These are the books I have most enjoyed in 2013:
Kathleen Norris, The Noonday Demon, 2009, Lion Hudson
I bought this because I love Kathleen Norris’ writing. And it came at just the right time for me, as all the best books do – in the Sufi experience that when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.
It came when I was anxious about the depletion of energy and the diminution of enthusiasm. It was not depression, but something more spiritual, the acedia that Norris describes so beautifully. Her insights are deep and wise as she traces the grip of accedie in her life. And her solution – prayer and psalms – was just right.
By accident, I bought two copies as the American version has a different title. I gave it to someone who came round for a chat. I hope it opens eyes and gates in that heart too.
Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, 2012, Faber & Faber
This is the book that got me most excited in 2013, the book that made sense of it. Spufford tells the story of faith with wit and insight and truth. He calls sin the Human Potential to Fuck Things Up or HPtFtU. Yeshua comes to mend the HPtFtU. I love Spufford’s telling of the Prodigal Son at this point, which illustrates what Yeshua is all about. And then comes the crucifixion –
‘The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. …. I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness. I am the shining your shame cannot extinguish. I am the ghost of love in the torture chamber: I am change and hope. … I am the gift without cost. I am. I am. I am. Before the foundations of the world, I am.’
And what we do with that is “the impossible experiment of trying to see each other the way God sees us” and doing forgiveness.
Francis Spufford came to the Diocese of Durham Clergy Summer Gathering in July and meeting him was great fun. I spent a happy evening sitting in the bar between him and Andrew Brown, the journalist.
Nicholas Nasim Taleb, Antifragility: Things that Gain from Disorder, 2012, Penguin Books
Institutions respond to change in different ways: fragile organisations find it threatening and risky to the point of extinction; robust organisations are strong enough to survive; antifragile (a term coined by Taleb) organisations grow and thrive with change. Taleb’s focus is principally the financial world, though he throws his net wider.
I read the book wanting to learn about the place of the church in a changing world. For Taleb, the church – and in his case, this means the Greek Orthodox Church of his Lebanese homeland – is antifragile. I am not sure that this is true of the Church of England in deprived urban Gateshead. Antifragile means valuing what is good and enduring about tradition as well as embracing the best of the new