Book Review – A Life of Faith, Roland Ashby

If you are looking for meditative reading, books are usually the go. They go about things with system and planning. You can learn step by step.
But for sudden insights – the detail that a writer might think superfluous but turns out to be extraordinarily stimulating, and the nuts and bolts you don’t see in the finished spiritual house – interviews are just the thing.
This collection of interviews by Roland Ashby for TMA over the last fifteen years is very stimulating. The subjects include Rowan Williams, Laurence Freeman, Richard Rohr, Michael Leunig, Joan Chittester and David Tacey. They are all people you would like to hear more about.
Ashby is an excellent interviewer. He asks the simple questions we would like answers to, such as how precisely his conversation partners pray. But he can also draw them out by quoting intriguing phrases from their own works or other spiritual classics. The conversation then moves in surprising and illuminating directions.
The collective impression left by these interviews is one of great intelligence and humility brought to large questions, and an encouraging shared search for simplicity. A faith to live by needs to be both large and domestic, and here we find ourselves taken to the mountain tops and back to the pots and pans.
In addition to these interviews there is also, in the Appendix, a fascinating conversation between Rowan Williams and Michael Leunig. They spark off one another. Leunig remarks: “In our culture there’s an Australian pride in our irreverence. And yes, it’s a healthy irreverence, but I always feel it’s sad that children are often asked too young to abandon their natural reverence.”
To this Williams replies by recalling Stanley Spencer’s painting, Consider the lilies. “Christ is a very bulky, rather graceless, middle-aged man, shabby haired and heavy browed, on hands and knees, in a sandy waste looking at a tiny flower. It makes those words, ‘consider the lilies’, quite different and quite fresh. The sort of vague pious feel that that quote so often has suddenly becomes real because it is visualised in a very bizarre and challenging way as God’s reverence for God’s creation.”
Listening to this conversation the idea of reverence, and of so many other things, fizzles and sparks in the mind.
The Revd Dr Andrew Hamilton is a Jesuit Priest and Consulting Editor of Eureka Street Magazine.

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