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Nuturing the flame of our fragile life-force

20 July 2012

Naomi Starkey reads a conversational book aimed at helping make connections with God


Does My Soul Look Big in This?
Rosemary Lain-Priestley
SPCK £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT926 )

THIS latest book by the Radio 4 Thought for the Day contributor and priest Rosemary Lain-Priestley sets out to explore some big questions: does my life have a point? Am I happy enough? Will I ever be in with the in crowd? Where on earth is home?

Her premise is the importance of nurturing the soul, which she defines as "the sum total of our attitudes, expectations and longings . . . our life-force." The demands of modern 24/7 culture mean that many people neglect to care for the soul, and it may only be at a time of crisis (bereavement, relationship or health breakdown, general mid-life angst) that they are forced to realise how fragile their soul or life-force has become.

Drawing on insights from poets, novelists, social commentators, and other faiths, as well as from Christianity, the book has a highly accessible, conversational tone. Many of the issues raised by Lain-Priestley regularly make whole volumes in themselves - depression, finding life's purpose, the meaning of home.

In her introduction, however, she is clear that her aim is to offer a starting-point for the spiritual quest, and to encourage the search for connection with God rather than force the pace towards any kind of dogmatic conclusion. As such, the book provides an excellent taster for those who would be unfamiliar with, or unattracted by terms such as "spiritual formation": seekers, agnostics, disillusioned believers.

She is upfront about the extent to which she draws on her own experiences, and some readers may wish for more reference points beyond London. That said, her friendly authorial voice, honesty, and moments of vulnerability are engaging, so that you may well end up (as I did) wanting to hear more of her personal story, as well as wanting to engage with her reflections on the issue in hand.

A few quibbles: sub-headings would have been useful, so that readers could skim back through the text to retrace a train of thought. Some questions for reflection and discussion linked to each chapter would help to commend the book for group use. A list of sources and a bibliography are included, but I would have liked some suggestions for further reading, although authors such as Paula Gooder, Lucy Winkett, Mark Oakley, and Richard Rohr are mentioned and quoted along the way.

I have to say, too, that I was not keen on the book's title, as it strikes a note of flippancy which does not do justice to the quality and tone of the book.

Naomi Starkey is a Commissioning Editor for BRF and is training for ordination in the Church in Wales.

Unmasking God: Revealing God in the ordinary by Daniel O'Leary is aimed at helping readers to discover that God's power and presence is already within us, not distant but ever-present. The book comes with a CD on which the author and Maura O'Leary read stories, memories, and reflections (Columba Press, £10.99 (£9.10); 978-1-85607-726-2).

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