tully asks whether being happy and trying to spread happiness is a duty we all share. There are readings from the work of James Joyce and poet and performer Agnes Török and music from Scott Joplin and Jules Massenet.
The readers are David Westhead, Polly Frame and Francis Cadder.

Presenter: Mark Tully
Producer: Frank Stirling

To mark the feast of Epiphany, Mark Tully asks whether happiness is a responsibility.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Faith And Finance20190203

Mark Tully sets out to examine the sometimes uneasy relationship between the management of money and religious beliefs.

In conversation with Jain accountant and teacher Professor Atul Shah, he explores the differences between the Jain ethical system of business practice and the prevailing Western financial theory.

There’s poetry from Philip Larkin and Benjamin Zephaniah, prose by George Eliot and music from Sanjivani Bhelande and Esperanza Spalding.

The readers are Emily Raymond and Matt Addis.

Presenter: Mark Tully
Producer: Frank Stirling

A 7digital production for BBC Radio 4

Mark Tully asks how religious belief can affect business and financial theory.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Forms of Memory2017042320190707 (R4)

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand examines our differing forms of memory, collective and individual.

Citing the work of neuroscientist Steven Rose, who states "lose your memory and you, as you, cease to exist", Shoshana discusses the identity crisis sparked by memory failure resulting from medical conditions.

We hear the words of Oliver Sacks who described a patient with a memory span of five minutes. We also hear Shoshana emotionally recounting the story of how her father, once a radiologist, now sits at home reading his own scans which document the slow deterioration of his brain due to Alzheimer's.

While individual memory is clearly vital to the construction of identity, there is another deeper collective memory available to us. Shoshana argues that, in addition to our personal history, we can seemingly tap into larger shared narratives of love, faith, art and spirit.

Collective memory underlies many of the rituals that we use to transmit our shared values through the generations. One of the best examples of this is the Passover Seder, a dramatic retelling of the Exodus story. Every year on the eve of Passover, Jews gather to re-enact the very first Passover when the Jewish people fled from Ancient Egypt.

The Exodus is only one of many expressions of collective remembering in religious tradition. Christians remember the resurrection on Easter Day, Muslims re-enact Mohammed's journey when they go on pilgrimage to Mecca, Hindus recall the victory of light over darkness on Diwali. Shoshana argues that one of the great powers of religious traditions is that they allow us to access these collective memories.

Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand examines our forms of memory, both collective and individual.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Forms Of Memory2017042320190707 (R4)

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand examines our differing forms of memory, collective and individual.

Citing the work of neuroscientist Steven Rose, who states "lose your memory and you, as you, cease to exist", Shoshana discusses the identity crisis sparked by memory failure resulting from medical conditions.

We hear the words of Oliver Sacks who described a patient with a memory span of five minutes. We also hear Shoshana emotionally recounting the story of how her father, once a radiologist, now sits at home reading his own scans which document the slow deterioration of his brain due to Alzheimer's.

While individual memory is clearly vital to the construction of identity, there is another deeper collective memory available to us. Shoshana argues that, in addition to our personal history, we can seemingly tap into larger shared narratives of love, faith, art and spirit.

Collective memory underlies many of the rituals that we use to transmit our shared values through the generations. One of the best examples of this is the Passover Seder, a dramatic retelling of the Exodus story. Every year on the eve of Passover, Jews gather to re-enact the very first Passover when the Jewish people fled from Ancient Egypt.

The Exodus is only one of many expressions of collective remembering in religious tradition. Christians remember the resurrection on Easter Day, Muslims re-enact Mohammed's journey when they go on pilgrimage to Mecca, Hindus recall the victory of light over darkness on Diwali. Shoshana argues that one of the great powers of religious traditions is that they allow us to access these collective memories.

Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand examines our forms of memory, both collective and individual.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Freedom2017080620190721 (R4)

Theologian Dr Jane Williams examines the nature and extent of human freedom.

Recalling her childhood in an Indian boarding school, Jane remembers her unhappiness as a rebellious pupil in a life controlled by bells. She explains that she saw herself "as standing in the great company of revolutionaries, demanding my freedom from the school authorities."

Her rebellion never occurred, but Jane's search for freedom continued.

In this programme, she journeys through the theories of natural selection, psychotherapy and capitalism - along with the poetry of Frost, Cummings and Milton - and discovers that "there is no place of perfect, unconstrained freedom, in which we have entirely what we want. But that does not make us automata: we do have choices about what we will serve."

Jane notes that even Jesus had to make choices. "In choosing to be the Son of God, in every action, Jesus lays aside other choices, but that does not make him less free. On the contrary, it makes him exactly who he is."

Music from Mozart, Elgar, and Prokofiev accompany her journey which culminates in John Donne's climatic poem, Batter my Heart three person'd God, which reveals that freedom is, "paradoxically, only to found in being overpowered by something worth all other kinds of choice."

Presenter: Jane Williams
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Theologian and writer Dr Jane Williams examines the nature and extent of human freedom.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Freedom2017080620190721 (R4)

Theologian Dr Jane Williams examines the nature and extent of human freedom.

Recalling her childhood in an Indian boarding school, Jane remembers her unhappiness as a rebellious pupil in a life controlled by bells. She explains that she saw herself "as standing in the great company of revolutionaries, demanding my freedom from the school authorities."

Her rebellion never occurred, but Jane's search for freedom continued.

In this programme, she journeys through the theories of natural selection, psychotherapy and capitalism - along with the poetry of Frost, Cummings and Milton - and discovers that "there is no place of perfect, unconstrained freedom, in which we have entirely what we want. But that does not make us automata: we do have choices about what we will serve."

Jane notes that even Jesus had to make choices. "In choosing to be the Son of God, in every action, Jesus lays aside other choices, but that does not make him less free. On the contrary, it makes him exactly who he is."

Music from Mozart, Elgar, and Prokofiev accompany her journey which culminates in John Donne's climatic poem, Batter my Heart three person'd God, which reveals that freedom is, "paradoxically, only to found in being overpowered by something worth all other kinds of choice."

Presenter: Jane Williams
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Theologian and writer Dr Jane Williams examines the nature and extent of human freedom.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

God Loves a Drunk2016082820190519 (R4)

Award winning poet Imtiaz Dharker examines the phenomenon of divine intoxication - being drunk on God.

It's an experience which causes an uncontainable release of energy and intoxication, one that has inspired writers for centuries. Imtiaz explains “Before I ever tasted it I understood the metaphor of wine and its powerful spell. It was in the Urdu poetry my parents listened to, the ghazals and Hindustani film songs with the recurring theme of ‘nasha’, intoxicating love.”

Intoxication, especially when brought about by something as pure as love, offers us the chance to lose ourselves, to communicate with an elusive beyond. The imagery of intoxication flows through cultures, enriching art, songs and poetry. Drunkenness it transpires is not always frowned upon. At Purim, Jews are instructed to become inebriated, in memory of their deliverance through Esther. Dionysus offers liberation through wine, a release into exuberant fertility, music and dance.

Imtiaz draws upon the work of the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz and the Sufi poets who, despite being Muslims, used the metaphor of wine, taverns and heavenly barmaids to suggest a longing for God. Music featured includes Joni Mitchell, Jacques Brel and Richard Thompson.

Presenter: Imtiaz Dharker
Producer: Max O’Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4

Poet Imtiaz Dharker examines the phenomenon of divine intoxication.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Hibernation20181230

On this midwinter day, with Christmas behind us and the New Year still to come, Mark Tully sits in front of an open fire and contemplates hibernation.

For some animals, hibernation is a natural state, brought about by changes in their bodily functions. We humans can’t hibernate as they do, but we do respond to the urge to escape the winter. For that we need a safe and secure refuge, and companionship – things we do share with those hibernating animals.

All too often, we feel that we must keep going in winter, ignoring the rhythm of the seasons and rushing around as we usually do. But stepping back from our daily commitments, and shutting ourselves away – hibernating, you might say – can bring us peace and joy; it can strengthen our faith and allow our creativity to flourish. Maybe, like WH Auden, Arnold Bax, Frédéric Chopin and many others, we should all pause now and then and hibernate, just for a little while.

Readers: Rachel Atkins and Paterson Joseph
Producer: Hannah Marshall
A 7digital production for BBC Radio 4.

With Christmas behind us and New Year still to come, Mark Tully contemplates hibernation.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Hunger20190120

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand explores the experience of hunger and the satisfaction of feeling truly sated.

Shoshana explains that, in the Jewish tradition, a blessing is said before eating to thank God for the gift of nourishment. Another blessing is said after eating, expressing gratitude for the sensation of feeling satisfied. While the feeling of being full is a powerful source of motivation, many people of faith believe there is much to be learned from the sensation of hunger.

The notion of self-induced hunger might seem strange to a non-believer, but Shoshana explains that many religious traditions involve fasting with different reasons for fasting or depriving oneself of food. The Christian tradition of Lent seeks to re-enact Jesus’ sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days; the Islamic tradition of fasting during Ramadan is meant to increase self-control in all-areas; and the Jewish tradition of fasting on Yom Kippur helps to express repentance leading to forgiveness.

Shoshana draws upon the poetry of the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, who describes a kind of "exquisite sweetness" that comes from depriving oneself of food. But being hungry doesn't always feel as ecstatic as Rumi makes it out to be. Shoshana reveals "the truth is that following an entire day and night of fasting, I don’t feel terribly angelic. Instead, I’m feeling all too human - my stomach growls, my head aches, and my mouth feels parched and in desperate need of some toothpaste and a swish of water."

Nonetheless, she argues, this process is a valuable reminder of just how much her physical hunger is part of her existence.

Producer: Max O'Brien
Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand explores the experience of hunger.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Immortality2017010820190616 (R4)

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand explores our fascination with immortality, its significance within both the scientific and faith communities and the desirability of life eternal.

According to Shoshana, our yearning for immortality shapes the world and drives civilisation. She examines the desire to leave a legacy that motivates writers, artists and musicians. The music of Mozart is described as "a gift to the world", his enduring cultural impact allowing him to achieve a form of immortality.

Shoshana suggests that a longing for immortality may be fuelling our current obsession with celebrity culture as we strive for the fame that will ensure that we're not forgotten. However, the fiction of neuroscientist David Eagleman warns us that eternal life through fame may not be as desirable as we first imagine.

Drawing upon the work of gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, Shoshana discusses the latest scientific research into "age-reversal" and "life extension". She goes on to examine the different approaches to immortality in several faiths including Christianity, Hinduism and her own Jewish tradition.

The programme draws to a close with a striking conclusion - that mortality is not a punishment to humankind, but a gift. For Shoshana, our mortality is a vital catalyst that encourages us to seize the day.

Drawing upon a wide range of music, Shoshana introduces us to the haunting Jewish prayer for the dead, El Malei Rachamim, and picks out blues singer Washington Phillips' stunning recording of What Are They Doing In Heaven Today? Readings include the philosopher Stephen Cave and the poet Robert Frost.

Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand explores our fascination with immortality.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

In My End Is My Beginning20190421

Mark Tully strikes a valedictory note as he introduces the last original edition of Something Understood. He takes as his theme T S Eliot’s line from Four Quartets - "In my end is my beginning".

This Easter programme weaves together ideas of death and resurrection, cycles of change and cyclical time and the pain and the joy of moving on into the unknown.

There are readings from Eliot, Vera Brittain, Simone Weil and Brendan Kennelly, with music including a Resurrexit by Berlioz, a salsa from Willie Colon and a medieval rondo by Marchaut.

Readers: Paterson Joseph, Emma Fielding and Frank Stirling
Presenter: Mark Tully
Producer: Frank Stirling

A 7digital production for BBC Radio 4

Mark Tully contemplates time, change and resurrection on Easter Day.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

In The Name Of The Mother20190127

Journalist Remona Aly has long been intrigued by many aspects of motherhood. While not a mother herself, she relates to the lived experiences of women she knows and, in this programme, considers the symbolic, mythological and religious incarnations of mothers throughout history.

She details the more relatable elements of the Virgin Mary’s motherly experiences described in the Quran, such as her vulnerability when giving birth to Jesus alone, and the pain of labour which makes her wish for death. Remona also considers how places as well as people bear children and reminisces about her links to her own motherland, India.

Remona examines the sorrow and conflict that can come with motherhood. She describes the impact of not having children herself and the loss of a newborn, and revisits the Ancient Greek stories of Medea and Pandora, who bring death and destruction.

The wonders of motherhood are also explored, highlighted by neurological research which documents the re-wiring of women's brains during pregnancy, and the strong bonds between mothers and infants in the animal kingdom.

Throughout, Remona contemplates the notion of God in the maternal paradigm and concludes that the power of motherhood moves between beliefs, from the divine down to a human level. Free from years of patriarchal influence, Remona argues that it is time to reclaim the mother's position in society, and ponder prayers that begin 'In the name of the Mother...’.

Presenter: Remona Aly
Producer: Sera Baker
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Remona Aly explores the many human, symbolic and religious incarnations of motherhood.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Inside Out2016110620190623 (R4)

Journalist Remona Aly uses music, prose and poetry to explore the experience of being both an insider and an outsider.

Having grown up in Britain as the child of Indian parents, Remona is familiar with the feeling of being on the outside. As a child she was the only brown girl in a white neighbourhood. She explains that, in Britain, she’s still “not quite British enough” for some while, when visiting her relatives in India, she gets referred to as “the English one”.

Muslims, Remona argues, have outsider blood flowing through their veins. The Prophet Muhammad himself was cast out from society in the land of his birth. Shunned and persecuted by his own people, he, along with a small band of early Muslims, became refugees, migrating from the trials of Mecca to the sanctuary of Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. This experience of being an outsider, Remona explains, was vital to the leadership of the Prophet when he came to build a new community of followers.

According to Remona, the ability to traverse the worlds of the insider and outsider can be hugely beneficial. By embracing outsider status, we can step back from the action and gain crucial insights into the society to which we belong.

The programme features readings from psychologist Adrian Furnham and influential Muslim convert Leopold Weiss. Remona also draws upon the poetry of Rumi and the music of Yusuf Islam and Woody Guthrie.

Presenter: Remona Aly
Producer: Max O’Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4

Journalist Remona Aly explores the experience of being both an insider and an outsider.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Judgement Day2017100120190804 (R4)

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand reevaluates our use of the word judgemental, arguing that it needn't have negative connotations. She concludes that, ultimately, we need to be judged.

For some people of faith the phrase 'judgement day' summons up images of fire and brimstone. Shoshana reveals that for Jews, judgement day is an annual event. Yom HaDin, The Day of Judgement, is the biblical name for the holiday known as Rosh Hashanah. Shoshana explores the traditions of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (which follows ten days later).

Interweaving music ranging from Leonard Cohen's Who By Fire and Bob Marley's Judge Not to Mozart's Requiem Mass, Shoshana notes that the idea of a judgement day has always fascinated musicians. Interestingly, musical interpretations of the Day of Judgement vary wildly in tone. We hear the voices in Mozart's Requiem trembling with dread in response to a stern God, whilst Faure's Requiem does away with the wrathful imagery and depicts death as a peaceful release from struggle. Reflecting on the differences between these great composers' depiction of judgement day, Shoshana argues that we need a balance between judgement and mercy in our lives.

Shoshana goes on to reference the troubled history of the judicial system during the American Civil Rights Movement and the role of the therapist who must withhold their judgement when counselling their patients. She also examines the doctrine of karma - a system of divine justice.

Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Shoshana Boyd Gelfand reevaluates the word judgemental, arguing that we need to be judged.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Judgement Day2017100120190804 (R4)

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand reevaluates our use of the word judgemental, arguing that it needn't have negative connotations. She concludes that, ultimately, we need to be judged.

For some people of faith the phrase 'judgement day' summons up images of fire and brimstone. Shoshana reveals that for Jews, judgement day is an annual event. Yom HaDin, The Day of Judgement, is the biblical name for the holiday known as Rosh Hashanah. Shoshana explores the traditions of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (which follows ten days later).

Interweaving music ranging from Leonard Cohen's Who By Fire and Bob Marley's Judge Not to Mozart's Requiem Mass, Shoshana notes that the idea of a judgement day has always fascinated musicians. Interestingly, musical interpretations of the Day of Judgement vary wildly in tone. We hear the voices in Mozart's Requiem trembling with dread in response to a stern God, whilst Faure's Requiem does away with the wrathful imagery and depicts death as a peaceful release from struggle. Reflecting on the differences between these great composers' depiction of judgement day, Shoshana argues that we need a balance between judgement and mercy in our lives.

Shoshana goes on to reference the troubled history of the judicial system during the American Civil Rights Movement and the role of the therapist who must withhold their judgement when counselling their patients. She also examines the doctrine of karma - a system of divine justice.

Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Shoshana Boyd Gelfand reevaluates the word judgemental, arguing that we need to be judged.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Learning And The Reasons Of The Heart2016100920190602 (R4)

Writer and theologian Jane Williams examines the relationship between learning and language and the tension between what we know in our hearts and what we can articulate.

Jane starts by looking at the beginning of life, when we exist in a pre-verbal stage. As wondrous as it is to see the arrival of speech in a child, there has long been a sense that children lose something as they try to contain their world in language.

Speech is one of the primary metaphors for God’s communication. Jane explores the extraordinary mixed metaphor of a Divine Language that becomes a human being and, even more strangely, a human being who has to learn to speak. The Word of God made wordless, a baby able only to cry and babble.

As a theologian it is Jane’s job - and her delight - to try to render our understanding of God in words. She explains that words are bound to be incomplete, but that’s not an admission of failure, it’s a celebration of the fact that language has its limits.

Presenter: Jane Williams
Producer: Max O’Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4

Theologian Jane Williams examines the relationship between learning and language.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Living In The Moment20181209

Rabbi Harvey Belovski examines the benefits of living in the moment and concentrating on the needs of the now. He highlights the importance of accepting and understanding the future’s unpredictable nature.

Harvey considers the value of mindfulness as a way of encouraging people to pay attention to the present, reducing stress and improving mental wellbeing. He explains that spirituality is often misperceived as venerating the past, or aspiring towards the future. While it’s important to do so, identity and meaning can also be found in the present.

Harvey reads a prayer that imagines God reviewing the performance of every human being. The prayer has a simple and plaintive message: no-one knows whether they will be alive this time tomorrow, let alone further into the future. The importance of appreciating the present, then, becomes clear. According to legend, the prayer was written by Rabbi Amnon, who composed it as he lay dying, having been tortured for his refusal to abandon his faith.

Rabbi Harvey also considers the relationship between living in the moment and caring for one’s self. While it’s important to be fully present for others, what’s more important, according to Harvey is to attend to one’s own needs. This in turn leads to being better at living in the moment for others.

Presenter: Harvey Belovski
Producer: Oliver Seymour
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Rabbi Harvey Belovski discovers the benefits of living in the moment.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Metamorphosis2017112620190818 (R4)

Stories of metamorphosis have always captivated journalist Remona Aly. They are woven with enduring truths, moral lessons and provocative challenges.

Tales of metamorphosis can be both glorious and sinister, influential and cautionary. In this episode of Something Understood, Remona argues that these tales profoundly impact our collective psyche, revealing the story of the human experience.

The poetry of John Keats and the words of the Quran remind Remona how metamorphosis can reveal our darker nature. Metamorphosis is a recurring theme in Hinduism too with Lord Krishna confiding in his warrior friend Arjuna, "For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain."

The episode features musical selections from Tchaikovsky and Van Morrison which underpin how metamorphosis can be part of life's purpose, moving away from stasis and encouraging reform, renewal and reflection.

The readers are Rachel Atkins, Laurence Kennedy and Max O'Brien.

Special thanks to Mandeep Moore for her Punjabi translation of Jind Kaur.

Presenter: Remona Aly
Producer: Jonathan O'Sullivan
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Remona Aly uncovers the tales of metamorphosis which reveal the story of human nature.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Poetic Rituals2016091120190526 (R4)

The commute to work, the weekly supermarket shop, brushing our teeth before bed. The routine and rituals of our everyday lives can often feel like dull repetition. But what if we could find a path to transcendence through these everyday acts?

Academic Dr Sarah Goldingay searches for what the liturgical reformer Rabbi Chaim Stern called the ritual poetry of our lives. Through this ritual poetry it’s possible, Sarah says, to experience a noetic moment - those profound instances when we experience the presence of the divine.

With the help of a diverse pool of writers and thinkers, Sarah argues that simple everyday routines can become powerfully spiritual - even making breakfast, as demonstrated in Sara Maitland's ecstatic experience when devouring her morning porridge. Through the writings of the Buddhist scholar DT Suzuki, Sarah discovers that simply sipping a cup of tea can also be a powerful zen moment.

The act of singing can transform everyday rituals into moments of transcendent beauty. Sarah samples the singing of Scottish herring girls and the haunting rhythms of a Mississippi prison gang, united in song as their pickaxes fall as one.

We might think that powerful spiritual experiences can only be experienced by the specially initiated. This programme suggests that perhaps, by noticing ourselves and the poetic potential of our own everyday rituals, the transcendent might just be closer than we think.

Presenter: Sarah Goldingay
Producer: Max O’Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4

Dr Sarah Goldingay looks for the transcendent in our everyday rituals.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Restoration And Transformation2016121120190609 (R4)

Academic Sarah Goldingay examines the process of restoration. She discovers that restoring a broken or damaged item can have a transformative and spiritual impact on us.

To make do and mend is becoming a thing of the past as we slip into a cycle of consuming and quickly discarding our possessions. But Sarah argues the act of giving a damaged piece of clothing or a broken knick-knack a new lease of life by mending it is hugely rewarding. An intriguing example is the work of highly skilled audio restorer Andrew Rose, who digitally removes layers of noise ruining old and battered classical music records, revealing the beautiful music that was previously smothered in a fog of hiss.

The process of restoration can go beyond just returning a damaged object to its original state. It can inspire imagination and ingenuity. A broken or damaged thing can be a catalyst for creativity. Sarah takes us to Paraguay where we meet an internationally acclaimed youth orchestra who play instruments made out of rubbish. We also hear excerpts from William Basinski’s stunning Disintegration Loops, a classic ambient album made from ruined recordings of old compositions that had begun to decay.

Sarah concludes that mending and restoring are both hugely therapeutic. By mending broken objects we can also often mend ourselves.

Presenter: Sarah Goldingay
Producer: Max O’Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4

Sarah Goldingay examines the transformative process of restoration and mending.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Saying Goodbye20190414

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand explores the ecstasy and agony of saying goodbye. Drawing upon the words of the poet Shel Silverstein, she examines the notion that "there are no happy endings".

Human beings have developed all manner of rituals to ease the process of parting, from simple handshakes to elaborate funeral liturgies. Shoshana reveals that even the nightly ritual of saying goodnight to your children is laden with significance. She explains the Jewish bedtime ritual of saying the Shema - a prayer which is said to invoke the protection of angels.

Shoshana also explores the linguistics of saying goodbye - from the French "adieu" which commends the receiver to god, to the German "auf wiedersehen" which literally means "until we see again". Describing her experiences as a hospital chaplain, she discusses the final days and weeks of life, a "deeply scared" time when "this world and the next meet".

Shoshana concludes by arguing that, however painful parting may be, being aware that time spent together is limited makes it all the more precious. It's that awareness that impels her to make the most of her farewell rituals – using them as an opportunity to express gratitude for the people and places that enrich her life.

Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand explores the ecstasy and agony of saying goodbye.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Seclusion2017050720190714 (R4)

Journalist Remona Aly discovers the power of seclusion.

Throughout centuries, individuals of many faiths, cultures and disciplines have argued that seclusion is the key to unlock the mysteries both of the self and of the divine.

According to Remona, in today's connected world finding solitude has become a lost art. In fact, western culture tends to equate a desire for solitude with people who are lonely or anti-social, but there are many physical and psychological benefits to spending time alone.

Throughout time, seekers of all faith traditions have been drawn to solitude as a way of deepening their relationship with God. Remona offers the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and Imam al-Ghazali as leading examples of how seclusion can lead to overwhelming personal revelations and radical change in society.

The work of Beethoven is also examined as his phase of seclusion lead him to produce some of the most extraordinary symphonies of his career.

Remona also reflects on her own personal time of seclusion before dawn, leaving her bed to take part in a voluntary prayer known in Arabic as Tahajjud - a sacred time which she describes as therapy for the soul.

Presenter: Remona Aly
Producer: Jonathan O'Sullivan
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Journalist Remona Aly investigates the uniquely spiritual experience of seclusion.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Seclusion2017050720190714 (R4)

Journalist Remona Aly discovers the power of seclusion.

Throughout centuries, individuals of many faiths, cultures and disciplines have argued that seclusion is the key to unlock the mysteries both of the self and of the divine.

According to Remona, in today's connected world finding solitude has become a lost art. In fact, western culture tends to equate a desire for solitude with people who are lonely or anti-social, but there are many physical and psychological benefits to spending time alone.

Throughout time, seekers of all faith traditions have been drawn to solitude as a way of deepening their relationship with God. Remona offers the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and Imam al-Ghazali as leading examples of how seclusion can lead to overwhelming personal revelations and radical change in society.

The work of Beethoven is also examined as his phase of seclusion lead him to produce some of the most extraordinary symphonies of his career.

Remona also reflects on her own personal time of seclusion before dawn, leaving her bed to take part in a voluntary prayer known in Arabic as Tahajjud - a sacred time which she describes as therapy for the soul.

Presenter: Remona Aly
Producer: Jonathan O'Sullivan
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Journalist Remona Aly investigates the uniquely spiritual experience of seclusion.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Self Portraits20181202

In this exploration of the self-portrait, the poet Michael Symmons Roberts starts with the modern phenomenon of the ubiquitous selfie and questions whether it really is such a quantum shift in the way we see ourselves in the world. Or is this just the latest tech-twist in the story of self-portraiture?

“It’s become a cliché to mock and revile it,” Michael says, “characterising it as a narcissistic exercise, but the reality is more complex”.

Self-portraiture goes way back to cave paintings, he suggests, and has a long and complex history. “I still remember when I first saw one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits in the flesh, or LS Lowry’s red-eyed, searing vision of himself staring back. There’s something about them that makes us feel they are giving us the real person, a glimpse of the painter’s true self.”

Michael goes on to extend his definition of the self-portrait from just painters and sculptors to include poets and novelists. The poetry of Nobel Prize winning Polish poet Wistawa Szymborska, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickenson, and the music of Philip Glass, singer songwriter Don McLean and Nile Rogers, helps Michael conclude, “Self-portraits, at their best, aspire to portray the inner world, not just the surface appearance.”

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Poet Michael Symmons Roberts explores the phenomenon of the selfie and the self-portrait.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Slowing Down20190113

Writer and priest Malcolm Doney ponders how his move from a busy, city working life to the peaceful countryside has brought about a new, slower pace that’s changed many aspects of his daily life and outlook.

Malcolm explores the pitfalls of our fast, “roadrunner” culture - from not having time to nurture important relationships to our tendency to lack patience. Malcolm learns of the ‘slow movement’, an organised resistance to our culture of speed that spans several decades, driven by those producing ‘slow’ cinema, cooking and fashion. He examines the ‘slow art’ and ‘slow music’ of James Turrell, Brian Eno and Danny Hills.

Waiting, doing nothing - although going against the norms of our culture - has its virtues, given that God doesn’t work to human beings’ impatient timetable or on demand. So how can we best slow down and be patient, especially during life’s more chaotic and stressful moments? Malcolm takes tips from Michael Palin on finding peace, and free-diver Kimi Werner on resisting panic.

Malcolm concludes that slowing down allows us to place value on everyday moments, even small things like drinking tea, and encourages us to give slowness a go.

Presenter: Malcolm Doney
Producer: Sera Baker
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Writer and priest Malcolm Doney explores the benefits of slowing down in our busy lives.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

The Annunciation20181216

In conversation with former BBC Deputy Director General, the journalist and author, Mark Byford, Mark Tully asks why the story of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary has become a neglected part of Jesus’ narrative. They discuss the literal and metaphorical importance of the conception of Christ, the idea of the Virgin Birth and the iconography of Mary. The programme draws on the poetry of Denise Levertov and Elizabeth Jennings and there is music from Sir John Tavener, Percy Grainger and Norwegian pop composer Milton Nascimento.

The readers are Jane Whittenshaw and David Holt.
Presenter: Mark Tully
Producer: Frank Stirling

TX: 16th December 2018 0605 and 2330

Mark Tully examines the importance of the Annunciation in the story of the birth of Jesus.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

The End of the Beginning2018081920190825 (R4)

After being present at the death of a friend, journalist Abdul-Rehman Malik has been thinking about what - if anything - comes next. In many faith traditions, death is just the end of the beginning and is the doorway to the eternal. It is the soul that carries us forward.

From the visions of an itinerant Baptist preacher and the reflections of James Baldwin, Abdul-Rehman looks to the urgency of understanding something of the mystery of death while we are alive. The world's most enduring mythologies and beliefs describe a supernatural drama and kind of unseen theatre. Whether it's Virgil writing about crossing the River Styx, or the Prophet Muhammad explaining how the angels surround the soul after death, Abdul-Rehman takes us into this grey area between life and life everlasting.

Richard Thompson captures the comedy of what purgatory might look like, and theologian Dave Tomlinson offers a reinterpretation of the Christian narrative which has resonance with some enigmatic words from Einstein.

Abdul-Rehman seeks solace in the belief that his friend's soul is somewhere full of "life", dancing with the angels nourished by a truer reality. His eternity is just beginning.

Presenter: Abdul-Rehman Malik
Producer: Jonathan Mayo
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4.

Journalist Abdul-Rehman Malik asks whether death could merely be the end of the beginning.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

The End Of The Beginning2018081920190825 (R4)

After being present at the death of a friend, journalist Abdul-Rehman Malik has been thinking about what - if anything - comes next. In many faith traditions, death is just the end of the beginning and is the doorway to the eternal. It is the soul that carries us forward.

From the visions of an itinerant Baptist preacher and the reflections of James Baldwin, Abdul-Rehman looks to the urgency of understanding something of the mystery of death while we are alive. The world's most enduring mythologies and beliefs describe a supernatural drama and kind of unseen theatre. Whether it's Virgil writing about crossing the River Styx, or the Prophet Muhammad explaining how the angels surround the soul after death, Abdul-Rehman takes us into this grey area between life and life everlasting.

Richard Thompson captures the comedy of what purgatory might look like, and theologian Dave Tomlinson offers a reinterpretation of the Christian narrative which has resonance with some enigmatic words from Einstein.

Abdul-Rehman seeks solace in the belief that his friend's soul is somewhere full of "life", dancing with the angels nourished by a truer reality. His eternity is just beginning.

Presenter: Abdul-Rehman Malik
Producer: Jonathan Mayo
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4.

Journalist Abdul-Rehman Malik asks whether death could merely be the end of the beginning.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

The Moon20190317

Michael Symmons Roberts takes a trip to the moon and explores its enduring poetic appeal.

Michael was only six years old when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, but has grown up with the common belief that this “giant leap” seemed to usher in an age of expanded horizons and also a fascination with its constant use (or overuse?) as an image in poetry and music over the centuries.

Why we can’t leave it alone?

He suggests an answer: “it’s not just a remote lozenge in the sky. It’s long been a part of our mythology of the moon that it has a bearing on our lives here, that what it does affects what we do.”

Using the poetry of Larkin, Frost and Alice Oswald and the music of Schubert, Chopin and Frank Sinatra, Michael encourages us not to see the moon as a tired old cliché but rather to reclaim it.

“Whenever someone produces, as they do every now and again, lists of words or images that poets shouldn’t use any more, because they are too cliched, or too tired, then perhaps the best response is not to impose a moratorium, but to remake those symbols or images, to reclaim them in new contexts and to look at them in different lights.”

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Michael Symmons Roberts takes a trip to the moon and explores its enduring poetic appeal.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

The Stars20190324

In the second of his two programmes looking at the skies, the poet Michael Symmons Roberts examines the stars and how they influence our poetry, faith and even our lives.

In contrast to the moon, covered in last week’s programme, the stars have a very different image. Michael explains, “For a start, the temperature is different. If the moon is often characterised as cold, mysterious but ultimately dispassionate, untroubled by the vicissitudes of life on earth, then the stars have come to symbolise something like the opposite - they signal aspiration and hope, they shine, they bring you luck. They look down on you with promise, even with care. And they can guide you too.”

Although science has taught us so much more about the stars, they are still a great mystery. For Michael, “our knowledge of the sheer distance between us and the stars, the time it takes for their light to reach us, makes them unimaginably other, in both time and space. And it makes their light itself, the fact that we can see them at all, a relic and a mystery”.

Michael reflects on a visit to the Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank and reminds us that we are all aliens - made of stardust. With the poetry of Alice Oswald and RS Thomas and the music of Moby and Messiaen, he takes us on a journey through the heavens.

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Michael Symmons Roberts turns his attention to the stars and how they influence our lives.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

The Twilight Zone2016050120190505 (R4)

The film The Revenant was filmed only at twilight, to capture the natural light ‘when God speaks’, in the words of its star Leonardo DiCaprio. This is just the latest example of a fascination with that shift from daytime to night that has absorbed poets, writers, artists and those with faith and of none.

Journalist Malcolm Doney explores - with poetry, prose and music - how we respond to this twilight zone, both in our surroundings and within ourselves.

Presenter: Malcolm Doney
Producer: Jonathan Mayo
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4

Journalist Malcolm Doney explores how humans respond to the mystical world of twilight.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

The Unexpected20190331

Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski explores attitudes towards the unexpected, and argues we should view the astonishing and surprising as a gift of guidance.

Rabbi Harvey considers what it means to occupy the space between predictability and the unconscious desire to experience the excitement of the unknown. He draws upon the popularity of Roald Dahl’s Tales Of The Unexpected to demonstrate our unspoken yearning for the surprising.

He also explores the kindness and joy that can lie within applications of the unexpected. He uses Jack Riemer’s story of a rabbi receiving the same good news from multiple well-wishers, in order to examine the positive side of the surprising. He also reads one of Shakespeare’s most famous verses from Twelfth Night, to explore the way the unexpected can imbue individuals with greatness, despite it being thrust upon them.

In conclusion, Rabbi Harvey considers the way the unexpected can be perceived as a divine steer, and resolves to seize upon the surprising in order to channel it in the best way possible.

Presenter: Harvey Belovski
Producer: Oliver Seymour
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski explores attitudes towards the unexpected.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

There's No Place Like Home2017090320190728 (R4)

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand examines our relationship with the shifting notion of home and the importance of home to her Jewish faith and other religious traditions.

Shoshana reveals that she's always been fascinated by precisely what it is that we call home and how our homes inform our identities. She discusses the use within the Jewish home of the Mizrach - a piece of art that hangs on a wall allowing the inhabitants to orient themselves towards Jerusalem. She explains that this orientation to a spiritual home is a kind of internal map, "a way of positioning ourselves so that we feel rooted wherever we may be".

Exploring the concept of "returning home" in a musical sense, in which a composer skilfully resolves a chord sequence in a way that sounds uniquely satisfying and conclusive, Shoshana draws upon the music of Chopin and Schumann. These pieces sit along musical celebrations of the home from Crosby, Stills and Nash, bluesman Blind Willie McTell and Simon and Garfunkel.

Shoshana describes the centrality of the home to the Jews, whose rituals are mostly performed at home rather than at the synagogue, before concluding that, for her, home is ultimately defined by the people she holds dear rather than any one fixed location.

Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand examines our relationship with the shifting notion of home.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

There's No Place Like Home2017090320190728 (R4)

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand examines our relationship with the shifting notion of home and the importance of home to her Jewish faith and other religious traditions.

Shoshana reveals that she's always been fascinated by precisely what it is that we call home and how our homes inform our identities. She discusses the use within the Jewish home of the Mizrach - a piece of art that hangs on a wall allowing the inhabitants to orient themselves towards Jerusalem. She explains that this orientation to a spiritual home is a kind of internal map, "a way of positioning ourselves so that we feel rooted wherever we may be".

Exploring the concept of "returning home" in a musical sense, in which a composer skilfully resolves a chord sequence in a way that sounds uniquely satisfying and conclusive, Shoshana draws upon the music of Chopin and Schumann. These pieces sit along musical celebrations of the home from Crosby, Stills and Nash, bluesman Blind Willie McTell and Simon and Garfunkel.

Shoshana describes the centrality of the home to the Jews, whose rituals are mostly performed at home rather than at the synagogue, before concluding that, for her, home is ultimately defined by the people she holds dear rather than any one fixed location.

Presenter: Shoshana Boyd Gelfand
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand examines our relationship with the shifting notion of home.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Trial and Error2018072220190915 (R4)

Writer and priest Malcolm Doney examines the process of trial and error. He believes it's at the very root of how we find out about the world, how we mature, form relationships, and develop philosophies and religious beliefs.

Although some theologians from different traditions disagree on its meaning, it can be argued that the spirit of experimentation can be seen in the biblical book of Genesis when Adam and Eve taste the forbidden fruit.

Malcolm also considers the process of trial and error in the arts, examining the experimental work of artists, writers and musicians like the composer Terry Reily. These artists push the barriers in their work and appear to be driven by the need to discover something new.

Trial and error is also at the very heart of the scientific method, a process which originated in the 17th Century. Malcolm observes that testing must be rigorous, a belief held by one of the fathers of the scientific method, Ibd al-Haythem, who said, “man must make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and attack it from every side.” Malcolm notes that, while proof is hard to come by in maths and science, it’s even less obvious in the areas of philosophy, spirituality and religion.

Malcolm deduces that living experimentally is an exercise in faith. There is research, calculation, observation - and, out of all that, a theory is formed. He concludes that when people practice trial and error in their own lives it has to be something they have faith in - otherwise why would they invest their energy?

Presenter: Malcolm Doney
Producer: Jonathan O’Sullivan
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

Writer and priest Malcolm Doney examines the process of trial and error.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Uncertainty2018061020190908 (R4)

Rabbi Harvey Belovski goes back to his childhood and remembers the nervous boy who had an aversion to uncertainty - something that continued to trouble him well into adulthood.

Harvey explains that, when he was young, he was taken with the certainty shown by Abraham in the story of the Binding of Issac, where his total faith in God led him to the brink of sacrificing his son. According to Harvey, "we are always left in awe, or horror, that Abraham seemed to experience no doubt that he was doing the right thing."

Later, Harvey found another interpretation of the story in the writings of a Polish rabbi known as the Ishbitzer, who suggests that Abraham was being tested to see if he could embrace uncertainty - did God want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac or would Isaac become the father of a great nation? Abraham simply couldn't know, yet he was required to accept the doubt.

"This might seem trivial," Harvey says, "but it changed my world forever...I began to see doubt and complexity less as enemies to be eliminated, but as central features of a meaningful life."

Through traditional Jewish music and the compositions of Mozart and Chopin, he leads us on his journey from discomfort to mature acceptance that uncertainty is something to be embraced.

Presenter: Rabbi Harvey Belovski
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4.

Rabbi Harvey Belovski discovers the creative power of uncertainty.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Walls2017032620190630 (R4)

Michael Symmons Roberts asks whether walls are a liability or asset. "They come with such metaphorical power," he says as he reflects on their role in music and poetry.

Walls tend to be seen as divisive and things only get better when they have been knocked down - the destruction of the Berlin Wall symbolised the end of the Cold War and inspired a generation. But Michael contends that walls and partitions are not all bad. They make good neighbours according to Robert Frost, they can be beautiful when decorated and people have even been known to marry them.

According to Michael Roberts, separated by our walls, we are mysterious to each other, infuriating, frightening, enticing. Poets and filmmakers and novelists make great dramatic use of them to explore how we can be proximate and separate at the same time, and the tensions and mysteries that can create.

Through the music of David Bowie and Bach, the poetry of Stevie Smith and Laura Kasischke, Michael finds many contrasts in our attitude to walls and concludes that their role is paradoxical. As Simone Weil explains, "The world is the closed door. It is a barrier. And at the same time it is the way through...Every separation is a link."

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Poet Michael Symmons Roberts asks if walls are a liability or asset.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

Walls2017032620190630 (R4)

Michael Symmons Roberts asks whether walls are a liability or asset. "They come with such metaphorical power," he says as he reflects on their role in music and poetry.

Walls tend to be seen as divisive and things only get better when they have been knocked down - the destruction of the Berlin Wall symbolised the end of the Cold War and inspired a generation. But Michael contends that walls and partitions are not all bad. They make good neighbours according to Robert Frost, they can be beautiful when decorated and people have even been known to marry them.

According to Michael Roberts, separated by our walls, we are mysterious to each other, infuriating, frightening, enticing. Poets and filmmakers and novelists make great dramatic use of them to explore how we can be proximate and separate at the same time, and the tensions and mysteries that can create.

Through the music of David Bowie and Bach, the poetry of Stevie Smith and Laura Kasischke, Michael finds many contrasts in our attitude to walls and concludes that their role is paradoxical. As Simone Weil explains, "The world is the closed door. It is a barrier. And at the same time it is the way through...Every separation is a link."

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Poet Michael Symmons Roberts asks if walls are a liability or asset.

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life

We're Not out of the Woods2017020520190428 (R4)

Michael Symmons Roberts goes into the depths of the forest to find out the meaning of the cliché "we're not out of the woods yet". From the time we are children, woods and forests are portrayed as places of menace and foreboding, where dangerous creatures like wolves and gruffalos lurk, intent on causing us harm. Normally they are places we want to escape from, but not everyone is so keen to get out.

For authors, poets and composers, the woods can be places of creativity, testing and transformation and a symbol not only of fertility - as it is for DH Lawrence - but also for the very health of a nation, as W.H Auden so powerfully expresses: "This great society is going to smash; They cannot fool us with how fast they go, How much they cost each other and the gods. A culture is no better than its woods."

Modern poetry and music also engage with the symbolism of the woods. We hear from Emily Berry and her beautiful poem Canopy, as well as Alice Oswald's Wood Not Yet Out and - perhaps surprisingly - from rock star Prince, whose song The Cross powerfully captures the emotion of the crucifixion. Roberts revisits the notion that, in literature, it is hard to escape the link between wood and the cross of Christ. He quotes the great Anglo Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood, where the cross itself is the narrator.

Roberts concludes that maybe being in the woods is not all bad. "Like all the richest metaphors...there's something so deep rooted about the woods, the forest, trees as symbols and metaphors that we can't leave them alone... We're not out of the woods yet, but perhaps we don't want to be."

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Michael Symmons Roberts wonders what we mean when we say we are 'not out of the woods yet'

Ethical and religious discussion that examines some of the larger questions of life