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Faithful unto death

24 October 2011

James Woodward on being prepared


The Contented Life
Robert Atwell
Canterbury Press £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.99

I AM told that it is unlikely that an individual would be appointed to a bishopric without having led a growing church. Transformation, engagement with the younger generations, and the culture of strength and success surround these understandable aspirations in a Church struggling to reverse steady decline. It is against this background that Robert Atwell offers a gently reflective book on ageing.

Engaging and clearly written, with helpful questions at the end of each chapter, the book is carefully organised into eight themes explor­ing retirement, living, memories, forgiveness, knowledge of ourselves and God, and happiness. Peppered with poetry and harvesting pastoral experience, the book provides help, insight, and guidance.

The gentle positivity of the text is its strength and weakness. There is little awareness (or discussion) of how a person’s experience of ageing is shaped by geography, class, acci­dent, and even gender. It is hard to imagine how someone without the security of pension, health, and edu­cation might respond to the heart­felt plea expressed to me by a friend, “It’s no fun getting older — just you wait!” Redundancy, in­creased dependency, and multiple health problems, combined with iso­lation in fragmented communi­t­ies and the difficulties of affording care, can make ageing less than con­tented. Where is the anger, frustra­tion, helplessness, and negativity in this journey? The book would have been helped by more comprehensive pointers to resources to assist the reader in drilling deeper into wisdom.

Nevertheless, as a way into thinking about this important subject, and a challenge to enlarging our understanding of growth, this book deserves to be used and responded to.

Many people associate old age with diminution, loss, and death. It may be part of the reason why we resist thinking about our own age. For some, death has become the great unmentionable. This attitude denies not only the reality of the human condition, but also the reality of God’s promises.

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, a compilation edited by Nancy Guthrie, includes the writings of 22 classic and contemporary theolo­gians and Bible teachers on how to prepare to die in faith. Well org­anised into four sections, the book deals with the reality of death, the process of dying, the hope that our faith gives us, and the promise of eternal life. The short medita­tions are drawn from sermons, books, and the writings of classic theolo­gians, such as Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin, and of leading contemporary communicators.

What is offered is an Evangelical, solidly scriptural, and counter­cultural way to view the inevitability of death, explaining how and why we might face physical death with hope, joy, and confi­dence in God’s promises for the life to come. The book will enable any reader to be­friend death and see how our faith can transform our living and dying.

The Revd Dr James Woodward is a Canon of Windsor and a member of the Commission on Assisted Dying.

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