THERE is a long tradition of publishing letters sent to a community or individuals and finding in them something that speaks to others, something that leads to a deepening of spirituality. The epistles of Sts Paul, Peter, James, Titus, and John form the core of much of our understanding of what it means to be a Christian, of what it means to live as a Christian community in the present moment, dealing with the issues of the day, being the person and the people God has called us to be.
Richard Carter’s latest book is a collection of letters written mostly by him to members of the Nazareth Community, that new expression of monasticism focused on the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields that we encountered in The City is My Monastery (Books, 28 February 2020). The missives were written between 2019 and 2023, a challenging four-year period that tested communities and individuals and, in many ways, took us back to basics in terms of our understanding of our relation to God and our neighbour.
Whether Carter is reflecting on the pandemic and lockdown, the outbreak of war in Ukraine, homelessness, the individuals from places around the world, often unwelcomed by many, but always warmly welcomed at St Martin’s, the death of the late Queen, or the political turmoil that has engulfed our nation in the past 12 months, he takes us to the heart of the matter. For him, this is most often a response in prayer.
As with the essential nature of Ignatian spirituality — finding God in all things — Carter has the ability and the insight to do just that, and to take us with him on the journey. These letters take us to his traumatic experience as a member of the Melanesian Brotherhood on the Solomon Islands, when seven of his brethren were martyred (Faith, 13 October), to walks in St James’s Park in London, and to trying to find a clean and free beach in Tiberias from which to swim in the Sea of Galilee. In each experience, the author finds God.
In his epilogue, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams describes the book as “a gem”. It is. As with other gems, you can take time with the book, looking at different facets at different times. It is to be dipped into and revisited, and, I think, would be a fantastic resource for a prayer group to read, and to use as the basis for reflection and thence to lead its members into prayer.
Just as with the Pauline epistles, returning to them week after week as we do, Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son as a source of continuing wisdom, or even those personal letters that we have kept and re-read at significant moments, these “letters from Nazareth” bring us home to ourselves and home to God.
The Very Revd Andrew Nunn is a former Dean of Southwark.
Letters from Nazareth: A contemplative journey home
Canterbury Press £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.99