Book Reviews: Two books newly acquired for the library are reviewed below. Both are simply and sparely stated, yet convey profound insights and offer valuable prompts for further thought.
Workshops after Meeting: ‘Making Friends with your Library’ is a relaxed interactive session that takes place each month from 12.30 to 1.30 after Meeting by the library bookshelves in the front foyer. All are welcome. Next sessions are Sundays 18th February and 18th March. An opportunity to browse books, find something of interest, have a conversation with others from the Meeting via the themes that emerge.
If you have questions about the library please ask Fiona Hamilton or Kristin Sponsler
Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge (2017)
Norwegian Erling Kagge has been described as ‘a philosophical adventurer or perhaps an adventurous philosopher’. He was the first person to walk solo to the South Pole and the first to surmount the ‘three poles’ – North, South, and Mount Everest. He is also a publisher and collector of art.
This book is perhaps not what one would expect from such an ‘achiever’. It’s a small, pocket-sized hardback meditation on silence. It has much to offer anyone connected with the Quaker practices of being quiet and listening.
Kagge acknowledges his need for silence, for a way to reduce the ‘cacophony of traffic noise and thoughts’ and find still places, although he says that ‘absolute silence exists more as a dream than reality’ after describing how a friend sought silence in a soundproof room but heard sounds nevertheless, bodily sounds, and other sounds.
When Kagge reached the South Pole the most difficult challenge was to speak after being quiet for so long. His long walks and explorations are perhaps a kind of ‘retreat’ in which inner silence is as much the quest as outer discovery.
The book is written in a graceful, uncluttered style. There are thoughts on diverse facets of silence, such as sitting in silence with a friend, the use of pauses in spoken Japanese, and what happens when we gaze at art. The strands are woven together with a deft hand.
If you are interested in such concepts as ‘empty emptiness’ and ‘full emptiness’ which have longer philosophical traditions that Kagge explores here, the book is a little gem, offering its wisdom simply. Every section – and some are accompanied by photographs of landscapes and art – contains something that will stir you to ponder your own relationship with silence.
Quaker Renewal by Craig Barnett (2017)
This is a quietly radical book – both in the sense of ‘roots’ and ‘radical thinking’. Craig Barnett lives in Sheffield and works for a refugee charity. In this book of short essays he begins by saying that ‘British Quakers are asleep’.
He argues that the movement needs to renew and regenerate, as otherwise formal structures start to dominate and people become preoccupied with serving these rather than being spirit-led. The well-spring of the movement then starts to dry up.
He goes on to look at areas where he sees potential for new life and creativity in Quaker spirituality and practice. He sees ‘worship, discernment and testimony’ as being at the centre, saying that:
‘They require us to develop the capacity for attentive listening to diving leadings and to restrain our natural impulses towards self-assertion and defensiveness’
‘rely on a shared trust that there is reliable source of guidance to be found, which is not simply a projection of our own wishes and values.’
These bold and valuable essays include one on ‘shared spiritual language’ – he argues that we are impoverished if we cannot agree on some basic terms for our spiritual life together.
Barnett has thought deeply about what ‘gathered worship’ is and cites experience living with Friends in Zimbabwe where interconnectedness is manifest in a different way from here and, he feels, could provide a useful guide for renewal here.
Fiona Hamilton, Librarian