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Towards wholeness

17 October 2014

Hilda of Whitby: A spirituality for now
Ray Simpson
BRF £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use code CT131 )

THIS enthusiastic and well-informed book is the work of an author who knows his topic well from within, and is delighted by it.

He first tells the story of Christianity in Britain - especially northern Britain - in the days when the Romans had just left and the early Anglo-Saxon Christians were beginning to form a new kind of society. So the word "spirituality" heads the first three chapters and deals in turn with factors that did, over those early centuries, form just that. We read that it was uphill work, but work that paid off - and out of which we are still, today, reaping benefit.

Of the people who played an important part in establishing Christianity in north Britain, some names live on. In this book, Simpson is most interested in St Hilda, who, as he makes clear, was responsible for much of the dedicated and enthusiastic work that rooted Christianity. For her, the gospel was the beginning, middle, and end of things.

(There were, of course, many other saints. Aidan's is the other name that crops up frequently, and he, Simpson says, profoundly impressed Hilda. Those two names are today linked in the name of the Community of Aidan and Hilda, a community that Simpson founded, and which is centred on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.)

"Wholeness is the realisation of our humanity," Simpson writes as he describes spiritual formation at Whitby 14 centuries ago. In his recounting of his own experience in this 21st century, one senses that the claim may well be authenticated.

The story told in this book is, indeed, a powerful one. Reading it may well bring to the attention of more people the value (to both Church and society) of religious communities. Currently, many of these are getting smaller and smaller. I sense, however, that here is an authentic reaching out of the past to find a way of living the Christian life, bothin everyday society and in a dedicated community. Such a relationship is one that may well "bear fruit, fruit that shall last".

John Armson

Canon Armson is a former Precentor of Rochester Cathedral.

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