Thoughts for Wednesday 23rd September, 2020

Psalm 119:97-104; Numbers 11:18-23, 31-32; Matthew 18:1-5


Wednesday 23 September


I’m sometimes curious where writers get their ideas. Until fairly recently, many of us here in Britain had what might be described as a ‘Christian’ education. The headmaster, for example, at the secondary school I attended, was an Anglican lay reader. And one of the headmasters at Repton College, where Roald Dahl went, went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Our readings for today, bring his book, Matilda (published in 1988), to mind. For, it occurs to me, that the headmistress in that story, Miss Trunchbull, might well have been based on one, or a combination, of Roald Dahl’s head teachers at Repton.


The cruelty that could be inflicted on school pupils by certain teachers so closely identified with Christianity in the 1930s, was something Dahl never got over, and which also caused him to have doubts about religion, and even about God. Not that he ever, in all his works for children (which adults can read as well), wrote anything that wasn’t in the spirit of our Gospel for today. For in all his works, whether it’s James or Charlie or Danny or Matilda, he always seeks to show us how heroic children are.


One very good example of this (which may or may not have been inspired by our story from Numbers, in which people have to eat so much of the one thing that it even seems to be coming out of their ears, and they are sick of it) is the 13th chapter of Matilda. In this, Miss Trunchbull calls an 11 year old boy called Bruce Bogtrotter out to the front of an Assembly. When, she confronts him with the news that he’s been seen helping himself to a slice of Miss Trunchbull’s ‘private’ cake. And his punishment? Well, to fit the crime, it’s to eat the whole of an enormous, 18” diameter, chocolate cake, then and there, and in front of everyone.


It’s a tense moment, and Miss Trunchbull clearly hadn’t thought he would manage to do it, but when he eventually does, there’s tumultuous applause, as Miss Trunchbull then brings the empty platter crashing down on Bruce Bogtrotter’s head as a punishment instead.


Bruce is the hero, and later on the book, in a scene that’s surely been inspired by the account we have in Daniel 5 of Belshazzar’s Feast, Miss Trunchbull receives her comeuppance as, while teaching (aka brutalising) a class, a piece of chalk starts writing all by itself, words on a blackboard that Miss Trunchbull would rather nobody could see.


Let us pray:


(Aidan of Lindisfarne)


Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.

Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you,



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