IN THIS collection of reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, Nicola Slee offers interpretations in both prose and poetry. As Director of Research at the Queen’s Foundation, in Birmingham, and Professor of Feminist Practical Theology at the Vrije Universiteit, in Amsterdam, she brings both a wealth of experience and solid academic credentials to her task of writing improvisations on this most familiar of prayers.
She presents a verse-by-verse commentary followed by poems, litanies, and practical exercises, reminding us, with Dominic Crossan, that this is a prayer used by all Christians, prayed in all churches on all Sundays, and yet which does not mention Christ, church, Sunday, or even the Lord. This deconstruction enables her to start with her own experience. Slee writes deliberately out of her own perception of being a daughter and acknowledges the influence of both her parents.
They formed her understanding and enable her to explore both the mixture of “profound love and care” and also “painful woundedness and wounding” that informs her reflections. The book’s title is significant, revealing her desire to engage with the intimacy of naming God as a parent. Her intention is not naïve: she does not seek to gloss over the complexity of human relations, especially those that lie at the heart of human life and procreation. Rather, she embraces the immediacy of names that both “connect and separate” us “at one and the same time”.
Many of us have not had a good experience of parenting and the author acknowledges this. The greater risk she takes, even nowadays, is that of naming God as mother as well as father. Here, her theological knowledge serves her purpose well, as she is able to integrate insights from contemporary feminism into the heart of her reflections. The result is sophisticated and informs the poetry which forms the bulk of her narrative.
Many readers will find this combination of personal reflection and of scholarship extremely helpful both in developing and deepening their own understanding of the Lord’s Prayer. The additional resource of poetry will act as a personal resource and also enable them to prepare liturgies that expose other people to her ideas and teaching.
With the publication of insightful books such as this, feminism becomes mainstream.
Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.
Abba Amma: Improvisations on the Lord’s Prayer
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop special price £10.39