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Healing of the mind

28 September 2012

Anne Holmes reads reflections on a 'Cinderella' subject

Before Them Set Thy Holy Will: Iconography and pastoral care
of those with mental illness
Graham Reeves
Melrose Books £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT231 )

LIKE the proverbial curate's egg, parts of this book are excellent. Graham Reeves sets an imaginative and, at times, inspiring considera­tion of the icon of Christ healing the demon-possessed boy at the end of what he calls variously an "essay" and "extended reflection" on pas­toral care of those with mental ill­ness.

Anyone with experience of mental-health chaplaincy will welcome his incarnational insistence that each of us is made in the image of God, especially those who are working in what feels like the Cinderella department of the NHS. In Oxfordshire, even the words "mental healthcare" have been re­moved from the name of the ex­panded NHS Foundation Trust.

Christians following the example of their founder have a particular calling to those on the margins, and there is an acute danger that the unique personhood of those with mental-health problems is reduced to mere diagnosis. Reeves speaks well about this.

What I find less helpful is his critique of spiritual care in the NHS, which comes across more like a diatribe at times. He fails to acknowledge the important retreat from secularism pioneered by many psychiatrists recently, and written about by Larry Culliford. Those in sector ministry have also pioneered multifaith collaboration in pastoral care. A minor irritation is the Anglo-Catholic insistence on the title "Father" in the foreword and introduction. This detracts from the overall message of inclusiveness, which otherwise enriches the book.

Icons have an increasingly uni­versal appeal. This particular ex­ample of a theology in "paint and wood" is reminiscent of recent compositions in choral music, especially Howard Goodall's setting of the Beatitudes. My recommen­dation to readers would be to allow themselves to be drawn into the reflection on the icon, while sitting lightly to some of the opinions expressed elsewhere.

The Revd Anne Holmes, a former NHS mental-health chaplain, is a psychotherapist and self-supporting minister in Oxford diocese.

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