*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***
Important information: We are currently experiencing technical issues with the webiste and it is currently running with reduced functionality, some category pages may not contain a full list of articles and the search is not currently working. We apologise for the inconvenience and should have everything back to normal as soon as possible.

Spiritual recovery

by
04 November 2016

Ted Harrison on the pilgrimage of a medic struggling with prayer

The Journey: Spirituality, pilgrimage and chant

J. Richard Smith

DLT £9.99

(978-0-232-53232-6)

Church Times Bookshop £9

 

”PHYSICIAN, heal thyself,” the proverb quoted by Jesus in St Luke’s Gospel, came to mind as I read The Journey by Richard Smith, an eminent gynaecological surgeon.

After a divorce and illness, which he describes as a seriously mind-focusing experience, he writes of discovering a spiritual life to com­ple­ment his practice of scientific medicine.

The teenager, who drifted away from the Church of Scotland, redis­covered faith as an adult within the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

The book is based on accounts of pilgrimage to four of the most evocative destinations in Christen­dom: the Holy Land, Assisi, Patmos, and Iona. He admits to travelling like a typical Brit abroad. He laughed along with two Patmos youths, amused by the sight of him hiking past with walking poles, back­­pack, and striped scarf wrapped over his head.

At most of the pilgrimage sites he visited, he found himself attuned to their sacredness. Even in the throng­­ing crowds of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem, he knew he was, to use a Celtic term, in a “thin place . . . where he sensed God very strongly”.

Only in Bethlehem did he fail to discover holiness. The oppressive security and obvious poverty made him uncomfortable. On a rushed visit, he admits to being tourist rather than pilgrim, “in the wrong frame of mind” to appreciate Jesus’s birthplace.

Smith enjoys elaborate high-church liturgies, and yet the scientist inside him has struggled with prayer. The discovery of Christian meditation through chanting released his inhibitions. He provides fascinating insights into a new medical understanding of the effects of meditation, acknowledging how the heart literally, and not just metaphorically, contributes to our emotions.

In a revealing story, Smith describes addressing a patients’ meet­ing. After his medical talk, he said he would like to speak about spirit­uality and religion. “The response was amazing. One woman shouted ‘this is what we want to talk about.’”

Medical staff fear for their liveli­hoods if they discuss matters of the spirit with patients, but in not doing so we let many people down, he concludes. This is a book highly recom­mended to be read by atheists.

 

Ted Harrison is a former BBC religious-affairs correspondent.

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

29 September 2020
Festival of Preaching
A one-day online version of our popular preaching festival. With Mark Oakley, Sam Wells and Anna Carter Florence.   Book tickets

 

19 October 2020
Creativity out of crisis: Hymns and worship webinar
In association with RSCM, this online event will explore creative uses music and liturgy in the context online and socially distanced worship.    Book tickets

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)