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Revealing the divine in the ordinary

By: 'John Lee' - 5th of April 2018

Reviewed in The Swag:

It is a challenge and a privilege to read a reflective work that originates in a seeker’s prayer journals.  So it is with humility and openness, that I have read Christopher’s short book, and with the same humility and openness, that I will attempt to convey something of the flavour of this accessible book. The title is inspired by a poem by Australian Poet, James McAuley (1917-1976).

Incarnate Word, in whom all nature lives,
Cast flame upon the earth: raise up contemplatives
Among us, those who walk within the fire
Of ceaseless prayer, impetuous desire.
Set pools of silence in this thirsty land.
(From: A letter to John Dryden)

In this book, Christopher takes us on a contemplative journey.  With him, we visit ordinary places, and see the Divine presence made manifest.  With an introduction, and fifteen bite size chapters, we go with him to diverse settings where silence, contemplation and the grace of God abide.  Slim in size, 64 pages, and well-chosen images, support the attractiveness of the book.  This may make it a suitable gift for someone who might be put off by a weightier tome.

Set Pools of Silence in this Thirsty Land has a rhythm within it. Christopher integrates stories, quotations from scripture, saints and other sources, along with personal reflections, in the service of the theme of the chapter. Chapters include: Describing Silence, The Silence of the Bush, Prison Silence and a dozen more.  Each conclude with a prayer.  There is variety in these short prayers. However, I personally was put off by the regular occurrence of prayers addressed to Heavenly Father. 

For me, the parts that had the greatest impact were the short stories woven within the chapters.  Mary, the elderly, reclusive, parishioner locked in at home, who sits in the back room, quietly contemplating the willow in the garden. The bicycle riding Fr Chris, visits monthly, bringing Mary communion, and he receives unexpected epiphanies.  Over three years of monthly visitations, Mary and Fr Chris, are changed through the experience of sitting together, contemplating the willow tree and the silent presences of God.

Christopher takes us into prisons, for his regular visitations, including prior to Christmas and Easter. He describes the ritual way he invites prisoners to encounter Jesus using the symbolism of his Pectoral Cross. In a simple and self-deprecating way Christopher reflects on his interactions with our fellow pilgrims in custody. We stand beside him, getting a serve of foul language, before the same prisoner is moved to deep prayer. The author also recalls the wisdom of the elderly priest who said that in his time, the best congregations were prisoners.

There are many positive features of Archbishop Christopher Prowse’s book. Believers from diverse contexts, will recognize the Divine encounters, as he sets pools of silence in this thirsty land, contemplating the silent presences of God. Any work which attempts to reveal the presences of God in our contemporary world is worthy of our genuine attention. It is touching to see the face of God in the ordinary, and on the margins. May this book be read by many.

Set Pools of Silence in this Thirsty Land: Contemplating the Silent Presences of God Archbishop Christopher Prowse (2017), St Paul’s Publications, Strathfield. Reviewed by John Lee is a pastoral supervisor, spiritual director, teacher, consultant, husband, grandfather and broken man.


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