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Longing for God

06 March 2015

Bruce Duncan reads about seeking him in stillness

Fully Alive: The transforming power of prayer
John Main
Laurence Freeman, editor Canterbury Press £9.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £8 (Use code CT656 )

God Where Are You?
Enzo Bianchi
SPCK £9.99 (978-0-281-06959-0)
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT656 )

THESE two books have a shared theme: the desire and search for God. Fully Alive is a collection of edited talks by the late John Main on the practice of Christian meditation, by which we learn to be present to God. In God Where Are You?, Enzo Bianchi explores, with a delightful freshness and profundity, some encounters between Old Testament characters and God.

Main's vision was to make the contemplative prayer of the desert tradition of early Christianity available to everyone. He founded the first Christian Meditation Centre in London in 1975, now the World Community for Christian Meditation. It has become "a monastery without walls" for people from all walks of life and all ages, meeting in weekly groups in more than 100 countries.

Fully Alive brings together 24 introductory talks by Main to such weekly groups. Laurence Freeman, the editor, a Benedictine monk, describes these talks as "a demanding yet realistic call to see meditation as a spiritual discipline (twice a day) and asceticism for the 21st century". They address humanity's heart-longing for God, emphasising the need to learn selfless attention, to know that we are anchored in God, and to enjoy an awareness of God through daily meditation.

The talks are inevitably somewhat repetitive, and a prescriptive tone creeps in, so that repeatedly we are told that we must meditate for at least 20 minutes twice daily, and must gently repeat a word, a mantra, throughout the meditation.

Enzo Bianchi's God, Where Are You? reflects on encounters between God and familiar OT characters: Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Elijah, and Isaiah. This is not Sunday-school stuff; nor is it heavy academic theology. It offers a fascinating biblical exploration of God's presence and absence, of God's self-revelation, of God's glory or Shekhinah, of the place where God is. "Place", maqom, is one of the names for God in Judaism. Bianchi concludes that the God we are searching for comes to dwell in the womb of Mary as Jesus, the Shekhinah in the flesh. Through Jesus, God "takes up his dwelling in every Christian and, together, in the community of believers, the body of Christ, the temple of God".

Bianchi is founder and prior of the Monastero di Bose in Italy, an ecumenical community of men and women, and a prime example of the "new monasticism" movement. In his foreword, Rowan Williams describes Bose as a community "in which the corporate study of scripture is central; those who have experienced biblical reflection in the community at Bose will know what an extraordinary experience it is, an opening of unimagined depths in the text." These essays give a taste of that experience, and provide fresh insights into familiar Bible stories.

Canon Bruce Duncan was the founding Principal of Sarum College.

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