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Touching distance

27 June 2014

God is near in these stories, Rosemary Lain-Priestley says

God In Our Midst: Gospel stories and reflections
Trevor Dennis
SPCK £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT522 )

GOD IN OUR MIDST  is a collection of poetry and prose inspired by scriptural material. The pieces are underpinned by biblical scholarship, so that, while the author's imagination flies, his insights are deeply embedded in the historical context of the original stories.

Dennis is remarkably skilled in moving between biblical and contemporary settings. In one piece, Archbishop Tutu and St Mark join hands. In another, the unrest of first-century Jerusalem elides with contemporary conflicts, as outside the Temple we hear the "beat of the helicopter" and "wail of the ambulance". The effect is to evoke fresh and sometimes surprising connections between the scriptural stories and our own.

The book is full of pregnant and pointed turns of phrase. We read of "the piercing beauty of a wounded God" and of events that "revealthe kernel of God's new day". As Simeon finally encounters the in-fant Jesus, we are told: "The old man has not been waiting all this time/for such a small Messiah." The human tendency to avoid our own darkness is sharply focused in the lines "The last thing I want is the truth. I prefer to see what is wrong with you."

The women in this collection have strong and distinctive voices as the author consciously and powerfully draws out their wisdom from between and within the lines of the biblical texts. The relationship between God and humanity is explored with searing honesty in a piece, from Sarah's perspective, on the binding of Isaac.

The final section is made up of pieces written for "special occasions", and I do wonder whether it might have formed the basis fora separate book rather than being tacked on to the more strongly themed chapters that precede it.

There is, however, a thread that runs through the entire collection from start to finish. Dennis consistently points us to the intimacy of the divine, to a God whom we can "find within touching distance". Time and again in this book, he leads us to do just that.

The Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestleyis Dean of Women's Ministry in central London.

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