CHRISTINE BARNABAS’s book is subtitled A fresh look at an ancient calling. She looks through the lens of new monasticism and Celtic spirituality to enable an individual to achieve a commitment to celibacy outside of joining a community or the priesthood.
Barnabas first looks at the biblical teaching on singleness and celibacy and argues for it as a valid alternative to marriage: not necessarily holier, but an equal calling. Consecrated celibacy is vowing your life, out of love of Christ and for the sake of the Kingdom of God, without any other primary relationship with another person. The author looks carefully and thoroughly at a process of discernment with a spiritual director or soul-friend. If one has some sense of a calling to this, or just an interest in the subject, the first half of this book would be an excellent, practical guide.
Even if you have no interest whatsoever in this calling, the middle chapter, “Sexuality and Celibacy”, has profound insights for any person who wants to hold together spirituality and their sexuality. To make sense of one of these, you have to explore the other. The author makes an extensive argument for the connection of sexuality and spirituality. Beyond just genital sexuality, Barnabas looks at the positive range of body, touch, and pleasure, and the hurts from upbringing, abuse, broken relationships, and shame. She sees the body as a sacred threshold.
Whether you are a celibate or not, you have to learn intimacy with the body and intimacy with the Divine.
The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is Archdeacon Emeritus of Hackney, in east London.
Consecrated Celibacy: A fresh look at an ancient calling
Sacristy Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49