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A vocation to compassion

26 September 2007

John Young applauds a book on disability which grapples with profound questions

Beauty and Brokenness: Compassion and the Kingdom of God
Martin Lloyd Williams

SPCK £9.99 (978-0-281-05858-7)
Church Times Bookshop £8.99

MARTIN LLOYD WILLIAMS’s book is well written and thought-provoking. It is a book about disability — and a great deal more besides. The author lives with his wife and three children in Bath, where he is Rector of St Michael’s. He is also honorary chaplain of the Bath Mencap Association.

The cover copy tells us that “the author’s thinking in this area began when his son was born with Down’s Syndrome 13 years ago, and continues to develop as his wife copes with physical disability resulting from a brain tumour.”

His starting-point is a picture, painted around 1465 by Andreas Mantegna: The Presentation at the Temple. It is suggested that this picture, which is on the cover of the book, shows the infant Christ with Down syndrome.

I confess that this was not at all obvious to me; so I struggled with the opening chapter, which develops this idea, and explores what it would mean for the incarnation — and for us.

But, as I attempted to suspend disbelief, the book intrigued me and led me on. It is full of fresh insights, and challenged me to look again at the way I view the world, the Church, the Kingdom of God, and my personal discipleship.

The chapter headings to these 136 pages ask many questions — “Is God really disabled?”; “Which way now?”; “So what’s new?” — as well as indicating what’s in store —“Compassion: Fulfilling our vocation to compassion”; “Beauty, blessings and boundaries”.

Martin Lloyd Williams is well read. Among others, he draws on Rowan Williams, Charles Handy, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, Jürgen Moltmann, Salley Vickers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Küng, Thomas Merton, and Walter Brueggemann. Professor Frances Young — herself a mother of a disabled son, and an enthusiast for the L’Arche communities — has written the foreword.

This book is best seen as a series of reflections on key Bible passages, together with an exploration of what a truly inclusive Church would look like — and sound like. Many of his practical suggestions are pro-vocative and challenging.

Alive with hope and love, this paperback shows how one man’s orthodox Christian faith connects with, and makes sense of, the modern world in a most attractive way. It gives a sense of work in progress, as the author grapples with profound questions. I hope he will share further insights as time passes and his personal situation develops.

Canon John Young is an author and co-founder of the York Courses (yorkcourses.co.uk).

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