Page 13, 3rd March 2006

3rd March 2006
Page 13
Page 13, 3rd March 2006 — Spiritual Books
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Spiritual Books

Francis Phillips Seven Words For Three Hours, edited by Edmund Newell, Darton, Longman and Todd £17.95 These meditations on the last seven utterances of Christ on the cross are designed for a Good Friday liturgy. They are accompanied by a CD as an aid to reflection. Bishop Richard Harries provides an introduction. Edmund Newell, a canon of St Paul's Cathedral, who writes about the words "Father forgive them...", draws attention to the historical conflict between Christians and Jews; the music track for this, "Kaddish for BergenBelsen" is suitably sombre. Giles Fraser, a philosophy lecturer at Wadham College. Oxford, discussing "You will be with me in Paradise", reminds readers that we are all both the good and bad thief.

The best contributions come from Sabina Alkire, an economist at Harvard, who writes both on "1 thirst" and "It is finished".

For the former, she focuses on Mother Teresa who bad these words inscribed in every chapel of the Missionaries of Charity throughout the world, as a reminder to the nuns that Christ "thirsts" in the "stumpy limbs of the leper, in the slumped shoulders of the unloved, in the watchful eyes of the Aids patient, the lilting voice of the orphan and the rasp of the dying".

As an economist, Alkire is eloquent on the huge inequity in the distribution of wealth. Dividing the world's population into representative groups of four, she reminds us that "if there were 60 technological gadgets to distribute, the three developing country group members would get one each; the fourth person [the western world] would collect the remaining 57".

For the latter utterance, she draws attention to the complex personality and achievement of Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary-General of the UN who died in a plane crash in 1961 and whose personal journal, Markings, revealed a man of intense spirituality and dedication to public service. "How can we ask others to sacrifice if we are not ready to do so?" he wrote. Kofi Annan, take note.

Poetry and Prayer by Richard Griffiths, , Continuum £9.99 Richard Griffiths is a professor of French literature at King's, London, and a non-stipendiary curate in Penarth parish. His book, designed for Lenten reading, suggests that poetry can be an excellent stimulus to prayer; indeed, for poet-saints like John of the Cross it is indispensable. He selects several suitable candidates for analysis, including the poet-pastor R S Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert and the hymn-writer Isaac Watts. Watts, author of "When I survey the wondrous Cross", reminds us that great hymns are always a marriage between grave melody and graceful lines.'

Readers will have their own favourites here but I am willing to wager that no one will put forward "Bind us together Lord" as a sparkling adornment to either hymnody or poetry. Griffiths is anxious to avoid the pitfall of turning prayerful poems into "Eng Lit Crit". In this he is not wholly successful; his style can be somewhat dry and pedantic.

Coming from the Anglican tradition, Griffiths is a little uncertain about the nature of redemptive love as practised by the saints; yet other casual remarks suggest he is uneasy about the existence of the devil. It is interesting to note that several of his authors, such as Alice Meynell, Lionel Johnson and Hopkins, are converts to the Church.

One poet describes Adam as a "naked lout". This made me pause: "naked" certainly, but one of the home-grown heroes we export to foreign football matches? Hardly.




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