The Body of Christ: The Shudder Of Blissful Truth (Sebastian Moore OSB, with Kate Wilson)
Darton, Longman and Todd
When it comes to allotting a deadline for the submission of book reviews, the editor of this august journal is always very generous. However, not even the most generous deadline and careful reading could produce a review worthy of this book. This is not a book for reading through from beginning to end. It is a book for a lifetime’s meditation. Virtually every sentence is food for, not just thought, but the exercise of that classic Christian prayer, Lectio Divina with its three stages of reading the text, praying the text and resting with the text.
The author, Dom Sebastian Moore OSB, now in his nineties, is a monk of Downside Abbey. Kate Wilson has done a wonderful job of collating his recent writings from a variety of sources. The pieces are not extracts from his many books, but, as Wilson says, are pieces “published on a blog or handed out after chapel in Sebastian’s Benedictine community” (p 1). This does not mean that the result is a hodgepodge of random thoughts and musings. The pieces have been beautifully crafted into a journey through the Easter Triduum and beyond into “Next Week” and cover “a stellar range of philosophers and theologians from Aquinas and Eckhart to Girard and Alison” (p1, Editor’s Preface).
Lest anyone be put off this book by the names cited in that last sentence, it is important to say that Moore’s writings are anything but heavy, theological or philosophical treatises. The language is plain and down-to-earth. On page 20 Moore tells a delightful story of his difficulties with mental prayer as a young monk. Eventually, he tells God, “This is useless, I’m fed up and bored with the whole thing!” His honesty effected a change in his prayer: “I told God that he bored me and I don’t think he liked that, because he’s never bored me since.” How many of us would have the courage to be as honest with God? A vast range of topics is covered in language which is clear and simple, but with so much power behind it: desire, brokenness, homophobia, sexual abuse, and the church’s view of sex, are only some examples. Moore is fiercely critical of the institutional church and the ways in which it deals with matters related to sex and sexuality, but, even here, the texts are not what many readers may regard as “same old, same old”, but thoughtful, indeed, prayerful.
Kate Wilson deserves our gratitude for her editing of Moore’s pieces. Her introductions to each of the chapters are also masterpieces of profundity expressed in simple language. The book is beautifully produced, with a clear, easily readable typeface. Although the writings are assembled to focus on the journey with Jesus through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, this book is not just for use during that liturgical period. Nor, as I have already indicated, is it a book to be read through, as one would read many ‘spiritual’ books, from cover to cover over a period of time. This is a book of meditations to be prayed through at any time and, I would recommend, at several times during one’s life.
ɶ Colin Chalmers