World Without End by Thomas Keating OCSO (Bloomsbury, £10.99). The author, an American Trappist and well-known exponent of contemplative prayer, has collaborated with Lucette Verboven in answering questions about his formative years, his time as an abbot, Vatican II and suffering and prayer, among other topics. The book is illustrated by many black and white photos that show the mystical beauty of nature. Asked “How can one prepare for death?”, Keating responds by pointing to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Beatitudes, saying: “One begins to love the opposite of the things the false self loves, such as one’s powerlessness.”
Sleeping Under the Juniper Tree by Pauline Stainer (Bloodaxe Books, £9.95). The author has written several collections of poetry, often dwelling on portals of the sacred and the dream world. Brief and pulsating with striking images, the poems in this slim book force the reader to reorder their own perceptions. Stainer often examines existence mystically, in the light of natural events: “Seven herons / dividing the rushes / to the west of nowhere … eelgrass / the wind in the reeds / saying the unsayable.” Her inspiration comes from paintings, random objects, Japanese gardens, beehives and the music of Bach.
The Mesmerist by Wendy Moore (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £18.99). Dr John Elliotson, professor of medicine at University College Hospital, “held Victorian London spellbound” with his demonstrations of mesmerism, an early form of hypnotism. Before his pioneering work on the treatment of malaria, medicine relied on blistering, bleeding, cupping and purging. Elliotson, alongside surgeons such as Robert Lister and Astley Cooper, showed how treatment could be both skilled and compassionate. Grave-robbers, “resurrection men”, also played their (illegal) part in providing corpses for dissection – vital to the growing understanding of how the body worked.
Almshouses in Early Modern England by Angela Nicholls (Boydell Press, £19.99). It has often been argued that the Reformation had a revolutionary impact on charity and poor relief in England. If medieval almshouses had been founded, in many cases, by benefactors eager to speed their path through purgatory, then their post-Reformation successors were rooted in more modern-sounding concepts of civic humanism. This splendid study of almshouses between 1550 and 1725 does not ignore transformations, but it reveals that older ideas about good works were more resilient than Protestant theologians might have desired.
100 Books to Read Before the Four Last Things edited by Marie George (Angelico Press, £15). This lively volume eschews dull summaries in favour of “reviews” of major, and less well-known, spiritual writings. The goal is to allow the reader to plot a course through a crowded subject and the coverage, from Augustine down to still-living writers, is impressive. You may find some of the editorial principles a little kooky. Contributors have been chosen to reflect a range of “personality types” and in their author bios they reveal their temperaments: choleric, melancholic, sanguine and so forth.
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