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Path to self-knowledge

06 June 2014

David Adam enjoys Learning to Dream Again by Samuel Wells

Canon Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields

Canon Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields

TEACHING is always a two-way affair: a class also teaches us.

When I was telling a dramatic Bible story to a group of juniors, an attentive child excitedly interrupted: "Am I in that story? Am I in that story?"

I nodded, and hoped to continue, but he persisted: "Am I a goody or a baddie? Where am I?"

He was so keen to know that I could not ignore him. I had to stop and help him to explore where he stood in relation to the story.

Later, I realised that this little lad had given me the most wonderful insight into Bible study. No longer could I wallow in theological theories, or spend hours arguing on dates. I had to ask: "Am I in that story? Where am I? What will I do?" I would let the Bible read me, and not assume I was always on the side of the good guys.

If we are to know God in the most intimate sense of that word, we need also to know ourselves. St Augustine prayed: "That I may know me, that I may know you." Learning to Dream Again seeks to help us in the journey of self-discovery, as well as on our jour-ney into God, as we learn to love again, live again, think again, read again, feel again, and dream again.

With the use of smartphones and personal computers, we are able to accumulate knowledge as never before. Canon Samuel Wells asks: "What is knowledge, if it is never translated into wisdom? What is experience if it is never distilled into wisdom? What is the use of technique or leadership, if there is no wisdom behind their application?" He shows us how the scriptures are full of wisdom from people who have encountered God, and this is relevant now.

Learning to Dream Again tells us that the scriptures ought to move our whole being. If we let the scriptures read us, we will discover that our God is a loving, accepting, and renewing God. To do this, we have to put not only our mind into it, but also our gut.

Wells uses "gut" in a biblical way that makes it the centre of our inner being: it is the visceral, primal realm, and is non-verbal. This is not just about feeling, but knowing, and knowing the inexpressible. This is the knowledge beyond words: it concerns our deep-down relationship with our self, with others, with the world, and with God.

The vitality of this book depends on the interplay of mind and gut. This should be a wake-up call, and make our whole being alive. Like pilgrimage, Bible-reading should be a moving experience. It should open our eyes to see God at work in the now, in us, and in the world.

Along with the mind and gut, we bring in our heart, with its emotion and its interpersonal relationships. Without the use of mind and gut, the heart is always in danger of descending into sentimentality; but, in the right place, it can be most powerful.

The fourth mode that Wells brings into play is the hand, and this stands for practical results and action. We are left asking: "What should we do?" There are many times when the right action is to be "lost in wonder, love, and praise", or to be left with the pathos of knowing that there is nothing we can to do.

Wells helps us to see that God is not an object to be studied, but a person seeking our relationship, and one to be enjoyed. When we speak of God, we need to show that we are in the heart of God. God knows us in the depth of our being, "warts and all", and he still loves us.

We often separate knowing and loving, with the rider that, if you knew me, you would not love me. But God's knowing and loving are one, and he loves us with an everlasting love. God wants to be allowed to dwell in us as we already dwell in him.

Yet we must never give the impression that we own God, or that we can produce him at will. God will not be caged in a book or in a church, and yet you can find him there.

Hope, one of Wells's main themes, is realising God's dream for us all and the world we live in. Hope is to know that God is accepting, loving, redeeming, restoring. This book is a call for us all to learn to dream God's dream: let his loving, redeeming power be given the opportunity to work, and to live God's dream.

It will mean, however, being aware of how we relate to the world, to our neighbours, and to God, and this will often challenge where we stand. It is a book about hope, which is rare in our world, and I recommend that you read it and discuss it.

Canon David Adam is a former Vicar of Holy Island, and the author of many books on the spiritual life.

Learning to Dream Again is published by Canterbury Press at £14.99 (CT Bookshop special offer £12.99); 978-1-84825-331-5.



Did reading the first chapter of the book change your view of St Paul's message to the Romans?

Do you know someone like the author's aunt? How did you feel about them before you read chapter 1, and how did you feel about them afterwards?

"There isn't anything in God that isn't relationship." Did you find the author's imagery of the Trinity helpful?

What is more important in medical ethics: care or cure?

"We find it difficult to imagine a peace that isn't desperately boring." Do you agree?

Do you think you would be strong enough to be tortured for your faith?

Were you convinced by the author's model of a Christian view of taxation?

"Justice unravels when we lose sight of who we are in relation to God." Which is more important: justice or forgiveness?

If handed a Bible, could you find the Minor Prophets in less than 30 seconds?

What do you mean when you say "Thank you"?

Do you need to learn to dream again?


IN OUR next reading-groups page, on 4 July, we will print extra information about the next book. This is Paradise by A. L. Kennedy. It is published by Vintage Books at £8.99 (CT Bookshop £8.10); 978-0-099-43349-1.

About the book

It has dawned on Hannah Luckraft that her life is not progressing terribly satisfactorily, and she feels that she has achieved little in her nearly 40 years. Her family relationships are strained, she is beginning to be troubled by dark thoughts, and her spiritual balance is in tatters. She also drinks - far too much.

Robert, a dentist, seems to offer a version of love with which Hannah can identify. Naturally, she falls in love with him. But she soon has to ask herself whether their relationship is a solution to her problems, or just another part of them.

Hannah ends up travelling between Europe and North America in search of fulfilment and happiness - whatever that may mean. She does not clean up her act, and only the reader can decide whether or not she has achieved her goal by the novel's end.

Paradise is dark and witty, and gives an insightinto a world from which we may think we are light years away - but, of course, are not.

About the author

A. L. Kennedy is a well-established and prolific writer of books and short stories. Paradise, published in 2004, is her fourth novel. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, is an Associate Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Warwick, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. A native of Dundee, in recent years she has expanded her oeuvre to include stand-up comedy, and is now a regular performer at the Edinburgh Fringe. She has also appeared regularly on television on programmes such as Newsnight Review and its successors. She is a Christian, and a supporter of the peace movement.

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