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Wilderness Years

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 09 March 2014

For Moses and his people, the wilderness meant a time of wandering before reaching the Promised Land. The temptation of Christ took place away from civilisation. It's somewhere beyond the boundaries. A place and time of exile, isolation and self-denial.

In modern life, being cast out of life's mainstream can mean a painful loss of influence, power or fame, especially for public figures like politicians or celebrities. Famously, Churchill is said to have endured a decade in the political wilderness during the 1930s, before coming back to lead the country through the war.

Samira Ahmed reflects on what happens when people are thrust into the 'wilderness' for a period of time. It can be disconcerting, but it can also be empowering, spiritually renewing, a springboard for transformation. She talks to Jay Lakhani of the Hindu Society about traditional ideas of entering into a wilderness state for spiritual enrichment and discovery.

Finding oneself out of favour, forced into a personal wilderness can be a time of great challenge and self-evaluation. We hear from a redundancy coach about the unsettling yet familiar experience of job loss.

Featuring music by Louis Armstrong, Samuel Sebastian Wesley and Sufjan Stevens and with the words of Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Graves.

Produced by Caroline Hughes
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

Music Played

17 items
  • Rapunzel by Vera Southgate

    The prince is cast into the wilderness, after discovering Rapunzel in her tower.

  • Deuteronomy 8:2-6 (Standard King James Version)

    An exhortation to remember God’s judgements and mercies in the wilderness.

  • In the Wilderness from The Complete Poems by Robert Graves

    Graves’ poem imagining Christ’s time in the wilderness

  • The Second World War, Volume 1: The Gathering Storm by Winston S Churchill

    Memoir recounting Churchill’s time in the political wilderness.

  • Fame is a Fickle Food from Complete Poems by Emily Dickinson

    19th century American poet’s cautionary take on fame.

  • The Moon and Sixpence by W Somerset Maugham

    Maugham’s novel about an English painter, said to be based on life of Gauguin.

  • The Prodigal by Elizabeth Bishop

    Poem imagining the prodigal’s degradation before he decides to return home.

  • Image for Andrew Bird

    Andrew Bird Natural Disaster

    Noble Beast, Bella Union

  • Image for Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars

    Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars Go Down Moses

    Louis and the Good Book, Coral

  • Image for Sufjan Stevens

    Sufjan Stevens In the Devil's Territory

    Seven Swans, Sounds Familyre

  • Image for Samuel Sebastian Wesley

    Samuel Sebastian Wesley The Wilderness and the Solitary Place

    Performer: Christopher Robinson. Performer: Clare College Choir, Cambridge. Performer: James McVinnie.

    Wesley: Anthems, Naxos

  • Image for Ricky Nelson

    Ricky Nelson Lonesome Town

    Pulp Fiction (Music from the Motion Picture), MCA

  • Image for The Marketts

    The Marketts Out of Limits

    Pulp Fiction (Music from the Motion Picture), MCA

  • Image for James Taylor

    James Taylor That Lonesome Road

    Dad Loves His Work, Columbia

  • Image for Kedar Pandit

    Kedar Pandit Gayatri Mantra

    Performer: Anuradha Paudwal.

    Gayatri By Anuradha Paudwal, EMI India

  • Image for Ernest Bloch

    Ernest Bloch Voice in the Wilderness: III. Moderato

    Performer: Natalie Clein. Performer: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Performer: Ilan Volkov.

    Bloch: Schelomo; Voice in the Wilderness; From Jewish Life/Bruch: Kol Nidrei, Hyperion

  • Image for Ella Jenkins

    Ella Jenkins The Wilderness

    A Long Time to Freedom, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings


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