I am spending four days this week with the bishops of the Anglican churches in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Meeting in Oxford until Thursday, we are talking about sex – just for a change.

OK, we are talking about a load of other things as well, but there is a sense of perpetual déjà-vu about this. Or Groundhog Day. Or something.

So, last night I read Colm Toíbín's short book The Testament of Mary. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013, it is a brief reflection on the Jesus 'event' as imaginatively seen through the eyes of his mother. While (to my mind, surprisingly) assuming a rather western context and culture, this is beautifully written, drawing us in to the haunting despair of loss and grief.

It isn't a bad thing to read something like this in the midst of a meeting of bishops. It imaginatively draws the attention back to what happened in Palestine two thousand years ago and offers a corrective to some of the preoccupations or flights of obsession that can easily command the concentration of religious leaders. We still have to do our business, but a haunting nag about perspective has to be a good thing.