Review: The Risen Dust by Rachel Mann

cover_16This Lent churches will need study group resources that spark discussion and prompt thought. The Risen Dust by Rachel Mann (Wild Goose, 2013) fits the bill very nicely.

There are over 70 stories and poems in this little book; including monologues based on Christ’s passion, poems about the Stations of the Cross, and tales of God in contemporary Britain.

The author comes from “an unashamed feminist and queer perspective” and brings “a radical instinct to bear on the biblical narrative.” Before reading it, I wondered if that might make this book too academic for parish use. I was wrong. Rachel Mann writes in frank everyday language as an experienced Anglican priest.

As we all know, it’s still relatively unusual for parish study groups to use resources written from feminist and queer perspectives. The Risen Dust is a good introduction for readers with sheltered attitudes. It is striking enough to prompt reflection but not so Germaine Greer that it scares the horses.

In a book of so many parts everyone will have their favourite pieces.  Mine were the monologues of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, The Servant Woman, The Pharisee and The Soldier. They help the reader to visualise Jesus’s immediate impact on others, and to imagine the presence of God made flesh. I found them to be very helpful.

In the Stations of the Cross poems there is a wonderful immediacy in Mann’s use of nature imagery. In contrast to the American vernacular of some of Mann’s prose there is a gentle English rurality in her poetry. In the poem Simon of Cyrene she writes:

“But you grew small, curled down
into my hand, nestling
like a mouse preparing for winter.”

In the grey and gritty stories of contemporary Britain, which draw to some extent on Mann’s experiences of parish work and of gender transition, there is a strong sense of God’s light in places of darkness. These are good pieces to use with parishioners who need to talk about God’s presence with them in difficult places.

Stones, the story of a small girl’s kindness, is well worth sharing with parishioners who struggle to empathise with gender transition.

I was also particularly struck by Good Friday in a Northern Town, one of several stories that place God in marginalised British bodies. It made me cry!

Mann is a writer with a great future ahead of her, and I sincerely hope that she is already developing her first novel.

Claire George.