THE Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge, Canon Mark Oakley, was awarded the 2019 Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing at the Greenbelt Festival on Sunday.
The award was given for his book The Splash of Words: Believing in poetry, published by Canterbury Press (Books, 25 November 2016).
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who chaired the judging panel, was at Greenbelt to give Canon Oakley the award and a cheque for £10,000. The other five shortlisted authors each received £1000.
Archbishop Welby said: “Mark Oakley’s work shines with an infectious love for poetry and for theology. Written with power and subtlety, Mark shows us how poetry can change our whole view of the world. He sees poetry not just as a tool for expressing faith but as a way of understanding: God is in the world as poetry is in a poem.
“I’m grateful to have had the chance to read six varied books as part of the Michael Ramsey Prize shortlist. The Splash of Words will bring alive poetry to anyone who reads it and shows us how vital poetry is for all Christians — rather than just an élite activity. Reading poetry alone and together will help us grown in faith, hope, and love.”
Canon Oakley, who is a frequent contributor to the Church Times, said on Tuesday: “Stanley Hauerwas reminds us that ‘Best’ is not a theological category, and, having read the other nominated authors, I know he’s right. I’m just very grateful that the judges found something of worth in a subject that feels so important to me — the native language of poetry to the person of faith.
“It’s been said that we ought to like poetry the same way that children like snow — it helps us reimagine our world, its excitement and its ice help us see our own human breath and dare us to distil. For me, poetry is a spiritual exercise.”
The Prize, which is now awarded every three years, was set up in 2005 by Archbishop Rowan Williams to encourage promising contemporary theological writing and to disseminate it to a wider readership. It is sponsored by the Lambeth Trust and administered by the publisher SPCK.
The five other shortlisted authors were:
- Illia Delio, Making All Things New (Orbis)
- Keith Eyeons, The Theology of Everything: Renaissance Man joins the 21st century (Ellis and Maultby)
- Jill Harshaw, God Beyond Words: Christian theology and the spiritual experiences of people with profound intellectual disabilities (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)
- Krish Kandiah, God is Stranger (Hodder Faith)
- Rachel Mann, Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, ritual, memory and God (Darton Longman and Todd)
The 2016 Prize was awarded to Professor John Swinton for Dementia: Living in the memories of God (SCM Press). Earlier winners include Bishop Tom Wright, Luke Bretherton, and Professor Richard Bauckham.
Listen to Canon Oakley talk about The Splash of Words at the Church Times Festival of Poetry last year.