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Can a busy mum be ascetic?

01 November 2011

Naomi Starkey looks at an experiment in spiritual discipline


God Hunting: A diary of spiritual discovery
Jo Swinney
Scripture Union £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

FOR a good many Christians, a serious obstacle to exploring the classic spiritual disciplines is inte­grating them with everyday life — especially if you happen to be a mother of small children. While prayer and Bible study can perhaps be squeezed into a spare five minutes, what about fasting? What chance a bit of proper solitude?

Jo Swinney set herself the task of trying one spiritual discipline per month, writing down her reflections in a journal-type format. Tackling six disciplines in total, she is un­flinchingly honest about her strug­gles, as she tries to carve out time and appropriate space amid child-care, running a home, and giving birth to a second baby.

Helpfully, she suggests how adap­tations can be made to ease the fit with daily routine, while preserving spiritual benefit. Unable to abstain from food because of preg­nancy, for example, she chose to fast for a week each from fiction, hot drinks, media, and sugar.

Her determination is commen­d-able as she tries disciplines not naturally congenial to her, such as silence and solitude. There are hints of deeper personal issues relating to depression (covered, I gather, in an earlier book), which could usefully have been expanded to provide more context for her experiences here. She does, however, supplement her personal approach with short interviews with a range of individuals who share insights on the topic in hand, gleaned from their own spir­itual explorations.

The book did feel somewhat con­densed, covering much ground in 128 pages. I would have welcomed, in particular, more re­flection on the relationship between discipline and grace. At times, auth­orial unflinch­ing honesty sounded as if it was in danger of becoming authorial self-flagellation for being “not good enough”. The demands of discipline must be held in tension with the im­measurable love of God that holds us even as we — inevitably — fail.

Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor for BRF, and edits and writes for New Daylight Bible-reading notes. She has also written Good Enough Mother (BRF, 2009).

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