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Seeking out the truth within

05 July 2013

Anne Spalding looks at varied explorations

Immortal Diamond: The search for our true self
Richard Rohr
SPCK £10.99 (978-0-281-07017-6)
Church Times Bookshop £9.90 (Use code CT448 )

The Mystery of Reality: With its implications for love, religious faith and the courage to be oneself
Christopher G. Smith
Matador £9.95
Church Times Bookshop £8.95 (Use code CT448 )

The Fullness of Life: Reflections on the Lord's Prayer for today's world
Michael Smith
Initiatives of Change £5

RICHARD ROHR describes the true self as "that part of you that knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconsciously". In Immortal Diamond, he advocates that we should reveal our true selves - a transforming, "resurrection" experience - although this process is threatened by, and a threat to, many groups, including religious ones. Rohr explores the contrast with the false self, and discusses the search for the true self with reference to various religious traditions and various ways of thinking.

His book is clearly intended to be inspiring, and no doubt will resonate with people broadly sharing his own views. An unconvinced reader will find less to grapple with, be- cause Rohr does not explain the reasons for his views. For example, Rohr claims that the "world of science, biology, and astrophysics is now affirming this trinitarian truth from very different angles". But he does not expand on how the scientific world affirms this truth, or refer to the scientific views that do not support it, some of them explicitly. Also, for readers who follow Rohr and are convinced of the need to search for the true self, I am disappointed that his suggestions on how to go about this process are limited to 12 points in the final appendix.

Christopher Smith's Mystery of Reality deals more directly with the process of being oneself. To do so, he draws on abstract concepts (clearly explained) to describe reality in terms that include both intuition and rational thought, with connections through energy fields to (what Paul Tillich called) the "Ground of Being". In this description, love is a form of "bonding between the life energy or spirit . . . of the individual with that of other individuals and the 'Ground of Being'." Indeed, Smith sees love as "the essential value that gives meaning to human existence", and, therefore, "love in action" as the response of genuine religion.

I found his exploration fascinating, but he barely makes links with daily human existence. (Perhaps I should not be surprised at this: all his sources, except for one scientist, are male.) So I am left wondering how one goes about developing the consciousness described if, for example, one lives with constant pain or has full-time caring responsibilities. I also wonder what part relationships or groups can play in living out the genuine universal religiousness he advocates. Despite its clarity and helpful diagrams, therefore, readers unfamiliar with conceptual thinking may find his proposed foundation for religious faith incomprehensible.

Michael Smith's small book on the Lord's Prayer has a more defined starting-place. A chapter is devoted to each phrase of the Lord's Prayer, providing some relevant background and information, and ending with some brief but profound questions. For example, the chapter on "Thy kingdom come" starts with the expectations of kingdom in Jesus's time, and makes reference to more recent experiences, before asking questions such as "Where is God's kingdom?" and "What can I do to make it a reality in my own life? In the lives of others? In the world as a whole?"

Examples from Smith's own experience enrich many chapters. As intended, then, this book could make a good starting-place for exploration in a small group, and no prior knowledge of the Lord's Prayer is needed.

Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.

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