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Slow down and receive the gift

03 February 2017

Katherine Currie reads a vision of disabled people in the round


Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, timefullness, and gentle discipleship
John Swinton
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18


WHAT this book deserves, and needs, is time to read it slowly and reflectively. The disability part of the title refers to those with learning disabilities, with dementia, and with acquired neurological damage.

Having a disability, I was pleased to find the author citing the theologian Nancy Eiesland, who feels that “. . . it is vitally important that her disability remains with her in her resurrection body. Healing would make herself a stranger to herself and to others.”

The author’s approach is immensely practical, presumably based on his years working both as a Registered Mental Nurse and as a nurse for people with learning disabilities.

I wished that the author, now a Church of Scotland minister and theologian, had remained within the nursing profession. There are many dedicated and imaginative nurses, but Swinton’s ability to see the person, not the case history, and to perceive him or her as being of infinite value and beloved by God cannot be repeated and re-presented too often to a society that, he feels, finds it hard to perceive the worth of lives that cannot by ratified by the values of a time-keeping, industrialised society, and that esteems people for what they can do rather than for themselves alone. To have someone who shares Jean Vanier’s vision within the nursing profession would be a force for good.

Swinton’s two chapters on dementia were for me the most moving and the most helpful, as I see my mother’s and old friends’ memories begin to fail, and swirl into confusion with time and history. He suggests that, rather than describe dementia as something that “destroys memory”, “steals memory”, or “kills memory”, thereby creating only fear, we should recognise that “memory has of course to do with recall, but that is not the only thing it has to do with.”

He then describes how, with what has become known as “validation therapy” (in the incident described, therapy by using a hymn), the apparently completely withdrawn person is reached, and resurrected, through the patience and perseverance of the co-worker.

There is also an interesting chapter, written with a person with acquired brain injury, which leaves this reader filled with admiration for the triumph of the human spirit.

This book, whose author won the 2016 Michael Ramsey Prize for Dementia: Living in the memories of God (SCM Press, 2012), is a plea to slow down, and give time, patience, and love to those whom society may perceive as having a disability, but who offer a transforming gift to those who persevere.


Katherine Currie is a librarian with nursing-library experience.

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