Dazzling Darkness Paperback – 29 Oct 2012
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About the Author
Rachel Mann is an Anglican parish priest and writer. She is Resident Poet at Manchester Cathedral and her work has been widely published in magazines, anthologies and newsprint.
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What else, indeed, is the basic purpose of God's primordial kenosis, or self-emptying in the Incarnation, if not to invite a similar response from us: our being emptied of the all too easy, earthbound identities that the world confers on us from birth?
Rachel starts by saying this is not the story that she particularly wanted to tell about herself, but that is what she feels she has to offer... and it's a story of meeting God in the Dark places - where failure, loss and brokenness are.
Trained as a secular philosopher, teaching in academia, Rachel started a journey to find 'her true self' - with Thomas Merton suggestion that we can give no greater glory to God than being ourselves - and only God can hold us in our incompleteness - as we lose the selves we think we are and find the one that we truly are...
Alongside the big stories of gender change, identifying sexuality, and long term chronic illness, we hear how faith has grown and woven throughout life, even when it was pushed from life, but just how disruptive the choice to become a Christian was as control was lost, the need to pray by 'being' rather than 'doing', and a deepening relationship with God - past the 'first flush of love'. There's the challenge of finding a church, especially one that is made up of broken humans, and the rules that so many of us have put around the abundant, unconditional welcome that God gives - a death to self rather than the common call for correct behaviour. There is also comment on how the church has identified a particular style for God - which is often limiting, but so normative, they go unchallenged. On p78 - Rachel deals with the enculturation of academia - which trains one into a particular style, rather than an encouragement to find one's own true voice - not something that happens immediately. There's also discussion of the importance of embodied selves, and how the church has sought to regulate and manage this - as though aware of the dangerous pleasures available through our embodied selves! On p96, we look at the notion of 'abundant living' as promised by God, that so many Christians seem unwilling to to grasp (often confusing it with hedonistic living). Chapter 8 made me laugh - having spent 3 years working with vicars in training at Cranmer Hall - the notion that anyone who wants to be a priest is a pillock had to be shared - long hours, little head space, low pay ... hence a vocation... but also a vocation which requires a 'yes' from those who are called - and that yes is as important as the calling. The notion of 'The Other' is tackled, and also the question of suffering - how are we a people of hope in situations that not only appear helpless, but are?
Even if you don't agree with what Rachel says, there's plenty there to challenge our comfortable Christians lives.
Rachel Mann writes honestly and openly about her struggles with identity, sexuality and illness. The content to some may be controversial, but it is not a book that seeks to provoke. It is simply a brutally open account of a very painful personal journey, and an exploration of where God is in the darkness. It challenges us all to visit those places within us we least like or seek to avoid becase it makes us uncomfortable or causes pain. It challenges us to be brave enough to be honest about who we are and lay that before God, a challenge made all the more potent due to the writer's own deep exploration that is laid out in the book.
As I've said, I do find reading books containing theology difficult to plough through at times, but found this book very readable and would highly recommend it.
Of what happens when life gets difficult and simple answers don't cut it. Through this Rachel offers an inspiring journey in which no situation is beyond the reach of God.