At my ordination service, the Bishop of Leicester asked a number of searching questions. One of them was ‘Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the gospel?’ In other words, ‘will you read good books that help you get a better grasp on the gospel message?’
It’s recognition that what we read is important, and it was the church’s way of urging clergy to study; to read, and through reading, to engage with the thoughts and ideas of others. Of course, I gave the required answer: ‘With the help of God, I will.’
But time for a confession. I don’t find reading easy. I can string the words together ok, but I find it hard to make and guard the time to read. In a busy life, reading is often the first thing to go… the last thing I get round to. The books I find easiest to read usually have a historical angle. I’m just finishing Anna Reid’s book Leningrad. It’s not a religious book, but it has widened my perspective on the ideologies human beings have embraced, and what those ideologies (of Nazism and Communism) led to, in this case for the suffering civilians of Leningrad (now St Petersburg).
Other books show how faith has sometimes flourished in the trials of wartime. One such book is War and Grace by Don Stephens. It tells the stories of 13 people (some very high-ranking officers) whose lives were profoundly influenced by God during the First and Second World Wars. It’s a title I’d highly recommend for anyone who wants something appropriate for this month of Remembrance; as we commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War.
Finally, there’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, whose writings (translated into English!) have been an inspiration in shaping my own thoughts about spirituality. Bonhoeffer wrote about the true nature of Christian faith and belief at a time when the Nazis were intimidating and silencing the critics of Hitler’s fascist ideology. For his beliefs, Bonhoeffer ultimately paid with his life. Anyone curious to find out more about Bonhoeffer might begin with a biography written by Eric Metaxas titled Bonhoeffer – Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.