The Jewel in the Mess by Alan Abernethy (Columba Books €12.99) reviewed by John-Paul Sheridan.
Early on while reading this book, I wondered if I was invading someone’s privacy and innermost thoughts and perhaps, I should stop. The Bishop of Connor is forthright and honest in this book of reflections. He embroiders his personal story and his ministerial story into the fabric of the Gospel story, with the ease of someone who has reflected deeply both on his life and on the Gospel story. Here is a story of one who opens his heart and soul not only to understand himself better, but also to assist anyone who finds themselves in similar situations. It is a book not just for those in ministry, but for anyone trying to make sense of their lives, their humanity, their brokenness, their frailty and their relationship with the One who was broken and frail first.
He speaks with ease about a father who abandoned his wife and children, about his own struggles with depression and his diagnosis with cancer. He writes about a Church he so clearly loves and has dedicated his life and ministry to, but which had little to offer by way of comfort to his single mother. In a world crowded with narratives railing against Church, it is refreshing to hear someone who even in the prejudice, could eventually see the power of a Christian community and its place in the world today.
The book is replete with his magnanimity- mentions of those who have assisted him in dark times and those who are creating new paradigms of Church today. Principal among the praise is his mother and his wife and children. His footnotes and bibliography speak of a book well-researched and a mind well-nourished. He adds a great deal of poetry which can often sum up what we fail to express in prose and his reflections for Good Friday are well work plundering for future occasions.
He doesn’t shy away from the challenges of being Church today and indeed the challenges of ministering in that Church. As a pastor, I found much to ponder in these pages. In a chapter he quotes from Brian McLaren’s We Make the Road by Walking. No statement could be truer about this book. Alan Abernethy certainly has made his road by walking; this book is a testament to Paul’s line in 2 Corinthians 12:9, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’
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