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Less trodden ways

18 November 2016

Dominic Walker on a study of some very different spiritualities

Taboo or To Do? Is Christianity complementary with yoga, martial arts, Hallowe’en, mindfulness and other alternative practices?
Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson
DLT £12.99 (978-0-232-53253-1)
Church Times Bookshop £11.90



THE lengthy sub-title of this book explains its purpose. The “other alternative practices” that the authors examine include aromatherapy, Reiki, acupuncture, crystals, reflexology, transcendental meditation, angels and spirit guides, astrology, tarot, numerology, and Christian services for the blessing of pets!

The authors are Australian Protestant theologians who co-founded the Community of Hope that takes part in Mind, Body and Spirit festivals in an attempt to provide a Christian presence at such events, and to build bridges between the Church and the “spiritual but not religious”.

Each chapter examines the background to a practice, and how it relates to the Christian faith, before suggesting contact points that Christians may use to learn more about them. The book provides case studies, and suggestions about engaging with alternative practitioners. There are biblical reflections and questions for group discussions, so this is book could be used by house groups wanting to explore other areas of spirituality; and help churches considering requests to allow their premises to be used, for instance, for yoga, mindfulness, and meditation classes.

Some Anglicans may be surprised to find a chapter concerning services for the blessing of animals, which the authors claim some Christians find controversial. The chapter about meditation makes no mention of the teachings of William Messenger, Thomas Keating, John Main, and Basil Pennington, although these responded to Westerners who were looking at other religions in order to learn contemplative prayer. The chapter on aromatherapy gives an historic account of the therapeutic use of sacred oils, but the sacramental use of perfumed chrism today is ignored. These, however, are minor criticisms of a useful and balanced study.

The authors quote the three traditional Christian responses to other spiritualities — rejection, qualified acceptance, and apologetic engagement: their own approach is the latter. They state, “A good incarnational conversation will look for positive points to build a constructive way forward that does not compromise nor insist on demonising everything that seems ‘alien’”. This approach is commendable, as it enables Christians to engage, question, learn, and share their own beliefs.


The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS is a former Bishop of Monmouth

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