Lesley Carroll and Geraldine Smyth – Glimpses of God: Book Review

imageAnyone seeking reflective reading for Lent need look no further than the recent book by Lesley Carroll and Geraldine Smyth, Glimpses of God: Reflections for Days and Seasons (Veritas 2010). The book is a collection of 54 of Carroll and Smyth’s contributions to BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Thought for the Day’ – short meditations in which the authors manage to say a lot.

Local readers of this blog will be familiar with Carroll and Smyth, whose work in reconciliation and peacebuilding circles is well-known. Both women feature prominently in the new scholarly book– Religion, Civil Society and Peace in Northern Ireland, by John Brewer, Gareth Higgins and Francis Teeney.

Carroll is the minister at Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church in north Belfast and was a member of Northern Ireland’s Consultative Group on the Past. Smyth is the Head of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin, and a Dominican sister.

Both Carroll and Smyth have PhDs in theology but their writing in this book is sharp and accessible.

It has to be – the ‘Thought for the Day’ format limits the length of contributions. So on the written page, each reflection is only a page and a half long.

One of Smyth’s reflections, simply called ‘Words’, captures in some way what the women are doing throughout the book – playing with words in a way that is pleasurable and uplifting. The reflection opens (p. 63):

‘For words alone are a certain good,’ said W.B. Yeats. I like to poke at words, lift up the stones lying on top of them to see what is lurking or scuttling underneath. At other times I just take pleasure in them, dwell on them and let their sound and sense swirl around inside, stirring up memories – and imagination. Words provide passageways into our soul, build bridges in the minds of others, or even open a door on the Spirit of God. ‘To my words give ear O God, let my prayer come before you,’ said the Psalmist (Ps 5:1).

The book is organised around the seasons of the Christian calendar, opening with nine reflections on ‘Lent and Easter,’ 39 on ‘The Days of Our Lives,’ and six on ‘Advent and Christmas.’ This means that Carroll and Smyth often engage with Biblical texts read at those particular times of year. Other reflections are related to the conflict in and about Northern Ireland, while some focus on the contributions of women – women in the bible like Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Vashti, and Naomi; or women in history – like Sojourner Truth or Margaret Mitchell.

All in all, the readings are stimulating, moving, and thought-provoking: perfect food for thought heading into Lent.

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