52 Original Wisdom Stories: Short Lively Pieces for The Christian Year
By Penelope Wilcock
Published by Monarch Books, 2015
If I was considering buying this book "sight unseen", I really would not know what to expect based on the title alone. It's surprisingly difficult to classify this book as a purely devotional one when so much of it centres around the relationship of Sid and Rosie (a fictional late middle-aged couple for both of whom this is their second marriage) rather than solely on religious themes.
Both Sid and Rosie have chequered religious backgrounds. Sid was originally a Roman Catholic who grew away from that church and now finds the silence of Quaker meetings more to his taste. Rosie is something of a church tourist, visiting various churches as and when she feels inclined to go to services, and also has an interest in other cultures. Although they both firmly believe in God, their past experiences have rather put them off organised religion and they fall into the large number of people in the UK who profess belief but do not feel that they need to go to church particularly regularly or that churchgoing is particularly fulfilling for them.
I am not entirely sure whether this book will be useful primarily to those who are respectful agnostics who wish they knew more, believers who have doubts and concerns, believers who have more firmly held beliefs but no longer attend church for one reason or another but wish to read about such things, or for those who are churchgoers who are struggling to understand what non-churchgoers may think or believe and why they do so. At different points in the book, all of the above seem to apply, which makes it a very interesting and thought-provoking read.
However, I don't always agree with the points of view pondered by Sid or deeply held by Rosie. I believe that the development of Church Tradition is rooted in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and I feel somewhat uncomfortable with aspects of it being dismissed and others selected. I am mindful of the fact that there are many unchurched folk who struggle with religious doctrines and traditions and that Sid and Rosie will undoubtedly speak for many of their views, however surprising these may be to those from rather more traditional denominations, for whom the right understanding of the totality of Christian doctrine underpins both their worship and belief systems.
Do I like the characters of Sid and Rosie, and find them engaging, humorous, thoughtful people doing their level best to make sense of the world and of Christianity, and to live their lives in accordance with Christian beliefs, as they understand them? Yes, I most certainly do, and hope they will re-appear in a future book. Would I enjoy having Sid and Rosie as friends and neighbours? Most certainly - we would have some lively discussions indeed :-)
Did I enjoy the basic theme of each chapter? Yes. I may not have fully agreed with the expositions given, but they certainly made me think hard about what - and why - I personally believe as a member of the Orthodox Church. Being challenged to think about these things is important.
I love the fact that we see Sid and Rosie go about their everyday lives, cooking, cleaning, reminiscing about their respective individual pasts, having visits from family members - weaving in their Christianity into their everyday lives, as it should be, and not just reserved for an outing to Church on a Sunday and then put back in a box for the rest of the week. I also love the fact that the book is centred around the themes and festivals of the traditional liturgical year and agricultural calendar, rooting and grounding us firmly in our historical and cultural heritage. People may be being exposed to the lives and teachings of St Francis, St Clare, St Benedict, St Martin of Tours and St Teresa of Avila for the first time.
There are so many people who believe - or want to believe - for whom the standard Christian churches are a bit of a mystery. Even the church buildings are rather intimidating places to venture into if you are not already familiar with what goes on inside. Those of us who are churchgoers, familiar with the services, ritual and the cycle of the liturgical year, would do well to bear all this in mind, and it can be a surprising salutary experience to see ourselves as "outsiders" see us.
Thank you to Monarch Books for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for a full and frank review.