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Spirituality and Mental Health

Gavin Thomas Murphy

Messenger Publications, 2019

The only criticism of this book is that it is not long enough. I hope in continuance of his quest to understanding better the relationship between spirituality and mental health, Gavin Murphy takes lots of notes and writes them up. I came to this book after giving a lecture on the spiritual lives of children and one of the words used among the experts and writers in this field is resilience. It is sometimes sad that we leave the child’s world of meaning searching, just as we need it most in our adult lives. This books come for a deeply personal place and the author is to be commended in laying out his life and struggle in order to help others. Its pages are full of reference from the Christian tradition and popular culture. Each short piece is accompanied by a question and a scripture passage to contemplate and pray over. He also includes a list of various mental health resources which may be of use to readers. This is an excellent topic for spiritual direction and journaling and I think people will resonate with it and find great comfort among the pages.

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A Great Message for All Young People 

Veritas Publications, 2019
ISBN 9781847309327 €2.99/£2.75

This small book is one of a series that Veritas has produced from the writings of Pope Francis. It’s a clever idea as sadly, very few people are likely to read an entire papal encyclical or apostolic exhortation. The book contains chapter four of Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive). This is the pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation following the Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the theme of young people, faith and the discernment of vocation. The second part of the book is paragraphs from the remainder of Christus Vivit. Each paragraph is an occasion of meditation and could also be a topic of discussion for youth groups. RE teachers might find it an excellent resource and recourse for their pupils. It is hardly within my competence to review papal teaching, but it is within my brief to recommend this book highly.

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What Lies between Science
and Religion

Mark Patrick Hederman

Columba, 2019

The latest offering from the Benedictine and former abbot of Glenstal and headmaster of the school is quite different from the previous two books, but in essence there is a common theme. Weighty matters demand appropriate time and consideration and what was true of Mental Health and Spirituality or the writings of Pope Francis is true also of this tome.

     The author has written a book so necessary for our time. It is hope for the despairing and fuel for the hungry. Despite opinions to the contrary, faith, whatever about religion is not dead and the human need for the transcendent stretches back long before we had the ability and even perhaps the consciousness to begin to understand the scientific. Perhaps, the theistic brain is a great deal older than the empirical brain. Hederman argues that in the dichotomy between the two the language of myth, of the arts will help to reconcile what many would believe are diametrically opposed.

     He begins in the area of education, offering a swift example from his teaching days – in essence speaking to what we learn and how are minds are trained. Freire’s conscientisation comes to mind. The brain is not just to be filled with the Gradgrid-ian facts but assisted in knowing as Yeats said, ‘in the marrowbone’. Hederman writes eloquently on the science and religion debate, and all the usual chestnuts are there – Copernicus, Scopes, Dawkins, the Index?

     In part II, he focusses on myth; discussing the topic with great insight and authority. Karen Armstrong’s definition is one I have always favoured, ‘A myth, therefore, is true because it is effective not because it gives us factual information.’ We ignore myth at our peril, and Hederman gives plenty of reasons for its inclusion in life and in education. The remaining sections explore myth in various different places in life. Each of the chapters could be read independently of each other. It is not every book that manifests the luxury of ‘dipping in’. It is immensely readable and his narrative style lends itself to a wide variety of readers – the novice and the expert. The source material is encyclopaedic in its scope and range, perhaps so much so that it is hard sometimes to ascertain exactly what Hederman himself thinks. I found myself having to stop to review and to take notes on the source material from time to time. My advice is it read it slowly, as I think the full effects of this book and its author’s writing can only be achieved if it is read in this manner.

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