Joy Clarkson
Speaking with Joy
Alison Milbank: Double Longing

Alison Milbank: Double Longing

A conversation about trees, green men, epic journeys, and desire

Carvings from the Southwell Minster chapter house, described in this episode.

Dear Friends,

I am delighted to share this final episode in my series on You are a Tree: and other Metaphors to Nourish Life, Thought, and Prayer, a rich and warm conversation with the wise and lovely Alison Milbank. Alison Milbank is Professor of Theology and Literature at the University of Nottingham as well as the priest vicar and Canon Theologian at Southwell Minster, the cathedral of Nottinghamshire. Alison is a leading scholar of religion and literature and has published many books including God and the Gothic: Religion, Romance, and Reality in the English Literary Tradition and Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians amongst others. Alison has been a great inspiration to me in my own writing and I often teach her work!

A beautiful image of Alison from a feature of her in the New Statesman!

In this episode Alison and I discuss the metaphor of life as a journey, and in particular the double longings of Psalm One: to be a tree, planted, rooted, and nourished, and also to journey, to reach upward and beyond ourselves to the transcendent beyond. These two desires are captured in the operative metaphors of Psalm One: the blessed person as a traveler and as a tree. These seemingly contradictory metaphors capture much of what it is to be a human being. It reminds me of a line from a Rich Mullins song: “Nobody tells you when you get born here how much you come to love it and how you’ll never belong here.” The journey metaphor is the final metaphor I explore in the pages of You are a Tree.

Alison and I discuss these twin desires through the architecture of the Chapter House in the Cathedral for which she cares, which features intricate leafs and branches alongside mysterious green men which some argue harken to a pagan past, but Alison believes to be embodiments of Psalm One. We also talked about why so many of the great works of literature are concerned with journeys, from the Odyssey to Divine Comedy to Lord of the Rings. Many of these stories feature journeys people did not want to take, and yet through which grace is experienced and the longing for home evoked— a mirror of our journeys in life. Finally, we ended with discussion of life as a gift, embodied for Alison in this painting:

Chalk Cliffs on Rügen (1818) by Casper David Friedrich.

Alison is a wealth of knowledge and graciousness. I hope you enjoy listening to this conversation as much as I enjoyed having it.



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Joy Clarkson
Speaking with Joy
Conversations with Joy Clarkson about religion, culture, and art.