Author Nicholas Holtam
Publisher SPCK £10.99
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 www.thebigchurchread.co.uk.
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