In December 2020 we released Simon Ponsonby's latest book, Amazed by Jesus. For today's Writer's Wednesday, Richard Frost returns to our blog with his reflections on the amazing Jesus, at a time when keeping up with the constant barrage of changes to life-as-we-know-it can feel like running just to stand still. Take a moment with Richard to reflect, and meet the Lord.
Why on earth did I offer to write a book review while on retreat? Especially when its Foreword contains the line ‘Do I love Jesus, or do I just work for him?’
I mean, retreats are for taking a break. Time for restoration, renewal and recovery. The pandemic has put paid to at least two and the last one was back in August. Much too long a gap.
Vicarage life is one that can’t be escaped from, of course. Over 50 online services edited. Several others led and preached at. Let alone family and church demands – and that’s without mentioning the dog.
A retreat… and I offer to write a book review.
Thankfully, I realised this before I started reading Simon Ponsonby’s latest book, Amazed by Jesus. Thankfully, I was able to put aside thoughts of simply writing something suitable for Muddy Pearl. Thankfully, I could read it and focus my mind and my self on Jesus, the Jesus by whom the author is amazed.
The author’s own ‘amazement’ shines from inside its (poignantly shiny) covers
In Amazed by Jesus, Ponsonby seeks ‘to present the expansive person and work of Jesus.’ And he does so. From ‘biography’ through to the meaning and the purpose of Jesus’ life, the author presents a range of different aspects of who Jesus is now and was during his earthly ministry.
Ponsonby has a very accessible writing style, full of insights and information, wit and wisdom. Each chapter being about ten pages long makes it easy to read and then to the pause and reflect on the words the author has offered.
The book comprises material from his sermons and he draws on art, film, music and literature (notably Tolkien) as well as other writers. He offers helpful explanations of the Greek and Hebrew that lies behind the Biblical words about Jesus – drawing upon theological thinking but in a manageable and non-academic way. Some of the analogies and examples are a little tenuous and, for this reviewer, the author can at times be too dismissive of others through misplaced flippancies.
Let me make a very clear distinction. This is not an amazing book about Jesus; this is a book about the amazing Jesus. Indeed, the author’s own ‘amazement’ shines from inside its (poignantly shiny) covers and addresses the reader directly, saying ‘Be Amazed!’
Personally, I found Chapter 12 with its focus on the cup of communion particularly helpful. Putting together those 50+ online services, with all the admin and technicalities and getting bogged down in the work behind the scenes, has dulled my relationship with the Eucharist somewhat. Ponsonby takes us through the familiar stories of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and resurrection, in such a way as if reading for the first time, challenging the reader and causing them to stop and evaluate what it really means to them. He culminates with Chapter 16, extolling the amazing love of the amazing Jesus. And I am sure many can relate to what the author writes:
‘Do you know that Jesus loves you?
Do you really know?
For years, I ‘believed’ it – but it took too long to know it.’
As someone who has moved on from, but still values, my evangelical roots, this is a book which contains much which is familiar but to use the author’s words, ‘the old ground’ is still good to stand upon.
The retreat was restorative and renewing – and this book, or rather what Jesus said through it, played its part. Each day I was able to, as Ponsonby puts it, ‘lay on my bed reflecting on the day and wondering where I had met the Lord and where I had missed him.’
I look forward to Jesus pointing out anything I had not seen.
Richard Frost is married to a Vicar, is a Reader in the Church of England and a lay member of a Benedictine Monastic Community. The author of Life with St Benedict (published by BRF in 2019), he writes a blog at workrestpray.com. This is Richard’s second Writer’s Wednesday entry.