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Sleepers Wake by Nicholas Holtam: The Archbishop of York’s Advent Book 2022 

28 October 2022

David Atkinson looks at Advent reading with an archbishop’s imprimatur

THESE fine and pertinent meditations on Christian spirituality from the former lead bishop on the environment weave the Advent themes of expectancy, judgement, and hope into the serious urgency of our environmental crisis.

Nicholas Holtam, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields before becoming Bishop of Salisbury, offers daily meditations for the four “weeks” of Advent, the last week primarily focused on the lead up to Christmas. His accessible, personal style, which draws on his wide experiences of ministry, has produced a great resource to deepen personal spirituality and church life.

More than 30 years ago, Margaret Thatcher’s speech to the UN warned of the damage that we are causing to our environment through pollution and greenhouse gases. Some positive changes have happened since, but not enough nor nearly fast enough. Holtam quotes Gus Speth, arguing that our environmental problems are not primarily biodiversity loss, or climate change, but “selfishness, greed, and apathy”.

It is to such spiritual issues that this series of meditations is helpfully and urgently addressed. We are “in danger of sleepwalking towards catastrophe”, and neither we, nor our churches, nor our policy-makers, are responding urgently enough. We have not cared for God’s earth; promises about climate justice have not been fulfilled; we have not learned to live sustainably together. Holtam locates all this within the Advent themes of the coming of the Lord, and of penitence, forgiveness, restoration, and hope.

There are biblical reflections, and prayers and poems (from Traherne to Rowan Williams). We are reminded of Bach’s music and are offered poignant reflections from a dozen illustrations: including Rembrandt, Constable, Monet, Gerhard Richter, and Earthrise.

Holtam knows the climate science, the economics, and the structures of governance. He points the reader to UN Reports, church work on responsible investment, the excellent A Rocha Eco Church awards, and the vastly different experiences of climate change in different part of the world. He comments on poverty and inequality. He looks at creation, love, justice, prayer, worship, our life in Christ, and more. We are made in God’s image to enjoy and serve God’s creation, our common home. There are many echoes of Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’. There is practical advice for church life and for individual lifestyles.

This is a book to use seriously, prayerfully, and determinedly during Advent. It is an urgent wake-up call to action. Sets of questions at the end of each “week” are ideal for church discussion and individual reflection.

What does the Lord require of us? What damage are we doing to God’s world? What will we say to our grandchildren, when they ask why we did so little to avert catastrophic climate change? How can we further climate justice? What can we do differently? 

Dr David Atkinson is an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Southwark.


Sleepers Wake: Getting serious about climate change: The Archbishop of York’s Advent Book 2022
Nicholas Holtam
SPCK £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.99

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