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In praise of a spiritual guide

by
11 November 2016

Philip Welsh finds this tribute to Martin Israel warm but ungrounded

 

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Meeting Evil with Mercy: An Anglican priest’s bold answer to atrocity: Reflections upon the ministry of Martin Israel
Philip Pegler
Christian Alternative £11.99
(978-1-78535-306-2)
Church Times Bookshop £10.80

 

DOCTOR, priest, healer, retreat conductor, psychic, exorcist, mystic, and prolific author — Martin Israel was widely known in the 1970s and ’80s. After a lonely childhood in South Africa (and, he revealed late in life, sexual abuse by his father), he came to England to complete his medical training and pursue what became a distinguished career as a pathologist.

Born into a Jewish family, he became an Anglican, was ordained (without formal training), and served as parish priest in central London. Profoundly shy and severely depressive, he was greatly valued as a spiritual guide. His outlook extended to the paranormal, angelology, and reincarnation.

Philip Pegler’s book is not a biography, as the blurb suggests, but the author’s reflections on Israel’s teaching, with brief information about his life and ample quotation from his writing (though without references).

This is outlined very much in relation to Pegler’s own spiritual journey, which involved a privileged and sheltered English upbringing; detachment from Christianity, greatly influenced by a prolonged visit to India and a commitment to Eastern spirituality; a severe breakdown back in England; and an introduction to Israel through his writing and personal ministry, leading to personal healing and a rediscovered sympathy with the Christian faith.

His standpoint in writing is very much that of a disciple extolling his guru, and the book has a consistent tone of uncritical and rather cloying hero-worship, together with a distinctly ponderous style. It also becomes noticeable that his recurrent reference-point for the magnitude of evil in the world is religious fundamentalism, and that what he has in mind is Islamic extremism.

His description of the spiritual path is full of resonant and somewhat absolute generalisations that seldom seem to touch the ground or involve other people.

Those already acquainted with Israel’s work will find little additional illumination here, and it may be optimistic to expect this volume — produced by a publishing house “largely run by authors themselves” — to inspire the uninitiated. It should be said, however, that Bishop Michael Marshall contributes an enthusiastic foreword, though intriguingly promoted on the back cover to “Assistant Bishop of London”.

 

The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London.

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