This is the text that served as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lent book this year, and which was chosen for Oxford Brookes Chaplaincy’s Lenten Reading Group, which, as mentioned, I’ve attended over the past eight weeks. We’ve now concluded the book, so it is time for a review, as promised.
The book was written by a Professor of Christian Arts, Ben Quash, and is best understood in this context. Each chapter (of eight) with the aid of a (more) modern piece of media, as illustration, takes the reader through a biblical understanding of the term “abiding”, from ‘abiding in communities’, to ‘abiding in exile’, in care, in peace, and in other things in between.
Some points made by Quash are particularly striking. Most notably, perhaps, the idea that we no longer “abide” in vocations such as teacher or printer, but have jobs involving printing or teaching on fixed term contracts (…). The world no longer allows us to define who we are quite so easily on “role” or “place” terms – we must find out who we are through abiding in Christ. Quash also convinced me of the importance of abiding in mind – of living in the moment for the sake of its own beauty – and of abiding in relationships: of staying with arguments, not giving in to self-centredness; the value of simply being there to listen to others.
Nevertheless, on reflection, I feel there are some glaring omissions from the work. There was, for instance, a chapter on “abiding in wounds” that didn’t mention self-harm, despite the importance of religious belief to those with mental health problems (e.g., Neeleman & Lewis, 1994). There was also a section on “abiding in peace” which paid no attention to the (perceived) role that Christianity has played in “just war”.
The media illustrations are no doubt testament to Quash’s expertise. The image in my mind of five men holding on to the hot air balloon in Enduring Love until one gives into self-centredness, and lets go was especially memorable, as an example of the necessity of abiding in relationships. I’m also inspired to read Momo by Michael Ende, to consider the way in which we spend our time with others. Not all illustrations were quite so helpful – I need to have seen the films, I feel, to grasp Quash’s points thereon.
This isn’t an easy text to get one’s head around, and I wouldn’t recommend it for a solitary read. It worked well as a basis for group discussion, however, where others might have understood what you did not, and I have enjoyed the fellowship surrounding the reading group enormously.