Encouragement in reflection

by
05 June 2015

Anne Spalding reads varying approaches to biblical material

Bread of Angels: Feeding on the Word
Barbara Brown Taylor
Canterbury Press £12.99
(978-1-84825-781-8)
Church Times Bookshop special price £10.99

 

Hidden in Christ: Living as God's beloved
James Bryan Smith
Hodder £8.99
(978-0-340-99608-9)
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

 

BOTH these books invite the reader to engage with scripture. They have short chapters to inform and challenge, and each would take about a month to read, taking one chapter a day. But the approach taken to stimulate us is very different in each volume.

James Bryan Smith seeks to explain truths to us. He has learned by heart Colossians 3.1-17, which, he tells us, changed his life. In each chapter, he takes a word from this passage and explains it before giving us something relevant to do ("Living into the Truth"), something to grasp or remind ourselves of ("Affirmation"), a "Prayer", and a question to ask ourselves ("Reflection"). There is a Group Study Guide at the back for studying the themes in five sessions.

I found insights worth pondering, such as "Desires are not bad. It is only when we try to fill a void that desires destroy us." But I was disheartened by the emphasis on the individual and the individual's response. Not until chapter 20 ("Beloved") was there a sense that God might be active in this process; but here, again, the prayer provided was "Help me to . . ." rather than, perhaps, "Here I am . . ." or "Show me . . .".

Also, only single examples in the final chapters showed that living out these truths might not be straightforward; that questions might not have black-and-white answers; and that other people might play an important part. I missed a wider context in Hidden in Christ, which seems aimed for individuals in a Christian context.

In contrast, Brown Taylor draws examples from the wider world and from her imagination, connecting these with biblical scholarship. Each chapter in Bread of Angels is based on one to three verses of sripture. Taylor then informs and challenges us through stories, explicitly leaving us to make up our own minds on interpretation and response.

Some stories, such as "God's Daring Plan", on the angels and shepherds (Luke 2.8-9), encourage us to look again at familiar words. Others deal with harder issues, such as wielding power ("The Trickle-Up Effect"), the cost of discipleship, or "Owning our Own Shadow".

I welcomed the sense that this was written for "us" and not solely for "me". In fact, Bread of Angels originated as sermons when Brown Taylor was a parish minister (and a few have dated examples as a result). More specifically, there are chapters on being the Body of Christ ("Deep in Christ's Bones" and "Chickens and Foxes"): their inclusion encourages me to use Bread of Angels in a group setting.

For me, the stories made the issues memorable, and the open-ended approach encouraged me to revisit the texts and their implications.

 

Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.

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