The best gift of them all

15 December 2008

Here is a corrective to materialism, says Douglas Dales

Finding Happiness: Monastic steps for a fulfilling life
Christopher Jamison
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £12.99 (978-0-297-85277-3)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

THIS is a very wise and lucid book, which will be of real value to many people. The author, who is the Abbot of Worth, having for some years also served as Headmaster there, brings many years of teaching and monastic experience to bear upon applying the great truths of the gospel, as expressed in Bene­dictine monastic commitment, to the needs of people living in modern society.

It is a mature reflection upon the eight deadly sins, or “thoughts”, as the writer describes them. Holding them as a mirror to modern attitudes, he then graciously turns each one to catch the light of Christ.

For people unfamiliar with monastic life and teaching, this book will be a most valuable introduction. It reveals how fullness of life may be gained within such a community, and how it may spill over to guide and enrich the lives of others. There are fine quotations from the Bible and from the Desert Fathers, as well as from Cassian and St Benedict.

As a companion to a retreat, this will be invaluable. For an adult or older teenager being confirmed, it would make a life-long gift. It would be of particular value to students at school and university, and it should be in the hands of any chaplain there.

This is also a prophetic book, whose appearance is most timely in the light of the current economic crisis; for it addresses head-on the problem of greed which has brought Western society to its present pass. It exposes the barrenness of the busy lives that obsess so many people, and the impoverishment of culture and relationships which blights the life of the Church and the work of education. It demonstrates the spiritual genius of Benedictine Christianity, as it seeks once again to rectify the distortions in human life and society in the direction of that fullness of life which Christ promises to all who truly follow him.

The Revd Douglas Dales is Chaplain of Marlborough College.

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