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Choosing of paths

18 July 2014

John Armson assesses the spiritual guidance in two new books

Twelve Steps to Spiritual Health
David Usher
The Lindsey Press £7.99

Kicked Out of the Garden: Embracing diversity as a way of the heart
Kimberly Ruth Taylor
Change Makers Books £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT641 )

DAVID USHER writes that his book is designed to present 12 steps towards spiritual health - steps that are not obligatory, nor have to be followed sequentially, but can be tackled as feels most comfortable to the reader.

As such, it will be a useful guide - especially to those who are starting out, or want to deepen their existing understanding and practice of the Christian faith. Indeed, it may well prove a very useful book in a century that, as its author notes, is witnessing the crumbling of the Christian Church's central presence in public life.

He offers 12 steps into the matter. The steps include helpful advice about, for instance, "developing a spiritual practice", or "coming to terms with mortality", or tithing.

Usher takes a relaxed attitude to what are, for any serious Christian, important issues. Not everything he writes will ring bells with every reader, but his book may well help beginners and seekers - and those with faith already.

The title of Kimberly Ruth Taylor's book says a great deal. "Kicked" is a violent word, suggesting unlooked-for anger; and "garden" suggests Eden, or its contemporary equivalent. Both words turn out to have a real place in her story, which is radical and stirring in many places. It will thrill some, and distress others.

Her book is easy to read (unlike some theology); so "the average reader" need have no fear on those grounds. Her very personal story, with its ups and downs, has put something of the preacher inside her.

Her compass is "the truth in my heart". She has made, and is still making, discoveries about herself in God. Some are very radical and beautiful; some challenge traditional teaching ("the prison of religious dogma") and question orthodox faith. But then she writes, "The most beautiful discovery is that the 'me' I am becoming is more and more like the Christ in the New Testament."

Her approach is indeed personal. Early on she describes her depression. But she also has the gift of "catchy" phrases - "The truth in my heart is my compass." (Good - even if there are other, more objective, guides.)

As her account continues, so her story gets darker. Indeed, in one sense, hers is a truly tragic story. It would seem that her early years were brave - part happy, but part miserable. She speaks of being "kicked out" (but also says she left her husband and seven children).

It is very hard to interpret such information when we only have her own written word to go on. But that word didn't lead this reader to want to follow her path - as she presents it - brave though she must have been.

Canon John Armson is a former Precentor of Rochester Cathedral.

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