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Jesus for Life: Spiritual readings in John’s Gospel, by Richard S. Briggs

31 January 2020

Lavinia Byrne looks at an approach to scripture

TOWARDS the very end of this short book, the author Richard Briggs makes a proposal: that his readers read Sandra Schneider’s 2013 study Written That You May Believe. He had found the insights of a Roman Catholic scholar and religious Sister steeped in the Ignatian tradition to be an inspiration. Briggs, meanwhile, comes from a different stable. As Director of Biblical Studies at Cranmer Hall, Durham, he writes for his own: students who are well-versed in the intricacies of scholarship, but now seek “a word of life” from their reading of the Bible.

The texts that he comments on come from John’s Gospel. His method is a kind of informed reading, combining learning with a jaunty style and examples that must make him an attractive teacher. In effect, he models the activity that he seeks to describe: namely, an intelligent reading of biblical texts. All this is a long way away from the lectio divina that informs the Benedictine way, or the imaginative contemplation envisaged by Ignatius.

No wonder Schneider piqued his curiosity. A book that aspires to advance the spiritual life of its readers should surely contain a few simple instructions, an element of “how to”? For instance, how slowly to read or linger. How to let questions emerge inspired by the Gospel text. Whether to read aloud or in silence. Whether to breath more slowly or make use of the breath. Spiritual reading is a whole-person activity, and all the more rewarding for that.

Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.

Jesus for Life: Spiritual readings in John’s Gospel
Richard S. Briggs
Cascade Books £14

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