by David Greenwood
from Signs of the Times No. 68 - Jan 2018

This book achieves its objective of being, on the one hand, a self-help guide to gaining a sense of spiritual well-being and, on the other, a guide to Christian ministers wishing to improve their communication skills.

The guide is written from the Christian perspective and is very firmly embedded in the Biblical tradition, with an anthropomorphic approach assumed. The author is an Anglican priest working in New Zealand, involved in the training of spiritual directors and, as a Canon of Taranaki Cathedral, she leads workshops on spirituality and ageing.  For those involved with parish life and mission action planning, this book could make a huge contribution.

The first part is a resource for those who wish to achieve spiritual growth. It emphasises the need to listen - to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, to others and to ourselves. That listening can occur anywhere but perhaps is more likely in interaction with the natural world, a country walk, sitting in a garden - it is necessary to stop from time to time and

let some aspect of the creation become for you a messenger of God.

The Bible is introduced as the second source of instruction for those intending to become disciples with the importance of using Scripture as a resource for prayer - highlighting in particular the method developed by St. Ignatius.

Silence is introduced as the third and essential form of engaging with the Holy Spirit. These three themes are then developed with much practical advice, gained from the author’s many years of spiritual development.

The second part of the book draws on the writer’s work in training spiritual directors. Here the use of telling stories is suggested as means of building relationships with one’s communities or indeed with individuals, with the stress always being on prayer. There is a long chapter on spiritual conversation, dealing with vocation, life’s meaning and purpose, suffering, prayer, apologetics and ‘ways of being church’.  As is emphasised,

because God’s loving embrace includes all people and the whole of life, then any conversation that opens up the deep-down things of a person’s life can be considered spiritual.

This part of the book concludes with a reiteration of the need to listen very carefully to people and especially to the Holy Spirit.

While I acknowledge that this book will be a very useful resource to all Christian ministers, my criticism is that the agenda is too constrained. Although there is discussion of the possibility of communities expressing their spirituality through the production of a painting or performing with a musical instrument, there does not seem to be a recognition that a spiritual experience can be felt by the viewing of a great painting and not necessarily one with a Biblical theme, or by listening to a great piece of music - perhaps a symphony or concerto and not necessarily one with a Biblical basis such as an oratorio.

The author mentions the Alister Hardy Trust’s collection of religious and spiritual experiences but does not develop the thesis that many of those experiences will be from those with non-Christian or indeed any faith. Unsurprisingly in a book which is emphatically Christian, there is no mention of, for example, Buddhist meditation - which I know has proved very helpful to some Christians. These criticisms apart, this will I am sure prove a very useful resource for both ministers and members of their congregations.

David Greenwood’s doctoral research was concerned with the way artists have portrayed the numinous. He is a Trustee of the Alister Hardy Trust and a Reader in the Diocese of Hereford.