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Blest are the moments, doubly blest

by
19 February 2016

David Stancliffe reads very different books with a common theme

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Blessing (Faith Going Deeper)
Andrew Davison
Canterbury Press £12.99
(978-1-84825-642-2)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

 

Rediscovering the Ministry of Blessing
Russ Parker
SPCK £9.99
(978-0-281-06981-1)
Church Times Bookshop £9

 

“BLESS you!” says the complete stranger when we sneeze suddenly; and “Oh, bless!” when a nursing infant dribbles her milky dinner all over her mother’s jersey: just two reminders that the language of blessing is alive and well in the popular language of the 21st century. These two books explore the language of blessing, and how we might become people of blessing rather more, but from very different standpoints.

Andrew Davison is a pastoral theologian who provides a very readable account of the development of the multiple meanings of blessing in the Judaeo-Christian tradition; and into his 200 or so pages he packs not just a great deal of detail about the history and development of the practice, the cultural and domestic alongside the formal and liturgical, but also a continuingly unfolding theology.

This is done with a light touch, so that the reader both absorbs a considerable amount of biblical insight and gets to understand the developing pastoral practice, while, throughout, Davison pursues his ideal for understanding a life centred on blessing as a key pattern of personal and ecclesial formation.

At the heart of this ideal is grasping what a generous God is seeking to bring out of his creation. The chapter headings of the first part — Blessing in Christian Theology — move from “Creation: Recognition, Thanksgiving and Praise”, through “Vocation: Abundance and Consecration”, and chapters on Christology and sin to “Blessing and Salvation in Ministry and Mission”, “The Efficacy of Blessings”, and “Blessing, Action and the Natural Order”, ending with “Varieties of Blessing (and not Blessing)”.

This is a well-integrated and imaginatively written book that takes its reader through a process of educated reflection which leads to some sane and practical outcomes in Part 2, Blessing in the Christian Life. “A Brief History of Blessings in the Life of the Church”, “Who and What is Blessed?”, “Who Blesses?”, “How do We Bless?”, and “When Do We Bless?” are the chapter titles here.

Russ Parker’s book is softer and less cerebral. The former director of the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation, and now its international ambassador, is a widely respected practitioner in the world of prayer ministry and the healing of relationships. Key for him, and probably for many who will benefit from reading this book, are the personal stories and reminiscences of moments of revelation, change, and insight which accompany the moments of blessings as gift; there are three such accounts in the two-and-a-half pages of the introduction alone.

His book, too, is biblically based, but in a different way. The chapter headings — “Words of Blessing”, Blessings Begin at Home”, “The Aaronic Blessing Prayer”, “The Blessed State: Jesus and Beatitude Blessings” — are followed by titles that give shape to his interests: “Expecting Blessings”, “Wrestling for Blessing”, “The Father’s Blessing”, “Blessings in Battle”, “Blessing the Land”. And his book ends with two practical chapters: one on learning to pronounce blessings, and a second containing prayer texts.

Parker focuses on how the contemporary contexts are paralleled by biblical events or sayings; this gives his narrative a sense of authenticity, and roots it in his warm and highly personal experience. But you will not find much developed theology or intellectual critique here. This is a book about warm experience, and will be reassuring to those who are looking principally for that.

Davison’s book is accompanied by helpful and informative footnotes that refer the reader on to more detailed information; and his bibliography has practical resources as well as further reading. Parker’s has endnotes and no bibliography. I read Davison’s book with enlightened interest and appreciation — enjoying (and agreeing with) much of his critique of Common Worship. This is a wise and helpful book, and everyone should read it.

I fear that I cannot feel the same about Parker’s. There is too much of the emotive sob-story in place of persuasive argument and the deep and thoughtful biblical basis that I would need to interest me. I found it difficult to read, not because the language is complex or the narrative turgid, but simply because it was too saccharine, and made me feel almost queasy.

For me, it was very good to read the two side by side, as it pointed up the differences in approach so sharply. Although I am sure that Parker’s book will be devoured by those who like that kind of thing, my hope is that many more will read and study Davison’s, not only because of the wealth of detail and pastoral good sense that he displays, but also because just reading his Blessing is itself an act of formation: I hope that readers will become what they read.

 

The Rt Revd Dr David Stancliffe is a former Bishop of Salisbury.

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