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God in all things

20 February 2015

Martin Warner on the spiritual wisdom of a priest who pays close attention to Jesus


Cry of Wonder
Gerard W. Hughes
Bloomsbury £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

GERARD HUGHES, a Jesuit priest and ecumenist, belongs to a remark-able flowering of spiritual wisdom in Britain during the second part of the 20th century. He stands alongside Michael Mayne and Eric James in the Church of England, together with Anthony Bloom and J. Neville Ward from Orthodox and Methodist traditions.

We are enriched by publication of the writing of such people, sages and prophets in their different ways. Each is grounded in learning and human experience, and each articulates a tenaciously held Christian faith.

Hughes is, perhaps, best known for God of Surprises, published in 1985 as an account of his own formation in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola, and of how, over time, that discipline enabled him to be more fully alive. It is remarkable that a lifelong pilgrimage began with profound restlessness under the yoke of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, and kept him searching for the God who always exceeded his expectations.

Cry of Wonder is part spiritual autobiography, part manifesto for a renewed and reformed Roman Catholic Church. Some of the material here will be familiar to those who have enjoyed Hughes's previous books. The chapters are generally fairly short, and they conclude, in Ignatian style, with an exercise for the individual reader to undertake, by way of reflection.

As with any large collection of material, it is not always easy to follow the threads of an overall theme or argument. In this collection, Hughes arranges his 22 chapters under three headings: unity, peace, and holiness.

The section on unity is the longest. It reads as the struggle for unity of purpose and identity which Hughes was seeking in his own life as a Christian. The rigidity of his Jesuit formation, and his immersion in the classical languages of Greek and Latin, mark his writing style. But in the revisiting of his experiences as a teacher, chaplain, and spiritual guide, a quest for coherence and beauty in God's creation is also clearly heard.

The shorter sections on peace and holiness continue in a similar vein. One senses that by this stage the battleground for self-understanding has been marked out as an arena in which surprise and disappointment become familiar encounters.

What I value most about this book is its very Jesuit character. It calls for an unflinching attention to Jesus Christ, who makes possible the "putting together [of] our disconnected selves, torn apart by our conflicting desires, which do violence to ourselves and to those around us".

As a result, Hughes is, refreshingly, not much interested in the edifice of the Church as an institution, except in so far as it provokes and sustains in us the delight of finding God in all things.

Dr Martin Warner is the Bishop of Chichester.

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