A Review of:
When God Calls: Listening, Hearing and Responding by Dianne Sealy-Skerritt (published by Melrose, February 2018, PB £14.99, HB £19.99)
by Independent Reviewer
A lot of the spiritual books that drift across my transom are pretty irritating because I find that very few of them offer practical advice beyond simply praising the Lord. Now that may seem a little harsh, but the edification of prayer itself doesn’t really give any pragmatic clues towards living a kinder, simpler life. And then you get manuscripts like When God Calls, which kind of defies the genre. Although deeply spiritual, and religious in reverence and tone, it condenses and highlights some basic tenets of good living which are inherently applicable to everyone. And they are aimed at finding and pursuing ‘calling’ – I cannot tell you how many people wallowing in ennui need to read this, religious or otherwise.
Regardless of belief, the words here are truly applicable because they describe the state of mind exploited by successful, happy people. If that sounds a bit out there, current parlance has given it another name – mindfulness. It is up to readers whether they choose to ascribe this clarity to God, or Allah, or whomever they behold, but the parallels between this form of meditation and the suggestions in this book are very similar. That makes it immediately applicable, and opens up quite a market, but I am getting ahead of myself.
In a modular, well-constructed approach, author Dianne Sealy-Skerritt, a retired Church of England officer and advocate of social justice, strips down the meaning of one’s calling and gives advice on how to find it. It starts by accepting God, listening, and then translating the inspiration that arrives, channeling it into your most fulfilling path of life. That’s the nutshell. The expanded view is much more detailed, of course. In the first chapter, the author describes the principles of God, purpose and calling.
Many of the books I mentioned earlier rely on a ‘my god is better than your god’, browbeating tack, which leaves no room for anyone but strict believers. The author claims she has found God everywhere. God is not a He or a She, God is every god, and God is everywhere and in everyone. The author offers perhaps the best explanation of the Trinity I have ever heard –consider a man who is a husband, a son and a father, three persons in one body. She continues to discuss God’s power, his purview and his intentions for us. At the same time, she explores the words ‘purpose’ and ‘calling’, explaining that calling may or may not be vocational, but it is the path to true happiness.
Give our lives to God, then he will show us the way; trust and be trusted; find our bravery and strength. OK, fine, but how? The author discusses tuning in to what God tells us, through signs, direct messages (speech) other people and coincidences. By listening, by talking to God, we can collate the information to figure out our purpose and calling. She goes on to explain things that can get in the way of hearing, such as self-esteem and anger. But she also suggests ways in which we can interpret, or make sense of seemingly disparate signals. This is where mindfulness comes into it –it is similar, involving listening, sensing, being still, quiet, in the moment. She really levels the playing field, insisting that we are all equal and of purpose, capable of loving God, listening to his will and walking the path to fulfilment and happiness. All the while, she shreds such beliefs as ‘only the ordained can talk to God’ and ‘criminals are not pure enough to hear him’.
And of course, this would all be opinionated conjecture if it were not backed up. The manuscript is packed with biblical quotes and passages that exhort the author’s suggestions –kind of case studies of listening to God and learning true calling. She also borrows concepts and uncovers material for further reading by pointedly quoting authors and even researchers who have studied themes like religion, faith and inspiration. There’s also a cherry on top – real-life, modern case studies telling the stories of individuals who have found happiness through finding their calling and purpose through similar ideals.
I can’t help it with the mindfulness angle. Whether or not mediation puts you in touch with God (in a form of prayer), that is open to discussion. What is not is the effect. The author’s belief gives her the strength to continue with her calling and the gumption to discover it in the first place. But although this manuscript puts God squarely in that equation, its techniques and messages are quite powerful. You don’t have to believe in God to get something out of this. You don’t even have to be a Christian. What you need is an open mind and a willingness to ponder that there is something greater than yourself at work. And of course, you need to want to find your way.
As for a market – this is quite applicable to several groups. For Christians, sure; but also for those seeking direction or vocational guidance; for those interested in mindfulness and meditation, especially ones who are trying to meld spirituality and faith; and for anyone who needs an uplifting shove up the hill of their rutted road and into a new, wider avenue of positivity and growth.