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Michael Cook (UK)

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Etched by Silence: A pilgrimage through the poetry of RS Thomas
Etched by Silence: A pilgrimage through the poetry of RS Thomas
by Jim Cotter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes an excellent Lent book, 23 April 2014
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This book concentrates on Thomas's God poems and it's interesting to have so many of them collected together. The book is designed as a pilgrimage, with a poem for each day of the year, a short suggestion of an imaginative or practical excercise that comes from the theme of the poem, and then a slightly longer reflection. There are no wasted words in either the poems or Jim Cotter's reflections. There is a pleasingly sparse feel to the book, with a poem to each left hand page, Cotter's words on the right, and much blank space inbetween, which fits exactly with the austerity of Thomas's poetry. Some simple line drawings and atmospheric black and white photographs of the coast around Aberdaron, where both Thomas and Cotter have served as priest, compliment the text.
After the poems, near the end of the book, there are two sections of questions; the first are some of the many questions found in Thomas's poems, and the second are questions asked by Jesus in the gospels. It is certainly striking to read both sections, and adds another dimension to the book. The questions of Jesus are a resource in themselves.
It would be ideal for use on a retreat, especially at the coast, but actually I read it at the furthest place from the sea in the UK, and it still worked well for me. Though the book is designed to be read over a year, I actually found it very useful as a Lent book; the simplicity of the design, the austerity of the poems, the direct nature and depth of Jim Cotter's further reflections, and the penetrating questions at the end, all go towards it being a deeply thought-provoking read. That Jim Cotter died during Holy Week 2014, just as I was completing it, made it seem even more poignant.


The Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications)
The Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications)
by Adolfo Cavallo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Sumptuous, 4 Mar. 2014
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This is a sumptuous softback book with stunning, top-quality reproductions of the tapestries, both whole and with enlarged details and sections. The text is excellent too, and includes technical details of the weaving process, an appreciation, readable but scholarly history of the tapestries, and explanations of the symbolism contained in them - and where this is uncertain the authors are careful to say so. Gorgeous.


Healing the Divide: Recovering Christianity's Mystic Roots
Healing the Divide: Recovering Christianity's Mystic Roots

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wake-up call to look again at the Incarnation, 29 Aug. 2013
The first thing to understand about this book from the start is that it is not a scholarly examination of the texts written by the Alexandrian mystics, though it will make you want to go to those texts, or return to them if you are already familiar with them; but there are a number of fairly in-depth appendices and an extensive glossary which fill out a lot of the history and terminology. Rather, it is a wake-up call to Christians of all stripes to look again at the Person of Christ, to reject our dualistic understandings of the Incarnation, and to return to the way major Christian thinkers in the first centuries of the Church saw Jesus, and to find there a vision which is capable of uniting different denominations, recognizing, maintaining and creating real continuity between ancient, modern and post-modern Christianity. It is something like a spiritual handbook to accompany you as you read the Alexandrian mystics for yourself, and touches on many different issues, theological and practical. There are questions at the end of each chapter for those who want to really study, but it can also be dipped into more informally, once you've got the basic argument.

Smith I think correctly diagnoses what's wrong with so much that passes for Christianity today, and nobody gets a free pass, yet he is never cynical and always hopeful that real transformation is possible; indeed, that is what this book is for. For myself, I am someone by nature liberal (perhaps a stereotypical member of the Church of England!), but have become unsatisfied with my approach to Jesus, which has largely consisted of trying to fit Him into structures created by what I take to be the best available historical reading of who He was - itself an endless scholarly minefield where no final agreement is ever going to be likely. I've come to see this view as a fatally flawed and narrow approach, and Smith's book has helped me to see what an impoverished Christ I have been making do with. The unified, mystical understanding of Christ as elucidated by Cyril, Athanasius and the other Alexandrian mystics is infinitely richer than this wishy-washy liberal Jesus, the fluffy New Age sage, or the rather fearsome creation of the fundamentalists, all of which Smith rejects, or at least relativizes. The Jesus Paradox (as Smith calls it, the technical term is miaphysite) also has the benefit of being undeniably far more ancient than any of these, and has been carried through the whole of Christian history in the theology of the Oriental Orthodox Church. One quote which for me cuts through so much ponderous theological musing I've trawled through over the years in an attempt to get to grips with the words in the creeds, and which illustrates neatly the difference this mystic understanding of Christ makes, was this from Cyril of Alexandria:"How is the Son equal to God?" "Like sight is equal to the eyes".

Michael Cook, UK


Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense
Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense
by Francis Spufford
Edition: Hardcover

98 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every line worth remembering, 13 Sept. 2012
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I have a habit of marking passages in books, with a pencil line running down the margin at the side of words I want to refer back to. Many of my books have a few such markings, and some have many. Occasionally a book comes along in which this habit soon becomes pointless, as every paragraph of every page is worth remembering. 'Unapologetic' is one such book.

I read a fair amount of books about religion, some serious theology, some more devotional spiritual literature; this is neither, and I wish there was much more literature like it. If your tired of the dryness of much theology and the gentility of much Christian spirituality, then this is for you. A real breath of fresh air in the God debate, something that doesn't seem possible I know, but Spufford has done it. It is, first and foremost, a truly passionate book about Spufford's religious life and convictions. He offers no easy solutions to the basic theological riddles Christians have to live with, and in fact spends several pages pretty much demolishing the very idea of theodicy - and what a relief it is too, to find a Christian author who actually doesn't want us to swallow the excuses theologians make for God. This book might actually challenge some Christians as much as it does non-believers, in a good and necessary way. No, this is something else; an unblinking, completely honest, head-on look at what it is that Christianity really means for us, as emotional human beings, rather than as walking intellects.

Some more sensitive souls might be put off by Spufford's strong language and imagery. This would be a great shame, as the book also contains some passages of great lyrical beauty, one of which is quite simply the best description I have ever read of what prayer is actually like. Not the esoteric stages of contemplative prayer that few Christians ever reach, but the ordinary, everyday kind of prayer that most of us can muster.

There is a streak of real anger and indignation in the book too, but also a lot of dark humour and razor sharp wit. It is, as the cover claims, unhampered by niceness. Completely refreshing. I finished the book and turned straight back to page one.

It is also for anyone who just enjoys great prose.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 16, 2013 12:35 PM GMT


An Altar in the World: Finding the Sacred Beneath Our Feet
An Altar in the World: Finding the Sacred Beneath Our Feet
by Barbara Brown Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written spiritual classic, 5 Aug. 2010
Although most of the fiction I read is American, I have to admit something of a predjudice against reading American spirituality; this book has changed my mind completely.
I knew nothing about the author before buying, and bought it on the strength of the reviews here and elsewhere. I was not disappointed. This is a stunningly beautiful book, and the quality of the writing is as good as it gets. The author's sensibility is rather similar to that of Annie Dillard, but somewhat calmer in tone. The book is full of wonderful personal anecdote, humour, joy, and a searing vision of the world as a spirit-charged place. Above all this is a book to use; lots of books claim to change your life, but if you do the excercises I don't see how you couldn't be transformed.
This is a down to earth spiritual classic.


Dead Man's Shoes [DVD] [2004]
Dead Man's Shoes [DVD] [2004]
Dvd ~ Paddy Considine
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.13

13 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hugely overrated and cruel film, 9 Mar. 2010
I find the huge adulation for this film pretty astonishing, as well as a bit scary. I've see most of Shane Meadows films and found them generally good, if often a bit uneven. But Dead Man's Shoes is a very different beast. Basically there are three major things wrong with this film.

The first is the shift from the gritty realism of the earlier scenes, (where everything is naturalistic and entirely believable, if bleak) to the rest of the film, which is a stylised revenge piece and relies on some very improbable plot turns, in particular a bungled attempt to kill Paddy Consadine's character. Also, Paddy's almost supernatural ability to move in and out of peoples houses unnoticed is pretty ridiculous; the explanation for this is that he's been in the army. Well, my brother was in the army too, and all I can say is must have missed that part of the training. We can expect this sort of thing in a Steven Segal film, but Shane Meadows? And the 'twist' at the end is just, well, a twist, and adds nothing to the story or theme.

Secondly, I'm presuming that this film is supposed to be offering us some insight into the nature of revenge? The 'sensitive' acoustic soundtrack and pastoral scenes of the two brothers suggests something more than the usual revenge flick, but if that was the intention it's a complete failure, and is actually more on the level of Death Wish. Consadine is a good actor but his character here remains completely opaque and one-dimensional. He's just a scary blank; the suggestion of his guilt at his own mistreatment of his brother is introduced, but it's too little, too late, and is frankly a shallow bit of pop psychology.

The worst thing about this film though is its complete lack of heart, something I never thought I would say about a Shane Meadows film, which, however gritty and violent they may be at times, are also full of humanity. The film portrays the mistreatment of a young man with special needs; he's teased, tormented verbally and physically, sexually humiliated, threatened with sexual abuse, and subjected to a mock execution, all very convincingly filmed and acted. Why? So that we can enjoy the spectacle of his brother taking revenge on his tormenters, that's why. This catalogue of atrocities is served up to us so we can take pleasure in Consadine's subsequent (and much less believable) own series of atrocities. It's this twisted morality that makes me a bit worried about those that lap this kind of thing up, and makes me wonder how Meadows came to make such a cruel piece of work.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2014 8:31 PM BST


Why Believe?
Why Believe?
by John Cottingham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gently guides the reader towards a spiritual view of life, 20 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Why Believe? (Hardcover)
This is an excellent book for those who are skeptical of the value of religious belief in general, and in particular for those who might be sympathetic to some aspects of religion, but are confused or doubtful about how a religious or spiritual view of things hangs together into a coherent view of things. It's an excellent introduction to the philosophy of religion, but goes further than that, and includes our spiritual longings too, satisfying both intellect and our deepest feelings.

Cottingham is a gentle guide, (and gets the obligatory reference to Dawkins over with on the first page), avoiding the antagonistic feel of so much writing on this subject. He identifies various longings and convictions shared by us all, and shows how religion provides a home for these aspects of ourselves.

My only criticism is that he almost exclusively uses Christianity for his religious examples; he claims this is because it is Christianity he is most familiar with, but he is obviously a very knowledgeable writer and this won't wash with me! A more general appeal to examples from a variety of faiths (as Keith Ward often does in his books) would have been illuminating, and would only have increased the readers understanding of the value of the religious view of life.

This aside it is highly recommended and I'll be seeking out his other titles.


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