If you love the spirituality of the English people, a new treat awaits you, courtesy of Paraclete Press (and SLG Press in the UK). A collection of essays by Sr. Benedicta Ward, SLG, has just been published, called Give Love and Receive the Kingdom: Essential People and Themes of English Spirituality.
Sr. Benedicta Ward teaches the history of Christian Spirituality at Oxford. She is a respected authority on figures as diverse as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the Venerable Bede, and Anselm of Canterbury.
If you want to get a sense of Sr. Benedicta, here’s an evocative description from the memoir of one of her students, Christian musician/activist Vicky Beeching:
Walking underneath spring’s cloudless skies, I headed to my first tutorial with Sister Benedicta. She was known around the world as the leading translator of the writings of the desert fathers and mothers, a group of Christians who in the third century withdrew to the deserts of Egypt to seek God. When I arrived, my eyes scanned Sister Benedicta’s study. Her shelves were lined with books that looked older than I was. A few simple religious icons hung on the walls. Peace was tangible in the room and I felt my shoulders relax. I sensed she was a person who knew God deeply and welcomed the curious minds of her students; this was a safe place to ask questions.
Bonnie Thurston describes her work as encompassing “the incisive intellect of a scholar and the wise soul of a monastic.”
Give Love and Receive the Kingdom gathers together nine of Sr. Benedicta’s essays, arranged in such a way to allow them to function as an idiosyncratic survey of English Christian spirituality. The book makes no claim to be comprehensive or systematic in the treatment of this topic: it is merely a look at a rich history through the eyes of one scholar-practitioner. So, as might be expected, Sr. Benedicta’s favorite subjects show up repeatedly: with two essays devoted to Bede and another two to Anselm.
But the book also invites the reader to look at English spirituality from a new and perhaps “road less traveled” perspective. Some of the figures one might normally expect to see featured in a book on English spirituality — Walter Hilton, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, C. S. Lewis, Evelyn Underhill — are nowhere to be found in this volume. Instead, Sr. Benedicta invites us to consider some of the more unsung heroes of the English tradition: St. Cuthbert, Lancelot Andrews, Jeremy Taylor. One essay invites us into the world of twelfth century hermits. Julian of Norwich is considered alongside St. Anselm. Perhaps befitting for a book on English spirituality, Sr. Benedicta traces the roots of her topic to the Anglo-Saxons rather than the more trendy Celts.
As usual, Paraclete has created a beautiful book that is a delight to behold. If you don’t want to pay for the hardcover, the Kindle edition costs only about half as much.
I know that I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking about English spirituality as dominated by four figures: Julian, The Cloud author, Underhill, and Lewis. This book is a delightful reminder that there is so much more to the story of the English people’s response to God.