A Contemplative Christianity for Our Time – Sarah Bachelard

Do you ever have the experience of reading a book and feeling that you just have to pass this on to other people?

I recently read Sarah Bachelard’s book entitled A Contemplative Christianity for Our Time – and I have this feeling in spades!

The book is a record of the talks which Sarah gave to the John Main Seminar in 2019. I listened then to recordings of the talks and was inspired by them. I later learned that they would appear in book form and now at last have read them.

The chapter headings indicate the subject matter: Contemplation and Christianity in our time; Religion-less Christianity in a secular age; Jesus the Christ; The Vocation of a Contemplative Christianity; A Church come of age.

Who do I want to give the book to? Quite a raft of people. Rev. Hester, friend and colleague in the local meditation community, as a gift as she leaves for pastures new. C, occasional meditator, moved by the concern for the future of her grandchildren to become coordinator in her parish for responses to the 2022 Synod. She sees the church as stuck and dying and yet she does not want the heart of Christianity to be lost. The book would be relevant to her because it concludes with a vision of how the church might be for our time – so perhaps I should send it to the Vatican as well!

To G and R , who came to hear Sarah when she spoke for our local community in Bath a few years ago, and who described the experience as finding an oasis in the desert. B, our daughter, teaching religion to a reception class in a Catholic primary school and finding most of her sustenance from meditation and from a group she belongs to which ponders the scriptures each week. H and H, who decamped from Christianity some years ago and have found an enriching home in Zen Buddhism. Rev. L, another Zen teacher, but continuing her ministry and helping train future priests. Rev. B, farsighted Catholic priest and preacher of the spiritual homilies which are a must to listen to on live stream in this household. You are not alone, Rev. B!

Why do I like this book so much? I find its ideas exhilarating. They stretch me and yet they remain within my intellectual grasp. Mostly. Here is just one: that 21st century secularism is actually a fruit of the teachings of Jesus. You may need to read Sarah to follow this. The notion is that secularism helps unmask a form of Christianity that is insufficiently converted to the way of Christ. It is a reaction to the false forms of the sacred which we humans sadly develop. Such as the twentieth century Roman Catholic teaching that attendance at Sunday Mass is a condition of salvation. And yet… a self-sufficing humanism is not enough for us to become truly human. It is only in encounter with God that our human being is truly realised.

It helps me that the exposition is so clearly structured. I like structure! And then to anyone who seeks to meditate and tries to follow Christ the ideas are really important. Sarah has obviously had her struggles in faith about which she is open. It also helps that she approaches serious material with a lightness of touch. This was so apparent in the original talks (available in Offerings on the WCCM website) and to me it still comes through to a degree even in the medium of print.

Finally, the ideas are offered in a gentle and non-prescriptive manner, exemplified by the use of the word A in the title. Sarah offers (important word) a (important word) way forward. I am reminded of John Main speaking about his teaching on meditation: I don’t say it is the only way. I don’t even say it is the best way. I say it is the only way I know.

Roger Layet

A Contemplative Christianity for Our Time by Sarah Bachelard is published by Meditatio ISBN 978-981-14-7380-7. The book is available from WCCM in the UK’s distributor, Good News Books at £9.99

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