Book of the Month: April 2012

“God Lost and Found” by John Pritchard (2011)

 We speak sometimes of the ‘desert’ and for many of us that is how it remains – a word. But for some there is an encounter with the emptiness and loss which accompanies the driest of places – where faith is a matter of holding on to the unseen, trusting that there will be light again.

John Pritchard’s honesty in confronting why faith sometimes breaks down is that of a good Spiritual Director.  He approaches the reasons for these times of loss with enormous sympathy: whether natural disasters or personal tragedy, the cataclysmic ‘dark night of the soul’, the passage of time-without-nourishment.  Or the realisation that the God we believed we knew as children is not the One we can now reach out to.

The shock of discovering the loss of this sense of a living God is all the greater if we seem to have lost our faith – and abruptly risk losing the community that is our church. Some cling desperately to the ‘childish’ God for fear of a void that suddenly seems all too real.

Truly alongside us, accompanying those, too, whose faith is at a low ebb, the author’s compassionate book  shares his experience in recovering that earlier tide of energetic hope.

Becoming aware that others have – without condemnation – come to this point before you, is in itself a way to recover hope.  Prichard’s stories show how all things do pass – even darkness is not total or permanent – as the unrecognised sense of God’s presence seeps into our consciousness. And it is beyond the void that we find the God we have longed for: who waits for us.

For the exploration of the desert is balanced by the exploration of fresh ground: and in reconnecting with God we are given an extra perspective – where we have been will illuminate where we are now able to go.

Reviewed by Mrs Lavender Buckland, LLM

Published by SPCK, ‘God Lost and Found’ is normally priced at £9.99.  Quote this review to order a copy at the special price of £8.99 and POST FREE from Sarum College Bookshop until April 30th 2012. See main page for contact details.  Cheques should be made payable to ‘Sarum College Bookshop’.

Book of the Month: March 2012

Heaven  by Paula Gooder

Opening a new book by Paula Gooder is a bit like opening a box of chocolates: you just know there are going to be wonderful things inside. And this slim volume is full of wonderful things. Given how little anyone can claim to know about heaven with certainty, she helps us try to make sense of the many, often contradictory, ways it has been described, stirring the mix of ideas to encourage readers to re-imagine the rather nebulous (sorry!) heaven of popular culture in a manner which “takes seriously the reality of God and the reality of a realm beyond our own.”

But not that far beyond. Heaven and earth were created together, bound together and will be transformed at the end of days. Paula Gooder suggests this means that heaven was created as somewhere closely associated with earth for the transcendent God to dwell alongside humanity.  Celtic spirituality talks of the “thin places” which bring heaven closer – and in Christ, all places are thin, or sacred, because all are potentially doorways to heaven. And that’s only chapter one – her style is so engaging and her enthusiasm so infectious, you just have to read on. Help yourself to another chocolate, so to speak.

Like all the best boxes of chocolates, the contents of this one are varied: language, imagery, worship and the history of ideas packaged alongside questions about life after death, judgement, angels and resurrection. If you wish, you can read it purely on an academic level (and the excellent notes will give you guidance for further study), but how and, perhaps, when we see heaven affects how we live our lives on earth. If it is somewhere distant in time and space, that posits a very different response than if heaven is close at hand. But what if heaven is actually here and now? Should we live today as we would hope to live in eternity? And pastorally, we need to know as individuals what we think about heaven if we are to offer real hope to the dying and the bereaved.  I know I’m going to find this book really helpful, and I hope you do too.

Reviewed by Norma Fergusson.

Published by SPCK, “Heaven” is normally priced at £9.99.  Mention this review to order a copy at the special price of £8.99 and POST FREE from Sarum College Bookshop until March 31st  2012. Cheques should be made payable to ‘Sarum College Bookshop’.

Book of the Month: February 2012

On Retreat: A Lenten Journey

by Andrew Walker

“… Walker’s work can be highly recommended.”

Church of England Newspaper.

Retreats are becoming increasingly popular, but the classic 8-day version can be a little daunting for some. Andrew Walker’s new book is a resource for both first-timers and the more experienced: a journey of personal prayer to be made over the period of one Lent, slowly integrating formal prayer times and the routine activities of daily living into a deeper encounter with God.
The material is equally suitable for the reader at home, or for groups, or can be adapted to a residential retreat (either self-guided or directed). Effective use of prayer time is explored, with the emphasis on practical suggestions and ideas including scripture and poetry, meditation, contemplation, journalling and intercession.
A ‘prayer journey’ through Lent, increasingly involving the whole person, opens up a world of spiritual possibilities by encouraging a deeper relationship with God and a reconnection with daily living, reinvigorated and hopeful.
Andrew Walker is Parish Priest of St Michael-in-Lewes, Director of the London-based Ignatian Spirituality Course and a Visiting Scholar at Sarum College, Salisbury. Founder-Director of the London Centre for Spirituality, his previous books include Journey into Joy (SPCK, 2001), Spirituality in the City (SPCK, 2005) and Discovering the Spirit in the City (ed. Continuum 2010).

Book of the Month: January 2012

‘The Naturalist and the Christ’

by Tim Heaton

“Carefully researched, elegantly written and well presented.“ -The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings, Bishop of Sherborne.

“An Impressive piece of work…entirely readable.”  -The Revd Canon Edward Probert, Chancellor of Salisbury Cathedral.

 

This is a much meatier tome than most aiming to support
group study in Lent. Heaton’s starting point is the 2009 film ‘Creation’, a biographical portrait of Charles Darwin which focuses on the personal and theological travails which arose from his developing theory of natural selection, and the death of a deeply loved daughter.

Heaton proposes a familiar group approach, 5 ninety-minute sessions with a consistent and detailed structure, including discussion, silence, readings and prayers, as well as clips from the film. The sequence of sessions follows the Lucan narrative of Christ’s temptations.

Heaton stresses that participation in this course should above
all be fun, and that the study and reflection elements go along with the social.  He has a pleasant, readable style, but doesn’t patronise his reader. The range of sometimes challenging
subjects addressed should not be undertaken by those hoping simply for a biscuit and a chat: 19th century English thought and religion; competing theories of geology and evolution; science and fundamentalist creationism; doctrines of the Fall, original sin, and salvation; 20th century theologies of the suffering of God. Yet this isn’t all dry theorising, because it begins with a human narrative in film, and along the way picks suchup other interesting individuals as ‘Woodbine Willie’.

Well led, and with a motivated group of participants, this
course can be an extremely fruitful way into areas which most Christians barely grasp, opening up the development of thought in science and theology, the interaction (or failure to interact) of these fields, and how the personal and corporate experience of suffering can be well, or badly, integrated with faith.

For those who get fired up by the film and this course,
Heaton provides tools to take things further: he includes a biography of Darwin, and rounds the book off with an extensive bibliography. The book is also suitable for individual study.

-The Revd Canon Edward Probert.

Quote Sarum College Web-page to order this book at the reduced price of £7.49 and postage free. Study groups ordering 5 or more copies will qualify for the special price of just £6.99 per copy,

(rrp £7.99)

Book of the Month: December 2011

cover of Alister McGraths In the Beginning

cover of Alister McGraths In the BeginningIn the Beginning: the Story of the King James Bible

by Alister McGrath

As we draw to the end of the 400th Anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible (KJV), it seems timely to consider the wealth of books which have appeared this year.

For its illustrations, the Visual History of the King James Bible (£14.99) is a treat.  Melvyn Bragg’s The Book of Books (£20/ £8.99) gives a good summary of the history.  For an excellent account of the language of the Bible and its influence, read David Crystal’s Begat (£14.99/£8.99).

But for a very readable overall picture at an affordable price I have chosen, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture. Not new (hardback 2000), but published in a new paperback edition his year, it gives a very thorough account of why and how the KJV came into being.

We are given an overview of the development of printing, and a fascinating chapter on the rise of the English language.  As late as 1513, John Colet was suspended from his position of Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral for translating the Lord’s Prayer into English.

McGrath writes accessibly of the tumultuous times of the Reformation, of Luther and Tyndale, and the production of the Bibles which paved the way for the KJV.  We are taken through the process of the new translation, and the debt the translators owed to previous versions.

Written by a theologian, this is a book we should all read, whether or not we use the KJV in our everyday lives, to gain an insight into our nation’s history and the huge influence this translation has had on all aspects of our culture.  “Even four hundred years after [the translation] …the King James Bible retains its place as a literary and religious classic, by which all others continue to be judged”.

A great stocking present!

Reviewed by Jenny Monds, Director of Learning Resources Sarum College

In the Beginning is normally priced at £8.99.  Quote Sarum College Website to order a copy at the special price of £7.99 and POST FREE until December 31st 2011 from Sarum College Bookshop .

Book of the Month: November 2011

Incredible Journey

Incredible JourneyThe Incredible Journey by Steve Brady

(BRF Advent Book 2011)

Not another book of Bible readings…and for the time of year when every moment disappears frighteningly fast.    Surely there is an over-abundance of such material?

But this book is different as it ranges each day, from 1 December to 6 January, on an incredible journey through the Bible, demonstrating time and again the love shown by God to mankind, who repeatedly, often seemingly wilfully, appears to delight in rejecting Him.

Each day focuses on a Bible passage from Genesis through to Revelation with comments and questions, ending with a short reflection.

Thus, on Christmas Eve, the chosen passage is 1 John 4:7-21 where the references range from Aldous Huxley through to Harry Belafonte and Superman!    All are relevant, as the questions posed are ‘whom did God send?’, ‘why was he sent?’ and ‘what was achieved?’

With very skilful writing, using personal examples to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of the Bible passages, this book succeeds and I found myself looking forward to the surprises in store for the next day.   Never predictable;  where is the logic of Nehemiah being followed by 2 Chronicles on subsequent days, for example?

Each day’s study could be read in ten minutes but I repeatedly found myself going off down all the side roads offered in the text.   Perhaps this is the joy of a book written by someone who teaches;  they have the skill to dangle a carrot of knowledge for their reader to reach out towards.

Whatever your starting point this book of readings brings home the amazing invitation from God, to allow him to accompany us on the rest of our incredible journey through life.

Even if you have never before bought yourself such a book can I suggest you try this, call it an early Christmas present to help through the hustle and bustle of preparation, you won’t regret it!

Reviewed by Heather Armstrong

Book of the Month: October 2011

The Art of Worship

The Art of WorshipThe Art of Worship By Bishop Nicholas

Nicholas Holtam has the telling gift of being able to create incisive phrases; phrases which lodge in the mind and force one to ponder.  Let me give some examples.

In his lovely book “The Art of Worship” he draws our attention to some of the paintings in the National Gallery.  And so, for example, in the text which he has written to accompany Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus” he says: “The stories of resurrection in the Gospels are transitory moments significant enough to change lives for ever”.  It’s a beautifully crafted phrase, each word pulling its own weight.

He says, in a reflection on prayer prompted by Pieter Saenradam’s painting of a cool, white, Puritan-clean church in 17th century Utrecht, “In praying for the particular we are praying for the universal”. Enough said.  It’s elegant, true, and straightforward.

And then, in his piece to accompany one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, he writes: “His sympathetic portraits of older people radiate inner strength from aged bodies”.  And with these deft touches Nick Holtam enlightens our understanding not only of the paintings but of ourselves and our world.

His book is a collection of 46 paintings which he came to know and love during his time as Vicar at St Martin’s in the Fields.  Each painting is accompanied by a reflection, and by prayers drawn from a rich variety of sources.  And this is the clue to the meaning of the book.  It is designed to be used in a meditative fashion, that is, slowly, and with that depth of attention which can be described paradoxically as lightness.

It takes art historical scholarship seriously, but quietly insists that these paintings can also be approached with a creative humility, and that they might “expand our imagination to the glorious possibilities of God’s world.  What Christians seek is to be people alive to the presence of God.”

Oh, alleluia! It is such a relief to have a voice in the Church which does not nag… Treat yourself to a book which will bring you joy.

Reviewed by the Rt Revd Dr Christopher Herbert, who lectures on art and its relationship with faith for the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS).

Book of the Month: September 2011

Confessions of a Lapsed Catholic

Confessions of a Lapsed CatholicConfessions of a Lapsed Catholic

By Sheila Cassidy

Sheila Cassidy defines herself as “lapsed” in the sense that – for the moment anyway – she does not attend Mass or receive the sacraments. But that does not mean that she has cut herself off from God or worship. Every page is full of her ongoing and intensely spiritual communion with the God who is “everywhere, in everything, shining forth if only we care to look.”

Like Barbara Brown Taylor, she has discovered the divine presence waiting to be found “in the sea, in the mountains, in the gentle alcoholics who greet me as I walk my dogs … I have only to acknowledge his presence to know him as powerfully as if I had received the bread and wine.” What does it say about our churches that two such remarkable women found they must leave them in order to become closer to God?

Having shared her reflections on churchgoing (or not) in the early pages, the majority of this book focuses on finding God, whether in the other, in the written word or in the natural world, and on what might be a proper response to the divine. Along the way she shares generously out of her own experience, which has shown her both the best and the worst that human beings can do to one another. Never again will I read the story of the loaves and fishes without thinking of how her small cake became dessert for 80 women in a Chilean prison.

At the heart of this book, I think you will find an image of what it means to try and live out Micah’s instruction to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God. Sheila Cassidy is honest about her struggles, but overall she has found that, in the words of the old hymn, “the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.” If this is what it means to be “lapsed”, may we all be so blessed.

Reviewed by Norma Fergusson, STETs Student

 

Book of the Month: August 2011

Why God won't go away

Why God Won’t Go Away

Why God won't go awayBy Alister McGrath (SPCK)

If Richard Dawkins didn’t exist, Alister McGrath might well have wanted to invent him – or someone very much like him, at any rate. For it is when the big-brained theologian with an occasional propensity for dryness engages Dawkins, and his militant atheist contemporaries, that he is at his best. In this volume, McGrath is witty, well-informed and extremely sharp-witted – everything that Dawkins is himself credited as being.

In fact, the evolutionary biologist isn’t McGrath’s only interlocutor in Why God Won’t Go Away. The theological heavyweight also turns his attention on Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett – thinkers who, with Dawkins, have been called the ‘four horsemen’ of the apocalypse; or the so-called atheist revolution, at least.
And, as McGrath skilfully demonstrates, reports of the revolution have been rather over-stated. New atheism might not quite be dead and buried, but it is certainly faltering.

Part of the problem, McGrath asserts, is that an intellectual position derived from opposition and resistance to a particular worldview (i.e. a religious one), as new atheism is, lacks its own foundational basis. Or, to put it another way, once the deconstructive tactics of new atheism have been revealed as inadequate, its lack of substance becomes problematic – because, under scrutiny, you find there is nothing left.

McGrath certainly does a fine job of identifying the failure of many arguments commonly propounded by Dawkins and his cronies. As an academic discussion, then, the book more than satisfies.

But it is when McGrath traces the breaking down of militant atheism as a worldwide movement – as reflected in dwindling attendance at new atheist, or ‘Bright’, gatherings, and public fallings-out over the internet – that this book comes alive. Here, we see McGrath engaging in the debate in a lively, relevant and often scathing fashion. The result is compelling.

So this is a fine volume – slim enough to read in a single sitting, and written in a lucid, humorous, journalistic style. I commend it to anyone who is frustrated at the conceptual
and moral bankruptcy of new atheism. And even if you’re not, give this book a go. You might just find your opinion adjusts as you work your way through it.

 

Reviewed by Tim Gibson, STETs

Book of the Month: July 2011

A Room with a View

A Room with a View

A Room with a ViewBy Nicholas Holtam

If you are at all interested in what our new Bishop of Salisbury is like, then this book is a very good place to start.  These chapters come out of 11 years of ministry at St. Martins in the Field which has included a major building development costing £36m.
The first chapter sets out a vision for any local church which needs to be rooted in context; inclusive and welcoming beyond any imagining;  Eucharistic;  prayerful;  a community of service and learning; and a place for the creative arts.  As St Martin’s is a church that with a very successful crypt restaurant as well as a bookshop, there is a short section justifying commercial endeavour.

Next comes a chapter based on the work for which St. Martin’s is famous;  its work among the homeless and the poor.  The thinking here is politically alert, well researched, passionate.

There follow two chapters about the nature of good religion and its place among the other religions of the world.  Later on there is a chapter on sin, coming from days of teaching ethics at Lincoln Theological College.  Here we find an intelligent narrative for truthful humane and liberal discipleship, all of which is enriched  in a later chapter enriched by evotions for Holy Week, and a sermon.

In this book Nicholas Holtam reveals his love of art, living as he does so close to the National Gallery, music, which is so much part of the tradition of St Martin’s, and literature. It is said that a priest shapes the place and the place shapes the priest in equal measure – from the introduction comes these words which sum up all we need to know: ‘St Martin’s values standing in that historical tradition (the Church of England) and we try to do so creatively.  It is a courageous church capable of exercising leadership and breaking new ground’.

Reviewed by Keith Lamdin, Principal of Sarum College