BOOK REVIEWS

 

The divine character of monarchy, the other Jesus and the draft office book

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN

Ian Bradley

DLT, 218pp, hbk

0 232 52414 9, £14.99

 

People edge away from me in disbelief when I tell them that I was given a left-handed Coronation mug at school in May 1953. But it is true. Being left-handed, if I pick up an ordinary mug with pictures printed on them, they are on the side facing away from me! A left-handed mug enabled me to smile at the Queen as I drank.

When I was asked to review Ian Bradley’s book on ‘The Spiritual Dimension of Monarchy’ (its subtitle), my mind flew back fifty years to the beginning of the Queen’s reign. A very high percentage of people believed at that time that the Queen had an almost priestly role as monarch. There was indeed ‘a divinity’ that surrounded her. The very rite of the coronation held strong echoes of that way of approaching the occasion and the office.

Fifty years on Bradley invites his readers to consider that the monarchy still has a ‘divine right’ about it. He laments the fact that our present society lacks ritual and symbolism. Applauding the resurgence of the observation of the Remembrance-tide two-minute silence, he suggests that it would be by putting the emphasis on its spiritual nature that the monarchy would be revitalised and renewed. He suggests that the Queen should re-introduce real foot-washing on Maundy Thursday as one way of symbolizing this.

Whether you go along with his central thesis that the monarchy gives a spiritual and sacramental meaning to the nation or not, you will find the biblical and historical chapters of this book well worth reading, together with many thought-provoking questions about the nature of the monarchy and the nation.

The final challenge to the reader in Bradley’s book is contained in the words that end his chapter entitled The Way Ahead, ‘Ultimately, monarchy points beyond itself to the majesty of God. It encourages the God-given human faculties of reverence, loyalty and worship. This is the real sacramentality of monarchy.’ As they say in examinations, ‘Discuss’. But there is no mug on offer as a prize!

George Nairn-Briggs is Dean of Wakefield.

 

 

PRAYING THE JESUS PRAYER TOGETHER

Brother Ramon & Simon Barrington-Ward

BRF, 144pp, pbk

1 84101 147 9, £6.99

 

The Jesus Prayer could well be called ‘the Eastern Orthodox rosary’. Its origins are lost in obscurity, but claims have been made that it springs from the devotions of the fourth-century monks and hermits who lived in the Egyptian deserts. Its present form appears to have come from the Russian Church in the eleventh century.

It is a very short prayer, consisting simply of the words: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ This is based on the prayer of the blind man outside Jericho and the prayer of the tax collector in the temple (Luke 18.38 and 18.13). The Jesus Prayer, however, is repeated many times as a mantra or a background to contemplation. Ideally it is said 100 times, and this number can be counted on a prayer rope, which has 100 knots. Such ropes can be purchased at Orthodox churches and cathedrals.

The writing of this book represents a meeting of the minds of two very different people. One came from the Catholic tradition, a Franciscan Friar (and incidentally a supporter of the FiF position), the other from the Evangelical tradition, an Anglican bishop and formerly General Secretary of CMS. In the book, Bishop Simon tells us that it was the Jesus Prayer that brought them together. He used to visit Brother Ramon at his hermitage in Worcestershire so that together they could explore the riches of this prayer. They used to sit in the small hut which formed the hermitage chapel, and with Orthodox prayer ropes in their hands, they would recite the Jesus Prayer, leading them into a time of silence together; then they would reflect upon it and discuss.

Brother Ramon, who is the author of many spiritual books, began to write about it, but died in 2000 without finishing the work. He had himself handed over his typescript to Bishop Simon, who completed the work. As could be expected, this is essentially a very personal book. Perhaps some will be distracted by Bishop Simon’s mention of his contact with the martyred Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda, and with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and with other Christians of similar stature, because it is not easy to see how this contributes towards the main theme of the book. Nevertheless, the reader will find new insights into the life of prayer, and it may be that some existing prayer groups will wish to take this method on board as a corporate exercise. Useful hints will be found about breathing and posture, which can play an important part in the quest for contemplation.

Brother Martin is Secretary for Mission in the Society of Saint Francis.

 

 

The Two Children

David Ovason

Century Press, 458pp hbk

0 7126 8492 1, £20

 

It is, I know, a matter of some personal pride for our Review editor that he often gets book reviews published before the rest of the English-speaking world has perused their flyleaves. It is of no little embarrassment to me then to have to admit to you, dear reader, that though I read this book some time ago, I have been sitting on it since before Christmas and it is only an ever-growing sense of guilt and the fact that I have no sermon to preach tomorrow that has brought me before the computer screen this afternoon to finally get to it.

There has been of late an exhibition of Japanese printmaking at the Royal Academy. Taken from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, it was called ‘The Dawn of the Floating World’ and as well as the sheer technical brilliance which brought to be what was on display, one of the exhibition’s most delightful aspects was the wonderful juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane that early Japanese printmakers brought to their art. In the western world where we are so bound by and to our pigeonholes it is refreshing to inhale the air of another perspective from time to time. On a different day and at a different time The Two Children might well be to literature what ‘The Dawn of the Floating World’ was to art but for me at least, that has not been the case.

Like the content of the exhibition at the Royal Academy the ‘legend’ of the Two Children is for the most part long forgotten and quite arcane but unlike the exhibition, whose compilers lit up a largely neglected corner of art history with a delightful lightness of touch, in The Two Children we have a heavy-handed and self-righteous critique which takes itself far too seriously. David Ovason then, in this his latest publication of obscure explorations (yes, there have been others) turns his attention to the ancient belief that two children, both named Jesus, were born in Bethlehem to two sets of parents named Joseph and Mary.

I know it is too, too easy to find fault rather than to praise, but for me the real difficulty of The Two Children is that the author, in order to prove his point, seems to give equal weight to every scrap of evidence that has come his way regardless of its veracity. The greater content of the text spins itself a web of proof establishing the truth of the author’s premise by drawing together threads from a myriad of references. Initially looking towards early fifteenth-century Italian art for his reference point, Ovason looks to an ever far-ranging and scattered group of affiliations; from Qumram to Egypt; from Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic texts he discovers justifications for his theory. Four hundred or so pages later he concludes his proof, and then somewhat disappointingly gets all reasonable about it in an unreasonable sort of a way. Like the majority who hedge their bets, Ovason is happy for we Christians to have Christ in our lives and goes so far as to hint that he would share something of the faith, but, as ever seems to be the case, he will have it only on his terms. I would have much preferred him to be aggressively dismissive of that which I know through faith to be true. If he had done this, I could have responded in kind; which is what I would have really like to do.

The Two Children reminds me so much of those books of ‘popular theology’ (I use the phrase in its most derogatory sense) which waste a whole forest full of trees trying to convince us of which Scottish kitchen floor the Stone of Scone is now a part; or proving that freemasonry is a wicked conspiracy; or whose Granny’s attic has become the final resting place of the Holy Grail. (As it happens, dear reader, I know a Highland butcher, a true Gael, who says his brother knows a man who … honestly.)

This book could have been great fun if it had dropped its pretensions and just gone for it. In the end it is weighed down by its own bombast. There is more profundity to be found in an episode of South Park than The Two Children; speaking of which, I think it’s on in a minute. Life is too short for such trifles. In the words of the late, great Alistair Sim, ‘Pshaw and taradiddle.’

Paul Ensor is Vicar of St Olave’s, Mitcham.

 

 

HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE 1000-1154

Henry of Huntingdon

OUP, 200pp, pbk

0 19 284075 4, £6.99

 

Written no later than 1155, this is not exactly hot off the press, but a new translation is most welcome. Well edited and with a clear introduction, this is an excellent and accessible edition of a historian who may lack the brilliance of the Venerable Bede, but who gives us both the immediacy of actual events and the broader vision of God’s purpose and Man’s confusion.

A happily married archdeacon, the son and father of an archdeacon, he would be recognizable as a seventeenth-century parson, a gentle, godly man seeking peace and order in a time of violence and conflict. The child of a mixed marriage, he nevertheless champions the English against the barbarous Normans, while always being aware of the subtle interchange between conqueror and vanquished, and the manner in which the latter may in the end conquer the former by cultural and religious means. The turmoil of civil war, during Stephen’s reign, the opportunities for greed and immorality on offer to the victors, the weakness of government, the cruelty and selfishness of the rich, the sudden changes of fortune, and the fragile success of even the mightiest of men: it makes for lively history.

He includes too much information, culled from other sources and he rushes through key moments when we would much rather he wrote more reflectively. He is by modern standards a poor historian, but it may be that modern standards are wrong. For all his faults, he offers a breadth, sensitivity and vision that is remarkable, and significantly more mature that we have come to expect from those who tell us of the past. Those funny little medieval Christians, who saw the hand of God in the ways of man, they were not all wrong.

His epilogue, written for an earlier edition in 1135, is deeply moving. His appreciation for those who lived in ad135 and who will live in ad2135 brought me close to tears. SR

 

 

Priests in a people’s church

Ed. George Guiver

SPCK, 145pp, pbk

0 281 05405 3

 

What a relief to read a book about priesthood that is not full of management skills and collaborative ministry. It is true that this collection of essays deals with both these areas of contemporary thought on ministry; but they are incidental products of lively theological refection. The writers, all from the Catholic tradition of the Church of England (some for women priests, some not), have produced imaginative and challenging insights into the function of priesthood within the life of the Church.

There are essays touching liturgy, prayer, pastoral work and clerical marriage. Some starting points for thought are startling; the richness of contemporary media is used with great effectiveness. The contributions of Benjamin Gordon-Taylor are marked by a wide range of illustrations from Willy Wonker through Garrison Keiller to Shakespeare. For anyone looking for a book to stir up their thinking about the role of the priest today this one would be a good buy or borrow.

Andrew Hawes is the Rural Dean of Beltisloe.

 

 

COMMON WORSHIP: DAILY PRAYER

Preliminary Edition

Church House, 830pp, pbk

0 7151 2063 8, £10

 

Before being called to the ordained ministry I worked in publishing. This may explain my anger at this book. CHP’s latest catalogue has the following puff:

Users will immediately notice that the pages of Daily Prayer have the same sense of calm order as all the materials in the award-winning Common Worship range. The book is both a thing of beauty to cherish and an uplifting book to use. Particular care has been taken with the page layout.

Call it salesmanship if you like, but this is the new office book of the CofE and its development is being led by the presentation team. Design appears to be taking precedence over prayer, and that should worry us. OK, so it is quite smart, in a corporate, business sort of a way; wide line-spacing and plenty of white paper gives the impression of solid money, like an old-fashioned bank; in Common Worship Part One this style added a touch of gravitas to what was otherwise only a collection of eucharistic options.

This is not, however, the way to design an office book. If you are carrying such a book around with you, it should be weight-efficient, offering psalms, prayers and hymns, not blank paper and repeated rubrics. To take an example, 130 pages are here given over to additional collects, each one concluding with the invariable ‘who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever’; three lines are used for this after every single collect. A more efficient layout would have enabled the inclusion of a full set of hymns and poems (as found in other office books) at no extra cost in paper. At present we have the simple rubric ‘A hymn’, but none are offered. Certainly, if you are in church and you enjoy a full library in the stall in front of you, you will be as happy as a sand-boy; but frankly if you are after clutter (and I know many saintly clergy who are) you can create it yourself.

The point is an important one. We may not like it, but it is at least possible for each parish to produce its own mass booklet, following the CW guidelines. This do-it-yourself option is not available with an office book: the quantity of material needed is such that we must use what we are given; and if it is inadequate we will not use it. Taken that we already have the Book of Common Prayer and the Breviary, why do we need anything else? Because, at its simplest, a good office book would provide some form of shared prayer and worship when we meet and work with clergy or parishioners of a different persuasion.

At this stage of revision/assessment, presentation is everything. This is what we have: can we make it work? Can we, with our experience of the Breviary, help General Synod create a book that can be prayed, not one that might be useful if … ? I gather the principal influence has been the Franciscan Celebrating Common Prayer, which I confess I do not know. One who has, commended, ‘Why make it more complicated?’ Indeed. I typed out a Midday Office for a clergy gathering: it was so confusing, with so many options, that I had to resort to the Breviary (of course) to fill in the gaps.

There is one item we ought to do battle over. The Psalter uses inclusive language, thereby removing the christological focus of the Psalms. This may not formally be a heresy, but it must be getting very close. The christological reading of the Psalms has been the core element of all Christian prayer from New Testament times. We need to ‘correct’ the Psalms, but that is part of the way in which we pray them, emphatically not part of how we translate them. We do not excise Ps 137 v.9 (dashing babies against the rocks); so too we must not remove the christological references for the sake of an inclusive pronoun, however admirable.

To put it bluntly, this Psalter must be stopped. Fair enough, the liberals should be catered for; the inclusive language Gloria Patri is included as an option (p576), but this does not mean we have to use it. Surely then the Psalms themselves could be presented in such a way as to permit the PC-people to ‘translate’ the words to their own ends, without affecting the rest of us. Note that even they acknowledge a limit to their shame: Ps 8 comes in two versions: the right-on translation of v.5 has ‘What are mortals that you should be mindful of them, mere human beings . .. .’; however the staid translation has the more familiar and meaningful ‘What is man … the son of man …’

The answer is to use italics. Ps 1 v.1 could be written ‘Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked.’ but not ‘Blessed are they …’ which is just plain wrong. It would mean a little work for the new-agers, initially, but at least it would keep the text intact. The use of the NRSV for other Scripture texts is lax, inappropriate and unwarranted, but if there is one battle that must be fought it is surely the Psalter.

There is a questionnaire at the back, inviting comments by January 2003. It should perhaps be a topic for consideration at Sacred Synod.

Nicholas Turner is currently publishing an edition of Cranmer’s 1552 Holy Communion.

 

 

A FLAME OF LOVE

Edited by Timothy Dudley-Smith

Triangle, 160pp, pbk

0 281 04300 0, £7.99

 

This is a revised edition of ‘A personal choice of Charles Wesley’s verse’. One should always be wary of publisher’s anthologies: it is often a lazy form of exploitation, recycling material for lazy readers. I would not normally warm to the re-presentation of hymns and verses, but all credit to the good bishop. He has edited a fine little book of deep spiritual worth, revealing that great Anglican, Charles Wesley’s enduring faith and understanding, who once again challenges our claim to be Catholic by the breadth and intensity of his own faith. AS

 

 

Our Little Secret

Tori Dante with Julia Fisher

Hodder, 210pp, pbk

0 340 78590 X, £5.99

 

You’ve seen Kat’s story of sexual abuse in Eastenders, now read the reality. This book is Tori’s testimony, as well as being the biography of her dreadful childhood where she suffered sexual abuse by her father, possibly from before school age, although the first vivid account she remembers is at the age of six. This continued throughout her childhood, culminating in full scale rape. The frightening thing is that at first she took this as normal, not knowing any difference, and whilst scared of her father and the hurt he was inflicting she still loved him and wanted to please him.

The book illustrates well the sickness of a whole family and the collusion of its members, the confusion in children’s minds between right and wrong and what is or is not their fault. As an adult Tori became a Christian following a journey of promiscuity and drugs and through the support of fellow Christians and counselling was able to tell her story and convict her father.

The book is recommended by the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service and raises questions that individual Churches should be asking, but whether one can divorce oneself, if necessary, from the frankly charismatic Evangelical stance, I wonder. However, we should all be aware of this important subject and have it fixed on our agendas. PT

 

 

The King’s Highway

GD Carleton

Tufton, 280pp, pbk

0 85192 039 4, £8.99

 

Tufton Books have done a great service by producing this attractive new edition of a twentieth century ‘Classic of Anglo-Catholic Devotion’. That title might give the impression of a dry and perhaps difficult work. This is a pithy, powerful series of short expositions of Catholic doctrine illustrated from scripture. It is not a book to read from cover to cover, but a book to dip into. It is a very good beginning for thought and prayer on any aspect of the faith. It is a book for the seeker as well as for someone at home in the Church who would like new guide or inspiration. It did me good! AH

 

 

SEWING CHURCH LINENS

Elizabeth Morgan

Morehouse, 70pp, pbk

0 8192 1841 3, [£9.99]

 

A useful book, in a revised edition, from an American Episcopalian, describing simply and clearly, with line drawings, the intricacies of making altar linens, both large and small.

Having come across churches that use old tablecloths and bed sheets cut down and sewn side to middle, with which to adorn their altars, it is refreshing to read of someone after my own heart, advocating that only the finest and most beautiful of materials should be offered to God. Even if the finest linen cannot be afforded, there is something for all needle workers here, unless one is already of the professional ecclesiastical haute couture class.

If this book was a requirement for all churches, then perhaps more people would have a go, and our altars would be bedecked to the glory of God and not a reminder of the last jumble sale. Her chapter on the washing, ironing and folding of linens would also be helpful to many!

The Reverend Ann Turner is an FiF member in the North.

 

 

LEFT BEHIND

Graphic Novels of the Earth’s Last Days

Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins

Tyndale, 40pp, pbk

0 8423 5502 2, £2.99 each

 

Graphic novels (in simple terms, adult comics) have a fine tradition in Europe, and are a sadly neglected genre in this country. This series, appearing at one a month from the end of last year, comes from America with an eerie sense of mis-timing. The first book ends on a picture of a passenger plane flying into a building; the second offers a couple of pictures (fortunately not among the large set-pieces) of a post-apocalyptic New York, with fire and destruction all round, but with the Twin Towers in gleaming, untouched purity rising above it all.

Mad fundamentalist visions of the end of the world look a little different after 9.11. There is now a certain guilty indulgence in this mayhem and destruction: like a pacifist relishing a blood and guts war movie, I could not stop myself enjoying the sheer bad taste of it all, and the deadpan seriousness of ‘the rapture’ and its effects. So the Lord will cause millions to be caught up in the air, leaving a level of devastation a hundred times greater than any Muslim group could ever hope to achieve? Absolutely. Will I be reading the forthcoming volumes? Yup. AS

 

 

RURAL VISITORS

Leslie Francis & Jeremy Martineau

Acora, 220pp, pbk

0 9540766 0 5, £10

 

This is a large format workbook, based on the results of 12,679 completed questionnaires, to help parishes work out how best to welcome visitors to country churches. Easily written, with short paragraphs, simple cartoons, and questions and suggestions to each section. It may not, for many other reasons, always be possible to fulfil one’s best intentions, but this is a genuinely helpful production, an alternative to mere discussion between different parishioners with bees in their bonnet.

As with all statistics, there is always a ‘Goodness me! I would never have guessed that!’ ‘Finding the smell of incense in rural churches’ is important to a quarter of the visitors questioned. Even more interesting, among the 12 to 19 group, this percentage rises to just under a half! What is more, ‘the appeal of the smell of incense to those who visit rural churches is unrelated to the visitors’ own pattern of church attendance’, meaning it is not just church regulars who like it.

Well, well, well; but you cannot simply go along to your PCC and suggest the liberal use of incense (in sufficient quantity each Sunday to last the whole week?), because it also points out that among those aged over 60 only 14% found the smell of incense ‘important to them’, and what is the average age of your rural PCC? This statistic may say something of the old Protestant heritage (‘If in doubt, reject it!’) but that is for another discussion.

So present them with this workbook to study, especially the reflection that concludes this particular section:

The sense of smell may sometimes speak quite loudly to those who visit rural churches. For some rural churches the dominant smell is one of dampness, fusty linen and slowly rotting hymn books. The smell of damp churches is evocative of neglect and decay. The appropriate use of incense-like fragrances can help to mask such unhelpful smells.

It follows this with a cartoon showing a post-modern thurifer at the front of the procession, not swinging a thurible, but using an aerosol room spray.

The next section is on candles. Among those over 60, just over a quarter would like to find candles to light when visiting a country church; the proportions rise as the age decreases, until it reaches two thirds among teenagers. It may be that the times are changing and our churches ought to change with them. Let the PCC discuss – after they have done some study with this book. RW

 

 

JESUS – HOPE FOR LIFE

Edited by Paula Clifford

Hodder, 100pp, pbk

0 340 78630, £4.99

 

Strictly speaking this is a Lent book for this year, so you will need to catch up or buy it for next year, but the connection of the 47 Bible comments to the season is sufficiently tenuous for it to be used at any time. It has been written by various members of the staff of Christian Aid, and it presents the Christian Aid agenda, cogently and at times movingly.

An excellent framework, within which to consider Christ’s teaching (most of the texts are from the New Testament, and most of these from the gospels). All the same, it is a little worrying to see how easily we can accept our separate Christian pathways. Here is a non-denominational, non-sacramental, this-worldly interpretation of Our Saviour’s teaching: admirable, but what does it mean that it lives a distinct and separate life, as though it were some form of informal church in its own right? AS

 

 

 

Where no price is marked on a book, we shall continue to make that clear by putting the price in square brackets, and no doubt we shall continue to fulminate against this wicked practice of sleight-of-hand, condoned deception. However, like so many others, it is a losing battle. Publishers are increasingly inclined to admit (which, I suppose, is honest) that they leave off the price quite deliberately in order to make it simpler and easier to raise that price as and when they want to. Does it really matter? No. But the fact of its being inevitable does not make it any less annoying.