Dougall A. S. Smith, editor
Treasured and Transformed: Vision for the
heart, understanding for the mind
Daniel J. O'Leary
Church Times Bookshop £11.25 (Use code
A FRIEND of mine kept a commonplace book, not to record
comforting quotations, but to write about anything he found hard to
understand. The slim book Reflections would appeal to him,
and to all who would rather struggle with difficult questions than
accept facile answers.
The reflections are the philosophical and theological musings of
an anonymous author who bequeathed his manuscripts to his friend
Dougall Smith. Smith edited and published them in the hope that
others would "be able to complete what my friend has
The author remained a practising Anglican all his life, but
wrestled honestly and intelligently with the fundamentals of
Christian faith. His starting-point is spiritual experience. "I
would not advise a person who doubts dogmas but thinks that the
spiritual life may be a serious option to read books on
metaphysics, or to study the supposed proofs of God's existence,
but to pray or meditate with an open heart, and see what
He recommends detachment, disciplined quietness, listening, and
attention to the thoughts and ideas that arise by themselves and
are not merely "the devices and desires of our own hearts". Pray
first and theologise later is always good advice.
He grapples inconclusively with the concepts of God, the soul,
evil, truth, and compassion. And with the doctrines of hell, the
fall, sin, and redemption, referring often to non-Christian
understandings, not least the Zen Master, Bankei, and the unborn
Buddha mind. A central question is whether spiritual experience is
anything more than an aspect of the human mind.
Unfinished and tentative as these writings are, we must be
grateful to Dougall Smith for deciding to publish them. They are a
work in progress, a stimulation, a goad, and a challenge to readers
to continue the conversation.
Treasured and Transformed by Daniel O'Leary, a priest
in the RC diocese of Leeds well-known for his writings and talks,
is much less cerebral, but in its own way is an equally challenging
book. It is in two parts. Part One (Vision for the Heart)
is a compilation of 26 articles most of which have been published
in The Tablet. Part Two (Understanding for the
Mind) contains eight extracts rewritten from earlier books,
and some new material.
O'Leary dedicates the book to "you who carry the seeds of a new
beginning in your hearts . . . for yourself, for the Church, and
for the world". Each short reflection, about three pages long,
skilfully stimulates "the sacramental imagination" to disclose the
deeper reality, a vision of the incarnate beauty, that we so often
fail to notice within and around us. Peppered with memorable
anecdotes, illustrations, and quotations, these enjoyable
reflections offer many wise insights.
This is a book packed with good incarnational pastoral theology,
one to be kept handy for dipping into, or perhaps for spiritual
reading in personal or group prayer.
Canon Duncan was Founding Principal of Sarum