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Strange eventful history

19 February 2016

Jenny Francis reflects on a vision of spiritual growth through stages


Much Ado About Something: A vision of Christian maturity
Larry Culliford
SPCK £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70


AS A newly qualified psychiatrist, Larry Culliford soon discovered that there was little in the professional literature which acknowledged a Christian or spiritual dimension. He began writing to redress the balance, introducing an academically rigorous spiritual dimension from a Christian perspective. In this widely acclaimed book, he advances his arguments further, using evidence from recent research in neuroscience and developmental psychology.

He insists we start by understanding the way we use our brains, the difference between dualist and holistic thought, and he defers to Richard Rohr’s writings, which have influenced him greatly. Culliford’s desire is to help readers to explore (Christian) spirituality from a fresh, holistic viewpoint, using their personal experiences as they travel towards spiritual maturity.

He begins with Rohr’s “arc of life”, in which the first part of life is spent creating order through education, finding job, partner, and home, and perhaps starting a family, while the second is the descent into contentment, “going with the flow”, and being less preoccupied with the search for power, wealth, and success. Culliford goes on to describe childhood and adolescent spirituality (indicating the impoverishment that results for children from their not having a vocabulary to describe their spiritual experiences) before outlining the turning-point that comes with the accumulation of personal experiences in adulthood.

One of his main tenets is the importance of our response to trauma and the way we can grow through it. Surviving something major can alter our perspective on life permanently; we appreciate being loved, goalposts shift, and never again need we feel the same pressure to conform.

Many laudatory quotes from erudite academics are instantly visible to the reader picking up this book. It is certainly an unusual, helpful, and imaginative examination of our spiritual growth through the customary changes and chances of life. Culliford himself was pleased with the positive response he received, and hopes that his work will appeal to people from other faiths or none, helping them to engage with his ideas and encouraging them on their own spiritual journeys. He ends with an “Afterword — My Spiritual Journey”.

It is a fascinating book, but it is not easy to read, and I fear that some Christians may feel uncomfortable and on alien territory, despite the strength and validity of the argument.


The Revd Jenny Francis is a retired psychotherapist and a priest in the diocese of Exeter.

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