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Learning to awake in heaven

02 November 2012

Nicholas Holtam finds much to appreciate in a priest's reflections

Occasions for Alleluia
David Adam
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A FRIEND who is an artist and a priest said that a great deal of what he was taught in life-drawing classes at art college was how to see. Silent prayer in the chapel at Westcott House worked similarly for me. This is a book about how to see the world aright. For David Adam, it is his life's occupation, a priestly task.

He is well known for his books of prayers and Celtic spirituality. In some ways, Occasions for Alleluias (extracts, Faith, 5, 12, 19, and 26 October) is like a commonplace book, but with a strong personal narrative. Well-chosen prayers and other people's thoughts are mixed with autobiography, life's exper­ience, and homely wisdom. It is a book to teach us to pray. Praise and alleluias are our response to God and all creation. Each chapter ends with simple but not simplistic prayer exercises.

The title comes from A. N. Wilson's A Bottle in the Smoke, in which the act of vision on a morning bike-ride into Soho became "an occasion for alleluias". It reminded me of a rabbi who, at the end of Ronnie Scott's memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields, told us that Jews are taught to say at least 100 blessings every day, and proceeded to name many of the blessings given through Scott and his jazz club.

The book's structure is provided by a prayer of St Augustine often used at funerals:

 All shall be Amen and Alleluia.
 We shall rest and we shall see.
 We shall see and we shall know.
 We shall know and we shall love.
 We shall love and we shall praise.
 Behold our end which is no end.

The chapters explore the "natural ability" to rest, see, know, love, and praise God - the last interpreted as enjoying life and God. Adam moves with ease from the Desert Fathers to the contemporary, including some of his own prayers. Much is familiar, and all of it is used well in a book that exemplifies Thomas Traherne's lovely meditation:

Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father's Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and air as Celestial Joys.

This is what Adam helps us do in a book that is both earthy and ether­eal, and is itself an occasion for alleluia.

The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam is the Bishop of Salisbury.

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