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Book reviews >

Go deeper in reading and prayer

Jonathan Ewer on feeding the soul

Joyful Christianity: Finding Jesus in the world
Cally Hammond
SPCK £8.99
(978-0-281-06087-0)
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

The Road Well Travelled: Exploring traditional Christian spirituality
David Winter
Canterbury Press £8.99
(978-1-85311-964-4)
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

JOYFUL CHRISTIANITY is a companion piece to Dr Hammond’s earlier book on the sorrowful mys­teries, Passionate Christianity: A journey to the cross.

It is a profound book. It is not difficult; for the writing is very clear. It is profound because it engages richly with several important aspects of living in the world of our time. Every now and again you have to put the book down — and reflect — and pray.

The introduction pushes you in at the deep end with the argument that the real debate of our time is between those who believe in God and those who believe in nothing (“except perhaps themselves”). We need to recover the confidence to proclaim what we believe. In the body of the book, the author works through the joyful mysteries of the rosary in order to uncover a “spir­itual matrix for human growth and development in the faith”.

Each of the mysteries has a historical truth, a theological truth, and a spiritual truth. Each of the mysteries presents certain problems for the person who wants to know what happened “on the day”, especially with regard to the virginal conception of Jesus.

Dr Hammond looks at the “impossibilities” and contradictions in the written accounts (she focuses on St Luke with sideways looks at St Matthew and St John). She does not try to reconcile or explain away, but rather takes them all seriously to discover what the author was trying to tell us: the theological truth.

She then encourages the reader to use all this in prayer, to immerse oneself in the text (lectio divina — see below — meets St Ignatius), to recognise that each of the mysteries says profound things about our ordinary human lives — which is the spiritual truth.

This little volume, just 75 pages, is an excellent devotional book for any time, but especially for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

David Winter’s writing and broadcasting are notable for their helpful snippets, which may engage the passing enquirer or remind the “faithful” of what is already on offer in the great tradition. This little book is a welcome addition to the genre.

The introduction states the aim of helping us to avoid “throwing the baby away with the bath-water”: some of us, particularly from the Evangelical wing of the Church, might avoid some more “Catholic” practices or aids to devotion simply because of their associations. The book reflects the author’s Evangel­icalism, which he has come to enrich over the years from other sources.

Each of the chapters is short; but a great deal is said in a few words. The first chapter, for instance, is on lectio divina, the ancient practice of “soaking” oneself in the scriptures. The author explains the what and the why, and then shows the reader a simple way to do it, using St Matthew 14.22-33 as the text to ponder.

There are chapters on the saints, the eucharist, honouring Mary, fasting, confession and absolution, making the sign of the cross, icons and candles, the calendar, the Office, conversion of the heart, Stations of the Cross, retreats, pilgrimage, and more. Each chapter ends with an appropriate passage of scripture, and sometimes a prayer or a quotation from somebody else.

It is nicely written, with a lightness of touch (“The Eucharist is not so much a divine pat on the back as a loving kick rather lower”!) — a good book to give to someone who wants to know what Christian spirituality is really about.

Fr Ewer is European Provincial of the Society of the Sacred Mission.

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