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Reflections on the heart of the psalms,
This review is from: With My Whole Heart: Reflections on the heart of the Psalms (Paperback)
Reflections on the heart of the psalms
The Rt Revd James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, has written a heartfelt and heartening book about the psalms. The word play is catching, as both title and text play on the literal and metaphorical meaning of the word `heart'. Bishop James may perhaps be forgiven for this as he was inspired to write the book during his preparation for, and recuperation from, a heart operation in June 2011. Turning for spiritual sustenance to the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer, he found references to the heart in 71 of the 150 psalms. This book contains his `musings' on these psalms.
He writes well, mostly in simple prose but at times his language soars. He had me hooked in his fifth paragraph, with
`the Book of Common Prayer, whose poetry adds fathoms to their theological depth'.
That `adds fathoms' is masterly: I knew I was in for a treat.
Not a book about the psalms
This is not, however a book about the psalms. Its scope is much more wide-ranging than that. It is a book for anyone who asks: `Tell me, how should I live?' The author offers his own ten reasons for belief in God (pp xi-xiii), all beginning with the letter `c'. He then goes on to suggest ideas for living a Christian life, our relationship with God, and our worship. In some ways, it is simply a book about prayer. I am tempted to say that the book is `deceptively simple'. It must be difficult to write such a book, if you are a bishop, without sounding preachy or patronising. That he succeeds in this is, I think, partly due to his honesty and humility in describing his fears around the heart operation. It reads like a letter from a friend. You will not need to look any words up in a dictionary, but nor do you feel he is talking down to you. It is full of (to me) new insights. One example (p.6):
The character of God feels to me at times as if it were kept under a soundproof blanket. Just as well! He shudders in indignation at the unjust desecration of his creation and at the wanton destruction of any of his creatures. Yet we do not hear it. For if God did not contain his pain and remain silent, which of us could bear to hear the roar of outrage that would deafen our universe? We often bemoan the silence of God, but perhaps it is the necessary and merciful condition of our survival in a world traumatized by evil and flawed by sin.
I think Bishop James's undoubted gifts as a communicator, both oral and written, probably explain his early career as a teacher. Schoolboys are notoriously less polite than congregations as an audience, and this experience must have honed these skills. Here is a short extract from something he said which will give you a flavour of what I mean:
Enigmas and Riddles
Like all good teachers, Bishop James raises more questions than he gives answers. The book cover itself, designed by Sarah Smith, is an enigma. Does it depict this book, which we are recommended for holiday reading on a beach? Or does it hint at that bourne from which no traveller returns, starting point and inspiration for the author's meditation on the psalms? Perhaps both, perhaps neither. You decide.
Cor ad Cor Loquitur
In 2010 the Pope took as the theme for his visit to Britain Cardinal Newman's motto, Cor ad cor loquitur (Heart shall speak unto heart). The phrase was said in the Catholic Herald to be a description of the personal relationship between God and man achieved through prayer. This is what Bishop James Jones offers us in his new book, which I highly recommend.