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Holy Land? Challenging questions from the biblical landscape – Andrew D Mayes

ISBN: 9780 2810 6466 3

SPCK, 2011,135pp, £9.99

The author, Andrew Mayes, is Advisor for Spirituality in the Diocese of Chichester, and has spent some years teaching at St George’s College in Jerusalem.  His knowledge of the Holy Land is first-hand and his comments are apt. He is also widely read and there are lots of quotations from the Fathers as well as from modern sources.

It is a book meant for those preparing to visit the Holy Land and can be used by individuals as well as groups.  In the Holy Land one is confronted with the landscape, both physical and human, and with the landscape that each of us is as a person.  The book is not an armchair travel book, showing us the places where Jesus was born or died or had this or that experience in between, but the query in the title gives an indication of what to expect: instead of speaking of “the Holy Land” we should perhaps refer to “the land of the Holy One”.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, such as The cave’s questions: How can I face the darkness? and The Garden’s questions: How can I embrace the struggle?  In each chapter one faces not only the physical reality of the ‘outer landscape’ but oneself, the ‘inner landscape’.  In between these there is the human landscape and one is made to think of the political and societal situation that constitutes the daily struggle of the people living there, against the backdrop of the seemingly irresolvable conflict between Jew and Palestinian.  Considering the Sea of Galilee, we face the shortage of water as well as its spiritual connotations.  The water from the lake is shared unequally between Jews and Palestinians (guess who gets the larger share?), and the questions that follow ask us to consider sharing ‘the cup of water’, the water of the well in Samaria, and the sharing of faith with the spiritually hungry.  Alas, there is no mention of the Golan Heights, the conquest of which by Israel deprived Syria from their share of the water of the Sea of Galilee.

The questions raised at the end of each chapter are challenging to the ‘comfort’ of our Christian faith.  As such the book can be recommended for use by study groups, even if no trip to the Holy Land is in sight: the examples given help us understand better the issues involved.  Of course it can be used by individuals, but left alone we do not easily leave our comfort zone.  If you want a serious yet inspiring book for your next Lent group, get this one!  You will learn a lot, not just about biblical times, about the Holy Land and about the Middle East situation, but about yourself and your Christianity.

Thomas Anthony SSF