Seeing in the Dark: Pastoral perspectives on
suffering from the Christian spiritual tradition
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use code
THIS book examines human suffering and difficulty by drawing on
the experience of Christian spiritual writers from the past - among
them Julian of Norwich, Hadewijch, St Ignatius Loyola, St John of
the Cross, and Simone Weil. I was glad to connect or reconnect with
Christopher Chapman is a wise and experienced guide, who rightly
reminds us that life is not to be potted or boxed by explanations,
but is sometimes glorious, sometimes agonising, and usually
bewildering. We badly need to hear this in an age desperate for
All the same, his book seemed to me to veer too far to one end
of the Lewis scale of books on suffering. Lewis is C. S. Lewis, and
the scale runs from POP to AGO.
At one end, POP: The Problem of Pain, written in 1940
to help people suffering in a time of war, and calmly analysing
hurt in general. Example: "The frequent attempt to conceal mental
pain increases the burden: it is easier to say 'My tooth is
aching,' than to say 'My heart is broken.'"
At the other end, AGO: A Grief Observed, written in
1961 to help no one but Lewis himself after his wife had died, and
brutally sharing how it feels to be hurting in particular.
Examples: "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." "It
doesn't really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist's
chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on."
Seeing in the Dark veers towards POP. In it, the pain
of others is presented so that through that pain we might draw
closer to God, or draw others closer. For Chapman is a spiritual
director, and we are told that his book intends to be a resource
for directors as well as a companion for those in difficulty. In
the end, for me, it was the first but not the second.
I would gladly have bought this book in order to help the
hurting. But, as I looked to it for Christ's light in my own
darkness, my own contingency and mortality, I found myself unmoved;
cocooned in the exalted language that seems to mark books on
direction ("The changing seasons bid us to befriend waiting"); and
intrigued by the occasional flash of frustration in Chapman with
his tradition ("I am not thinking of a Christian heaven - whatever
that might be"). In the end, it was remote from the drill that
The Rt Revd Paul Bayes is the Bishop of Hertford.