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Heaven lies all around us

20 July 2012

Nicholas Holtam on a book that urges us to find God everywhere

Everyday God: The spirit of the ordinary
Paula Gooder
Canterbury Press £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT926 )

PAULA GOODER is a biblical scholar, wife, and mother. She is among the most engaging of the C of E's contemporary teachers, and has written three books that have become a series: on Advent, Easter, and now Ordinary Time - those Sundays of the Church's year between the major seasons, from the end of Epiphany to Lent, and from Pentecost to Advent.

The 33 short chapters, more like short sermons, one for each week of Ordinary Time, are nicely grounded in experience and scholarship, while being very accessible. They are more "spirituality" than biblical studies, and much more practical theology than academic theory.

In an introduction reflecting on the importance of being ordinary, Gooder contrasts the dominant culture, which wants the biggest and best, with the God who is known in the everyday. "Somehow it is easier to expect to encounter God in splendour than in squalor," she writes, but the biblical testimony is of ordinary people meeting an ordinary God. This is the language of poetic imagination and insight, and her starting-point is R. S. Thomas's poem "The Bright Field". It is so easy to walk past the forgotten buried pearl of great price: "I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it."

Gooder is wise to the need for balance, the need for both the everyday and the special, but she knows that looking for God in the everyday matters. "We doom ourselves to a life of dissatisfaction and disappointment if we cannot find some way of living contentedly with the everyday." She says we need to become better at telling our stories of everyday faith, and that by looking closely we will see God. And that is what she does.

She is at her best when she uses her scholarship to make a very practical point, as with Martha, who was distracted by her many "tasks", the Greek in the New Testament usually being translated elsewhere as "ministry" or "service". In fulfil-

ling her calling, Martha was distracted from the one necessary thing: sitting at Jesus's feet. To me, that is both a new insight, and all too familiar.

This not so new bishop is asking his diocese what the "personality" of the diocese of Salisbury is. George Herbert, for three years parish priest of Bemerton and Fugglestone, is part of the answer, with his poem about prayer and "Heaven in ordinary". Like Herbert, Gooder, who is a lay Canon of Salisbury Cathedral, illuminates the Christian life with this very good, ordinary book.

The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam is the Bishop of Salisbury. 


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