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‘With My Whole Heart’

Reflections on the heart of the psalms

The Rt Revd James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, has written a heartfelt and heartening book about the psalms. The word play is catching, as both title and text play on the literal and metaphorical meaning of the word ‘heart’. Bishop James may perhaps be forgiven for this as he was inspired to write the book during his preparation for, and recuperation from, a heart operation in June 2011. Turning for spiritual sustenance to the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer, he found references to the heart in 71 of the 150 psalms. This book contains his ‘musings’ on these psalms.

He writes well, mostly in simple prose but at times his language soars. He had me hooked in his fifth paragraph, with

‘the Book of Common Prayer, whose poetry adds fathoms to their theological depth’.

That ‘adds fathoms’ is masterly: I knew I was in for a treat.


 Not a book about the psalms

This is not, however a book about the psalms. Its scope is much more wide-ranging than that. It is a book for anyone who asks: ‘Tell me, how should I live?’ The author offers his own ten reasons for belief in God (pp xi-xiii), all beginning with the letter ‘c’. He then goes on to suggest ideas for living a Christian life, our relationship with God, and our worship.  In some ways, it is simply a book about prayer. I am tempted to say that the book is ‘deceptively simple’. It must be difficult to write such a book, if you are a bishop, without sounding preachy or patronising. That he succeeds in this is, I think, partly due to his honesty and humility in describing his fears around the heart operation. It reads like a letter from a friend. You will not need to look any words up in a dictionary, but nor do you feel he is talking down to you. It is full of  (to me) new insights. One example (p.6):

The character of God feels to me at times as if it were kept under a soundproof blanket. Just as well! He shudders in indignation at the unjust desecration of his creation and at the wanton destruction of any of his creatures. Yet we do not hear it. For if God did not contain his pain and remain silent, which of us could bear to hear the roar of outrage that would deafen our universe? We often bemoan the silence of God, but perhaps it is the necessary and merciful condition of our survival in a world traumatized by evil and flawed by sin.

I think Bishop James’s undoubted gifts as a communicator, both oral and written, probably explain his early career as a teacher. Schoolboys are notoriously less polite than congregations as an audience, and this experience must have honed these skills. Here is a short extract from something he said which will give you a flavour of what I mean:

Enigmas and Riddles

Like all good teachers, Bishop James raises more questions than he gives answers. The book cover itself, designed by Sarah Smith, is an enigma. Does it depict this book, which we are recommended for holiday reading on a beach? Or does it hint at that bourne from which no traveller returns, starting point and inspiration for the author’s meditation on the psalms? Perhaps both, perhaps neither. You decide.

Cor ad Cor Loquitur

In 2010 the Pope took as the theme for his visit to Britain Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur (Heart shall speak unto heart). The phrase was said in the Catholic Herald to be a description of the personal relationship between God and man achieved through prayer. This is what Bishop James Jones offers us in his new book, which I highly recommend.



To be published by SPCK on 17 May. The publisher says:

The heart is mentioned over seventy times in the psalms. It is the focus for the whole range of human emotion, from praise to lament, wisdom to wickedness. As they speak to the heart and of the heart, the psalms reveal to us the heights and depths possible in our relationship with God. 

When he had major heart surgery, the Bishop of Liverpool turned to the psalms in the Book of  Common Prayer as he wrestled with his fears and struggled through his convalescence. In this beautiful book, each mention of the heart in the psalms is quoted and followed by a reflection arising out of the Bishop’s daily meditations and a suggestion for prayer. These reflections are for all who at any time have found themselves reaching out for faith.


3 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...


You have a scoop? Reviewed before it’s issued. I’m off to Amazon to find it and pre-order it.

I love the Psalms, and as you know the BCP, so if anything good can come from it, such as this book, than God also remains happy with it.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you UKViewer for commenting – yes, most of my reviews are scoops in the sense that I usually manage to produce them before the publication date. SPCK sends me advance copies to review once a month of the book of my choice. Richard Littledale, Dean Roberts, Edward Green and ‘Admiral Creedy’ are fellow reviewers.
I know you would like this, it is Bishop James at his best.

Joyce said...

I had only read your first few sentences,Laura,when I knew I WANTED this book ! Thanks for drawing attention to it.Last night I found out that had a Kindle application for computers. Yay !That’s a great idea because one can start reading without moving from the P.C. screen.Obviously thought of for lazy so-and-sos like me. :)And for stingey ones,also like me, who don’t like paying amazon’s postage fees.
Surprsingly, considering how new it is,this book didn’t have a Kindle link so I have to wait at least 24 hours for it to come in the post,just as 24 hours ago I would have expected to. Amazing how suddenly learning what one is missing can make one feel deprived.Perhaps there’s a lesson there in the Psalms.

22 August 2012 13:11
12 May 2012 19:55
12 May 2012 18:01

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