Reasons for getting out of bed

by
16 December 2016

Naomi Starkey reviews two books on listening as precursor to action

Listening to Your Life: 30 ways to discern direction for your future
Julia Mourant
Canterbury Press £12.99
(978-1-84825-878-5)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

 

Listening to God: Fuel for ministry?
John Draper
Circle Books £7.99
(978-1-78535-448-9)
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

 

“WHAT on earth am I here for?” The opening sentence of Listening to Your Life is wonderfully attention-grabbing — and this excellent book goes on to provide a series of creative exercises to begin to answer that initial question.

Julia Mourant describes vocation as “what calls you, draws you, compels and inspires you as the reason to get out of bed in the morning and keep breathing . . . the fullness of becoming all that is already God-given within us.” While writing from within the Christian tradition, her intention is to reach as wide an audience as possible, anyone who wants to use a contemplative, intuitive approach to reflect on what vocation means for them.

The opening chapters on “how to” were explanatory enough for me, for one, to feel inspired to try out the material with a small group. The author spells out the principles behind using creativity to aid reflection — something that I had not come across before. For example, using A2 paper and a nice selection of felt-tip pens for an exercise (while being careful not to let the pens bleed through on to the carpet) is no gimmick, but a way of slowing down and expanding the horizons of thought. This is less likely, apparently, if you’re scribbling cryptic responses on the back of an envelope.

The outstanding aspect of this book (compared to many similar titles) is its challenge to engagement: don’t just read the reflections like a recipe book, but use them. Remember that you’re not doing deep therapy. Make sure you don’t create such a “safe space” for your group that God can’t break in to surprise, call or reassure. Hold back from over-fast processing of what you have learned, even if you are struggling to understand, because: “There is a moment for God to speak in the dark, and in those starlight hours we wait in joyful and silent hope, offering not even our ‘yes’ but perhaps only ‘here I am’.”

For those with interest in but little knowledge of contemplative spirituality and its historic context, Listening to God could provide a helpful introduction. As a parish priest and Benedictine oblate, the author’s stated intention is to “return to the base values of vocation… to pray and intercede for others as we listen to God through careful reading of scripture.” Such a return, focusing in particular on the discipline of Lectio Divina, can lead not only to personal transformation but a reinvigorated ministry.

Drawing on authorities and practitioners ranging from St Augustine to Contemplative Fire, a “new monastic” dispersed community, the approach is not so much “how to” as “who has said what”. While some of the other books cited could be helpful next steps, each chapter could have been usefully concluded with a few simple questions for reflection.

It was good to see Quakerism included as part of the discussion, a reminder that the Puritan spiritual tradition should not be overlooked as the popularity continues unabated of exploring of all that pertains to the Rule of St Benedict.

 

The Revd Naomi Starkey is Assistant Curate in the Ministry Area of Bro Enlli on the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales.

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