Sleepers Wake

Sleepers Wake

Author Nicholas Holtam
Publisher SPCK £10.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9780281086849

The author was Bishop of Salisbury and had responsibility as the Church of England’s lead bishop for environmental matters until his recent retirement. He has used this substantial experience to create an interesting and timely guide to the climate emergency, combining scientific and political information with a deep theological understanding of the issues. The attraction of the book, and its relevance to the season of Advent, comes in the way Holtam has fused biblical insights with art and science, producing a generous mixture of material for contemplation and prayer. I was reminded of the famous Post Communion prayer which is also used as the Collect in the week before Advent: ‘Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded…’ There is plenty of rich fruit here, and we should pray that this inspires many good works and intentions in relation to the care of our endangered planet, in line with the fifth ‘mark of mission’. Surprisingly, perhaps, the overall tone is not completely apocalyptic (in line with early Advent themes), and ultimately this is a book of hope. The destruction of our planet can be averted, especially if scientific solutions are supported by faith communities.

The book comprises a series of short essays, once for each day of Advent, all with an environmental theme, and often illustrated by classic works of art, prayers and poetry, some familiar, others less so. The allusions to art can be subtle – there are two works by John Constable for example which need thinking through – but others are obvious. For example, Rembrandt’s dramatic portrayal of Belshazzar’s Feast (Daniel chapter 5), with the ‘writing on the wall’ is a wonderful opener, reminding us that climate scientists have been warning for decades about the climate crisis. The text is augmented for both individuals and groups by weekly questions for discussion and further contemplation, alongside a host of easily accessible online resources and books. Further resources, including videos from the author, are at

In conclusion, this is an original and intriguing book for Advent, recommended for both individuals and church groups. It does not ignore the Bethlehem narrative, especially in the final week, but it expands our horizons and will act as a spiritual and practical antidote to the crowded, commercial days of December, when it is all too easy to forget the richness of the Christian Gospel.

Reviewed by PETER CLOUGH




Bethlehem Bound

Bethlehem Bound

Author Andrew Nunn
Publisher Canterbury Press £12.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781786224484

Bethlehem Bound is not a typical Advent book. Rather, Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark, takes us on a journey into the Nativity and beyond, beginning on 17 December, ‘when Advent shifts a gear’, and concluding with the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. There is also a postscript dealing with Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, on 2 February. Thus we enter into a kind of pilgrimage, from Advent to the end of Epiphany, from the crib to the cross.

Each day we encounter a different character through gospel readings and commentary and through stories, told in the first person. These back stories are partly scriptural, partly imaginative, somewhat similar to Ignatian meditations. I particularly enjoyed ‘The Donkey’s Story’, exploring the nature of pride and humility.

Andrew Nunn presents the usual cast of the nativity play, but also introduces unexpected characters such as Jesse, father of King David; Anne or Hannah, the mother of Mary (from a story in the Qur’an); Stephen, the first martyr; and St. Thomas Becket, helping us to see the Christmas story in its wider context. Amongst the familiar elements, he drops in interesting facts and observations and references to poetry and art works which make the text come alive.

This is a book that would be very suitable to use day by day for personal study and prayer but I would also recommend it as a resource for planning Christmas services, talks and studies.

Reviewed by APRIL McINTYRE




Sharing the Christmas Story

Sharing the Christmas Story

Author Sally Welch
Publisher BRF £8.99
Format pbk
ISBN 9781800391062

For each day through the six weeks of Advent and the Christmas season, Sally Welch has chosen, and reflected on, a short Bible reading relating to the Christmas story. Within each week, she has considered the way the story is shared through prophecies, journeys, signs, poems, stories and conversations. Over these busy and exciting weeks, the book takes in the themes of promise, light, mystery, love, peace and hope. This autumn of 2022, with the nation and the world in turmoil, it feels like we need rather a lot of these things. Sally uses texts from Old and New Testaments, some well-known and others less well-known. At the end of each week Sally has suggested creative ideas for prayer.

There must have been many books of daily readings for Advent which have been published over the years. This one comes across as fresh and new. It is thoughtful and intelligent, but not academic; warm and attractive but not corny. I commend it to readers as individuals and for use by small groups this Advent.

Reviewed by HOWARD ROWE


Advent, Nativity


Companions on the Bethlehem Road

Companions on
the Bethlehem Road

Author Rachel Boulding
Publisher BRF Centenary Classics £14.99 New edition 2022
Format hbk
ISBN 9781800390881

Based on biblical readings from the lectionary for every day from the beginning of December until 6 January, this Advent book uses poetic references to illuminate our thoughts. The passages are treated thematically, based on the traditional themes of Advent – death , judgement, heaven and hell – then move on to ideas about Christmas, the new life of the Incarnation and the cherishing of the world into which God came. The author uses ‘the craft and expertise’ of a variety of poets, some traditional and well-known, some less familiar. While Rachel Boulding admits that none of them wrote specifically to deepen the faith of twenty-first century readers, there is much spiritual insight to be gained from their works. It is good to have the Bible passage included for each day and the use of comment and poetry certainly illuminates the passage, although at times, I would have appreciated more of the particular poem being included; some extracts are very brief. Even so, there are riches here, and in the reflection which concludes each day’s entry. This is an excellent volume for personal, daily use but also has questions for discussion and reflection, which opens it up for wider, group use. As an attractive, hard-backed volume, this book would make an excellent pre-Christmas gift.





Sacred Space: Advent & Christmas 2022-2023

Sacred Space:
Advent & Christmas 2022-2023

Author The Irish Jesuits
Publisher Messenger Publications €7.95
Format pbk
ISBN 9781788125611

This attractive little book will be most useful to Anglo-Catholics and those who take communion regularly, even every day, during Advent and Christmas, as it contains the readings and a short reflection for each Sunday and weekday Eucharist of these seasons. It also has weekly meditations, material to augment an Advent retreat and structured prayers. There is deep spirituality within these pages, and to follow this material faithfully will require dedication and discipline. For, as the cover description notes, ‘Advent is a signpost to a larger reality’, and therefore challenges us as to how we read these signs and act upon them during the season of Advent.





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