Books, Books, Books!

What I'm reading:

Annie Heppenstall, The Healers Tree: A Bible-based Resource on Ecology, Peace and Justice, Wildgoose Publications, 2011

Musings from a bookworm. Again, most of these first appeared in "Oldchurch" parish mag.

Visions of Glory – an Anthology of Reflections compiled by William Sykes -Bible Reading Fellowship (1995)

Opening this anthology or one of its companion volumes, Faith, Grace, Hope and Love, is like being handed the keys to a vast library. Twenty years ago William Sykes was on the brink of losing his faith. His struggle to find it again lead him to search and find renewed vision in others’ experiences in philosophy and theology, art, poetry, literature, science and music. The material thus gathered forms the basis of this series. It spans nearly 300 topics, from Adoration to Worry, Agnosticism to Worship, with helpful advice on individual and group use.

I first encountered ‘Visions of Glory’ six summers ago, when, apart from the inevitable diet of British newspapers, it became my sole reading matter for almost the entire holiday. My husband and children had a lot of enforced siestas during that time!  

This series has introduced me to ‘new friends’ reunited me with old ones and set me off exploring down new tracks. To quote from one volume: ‘To find that He is, is the mere starting point of our search. We are lured on to explore what  he is, and that search is never finished, and it grows more thrilling the farther one proceeds.’  

(and, as you drift off to sleep in your hammock, the book makes an excellent sunhat!)
( July/August 2001)

Sacred Spaces – Stations on a Celtic Way – Margaret Silf (Lion, 2001)

  ‘Sacred Spaces’ refers to the Celtic belief in the oneness of the spiritual and material, the visible and the invisible worlds, and to those ‘thin places’where the presence of spiritual seems almost to break through the divide between the two.    The author draws on this spiritual  tradition to introduce seven  ‘sacred spaces:’ the infinite knot, the Celtic cross, hilltops, wells, groves and springs, thresholds and crossing places and boundaries. She links these to seven key stages or seasons of growth in our lives, inviting us to reflect on what they might mean to us personally:

‘For all of us, the only beliefs to which our deepest heart and soul can consent are those which our personal experience endorses. Sacred spaces are opportunities to meet that experience and allow it to take us beyond itself. And then to discover for ourselves what the mystery we call life means for us and where it is drawing us.’

I was especially taken by the way in which retellings of the scriptural accounts (Moses, Joseph, Jacob, The Women by the Well, Peter walking on the water)  were interwoven throughout and linked to ones own experience. It brought alive again passages that (for me anyway) have often become dulled by familiarity.  I found a number of practical suggestions too, as to how insights gained might be applied to my own situation.

It has taken me nearly two months to read this book, yet I’m so much aware of having barely ‘skimmed the surface.’ I would definitely recommend it for holiday reading. A word of warning, though: It’s beautifully illustrated – Keep it away from the pool and the sun tan lotion.
(July/August 2001)

Soul Survivor -  How my Faith Survived the Church
Philip Yancey (Hodder & Stoughton, 2001)

“ [When] someone tells me yet another horror story about the church, I respond, ‘Oh it’s even worse than that. Let me tell you my story.’ I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church.”

I’m not normally a Yancey fan. Yet when I opened up his latest book one evening, I  never guessed that I’d still be reading come midnight!

“Soul Survivor” is an autobiography with a difference. With a faith crushed, but not yet extinguished by his early fundamentalist and racist upbringing, Philip  Yancey decided to look  outside the established church for role models for his spirituality. The result is a series of    profiles of 13 remarkable figures, who, (to quote the author) ‘helped restore to me the mislaid treasures of God.’  

These range from  authors Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Annie Dillard, through activists Martin Luther King Jnr and  Mahatma Gandhi to Henri Nouwen and  missionary surgeon  Dr Paul Brand. 

Whilst some of these ‘mentors’ are figures of the past, many  more are people with whom Yancey has spent considerable  time during  the course of his work as a journalist and author. These aren’t idealized portraits – The author doesn’t hesitate to point out flaws as well as virtues. Yet it is this honesty and lack of triumphalism that I found to be so refreshing and encouraging. This is truly Christ being reflected through or perhaps despite the human-ness of others.  The accounts touch on  universal topics such as  the question of pain and suffering, fear (I found the profile of John Donne’s struggles spoke to me especially here), and death. 

Most obvious, though, is Yancey’s favourite theme of God’s grace – his unconditional love for us as sinners. And he challenges us, as   churches and individuals, to  extend this love and tolerance not just towards each other but also to those who fall outside of  our own limited circle and comfort zone.

Quiet Spaces Journal:  The Wilderness (BRF, 2006)

A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3 – NIV)

Intended as a resource “for all who are looking for ways to deepen and enrich their faith and for all who are seeking replenishment”the latest edition of BRF’s  prayer and spirituality journal Quiet Spaces reflects on this theme using a varied selection of prayers, poetry, prose and meditations. 

No doubt the word “wilderness” conjures up different images for each of us  – be it encounters with moose and bears in the Rockies, or trekking through the desert with the Bedouins.   To one it could speak of challenge and adventure; to another, endless wandering in the wasteland  with neither destination nor refreshment in sight. My old school seemed to take a perverse delight in choosing the hymn  “Lead Us Heavenly Father, Lead Us” with its words, “Lone and weary, faint and dreary, through the desert thou didst go” for assemblies during the exam season. (Hardly an encouragement, I found, but then I am one of life’s natural Eeyores!).

In reality most of us will likely find ourselves in both these types of desert at some time in our lives. And of course, each will be unique to us and to our situation. As will the manner in which we react to our wilderness encounters. Hence Quiet Spaces follows the theme through the personal experiences of many different Christians. We travel across the Atlantic with St Brendan the Navigator, savour the space for silence and freedom on a tour to the Sinai, experience the Israelites’ time of testing, and with the Mother’s Union discover that “even in the most isolated places, God can be at work.”

Although sometimes it can be very  hard indeed to believe this: In “Looking After Number One”, Dr Steve Griffiths reflects on his struggles with depression after bereavement, whilst Jenny Robertson, whose young daughter was diagnosed with a psychotic illness seventeen years ago, tells of a “wilderness without reprieve….where the props we thought were faith are stripped away”.  Wendy Bray, who has also experienced this through a life-threatening illness, writes of the wisdom and insights which can be gained through the practice of journalling – another means of dialogue between God and ourselves.

These are just a selection of articles from the Summer 2006  edition. It should be stressed that Quiet Spaces are not intended to replace bible-reading notes, rather to supplement them; to learn from others’ experiences and maybe to  venture out beyond our comfort zones to encounter God more deeply and in new ways.  Each journal centres on a major biblical theme  - past ones have included, Creation and Creativity, The Feast, The Journey, and The Garden. Back issues can be ordered  through BRF. 
( September 2006)

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