Voices from the Desert
A Spirituality for our Times
Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2002, £7.99
(price at publication of review)
Reviewed January 2004; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2003
These voices from the desert inhabit the cultural wildernesses of the second half of the twentieth century. They begin with Kerouac and Ginsberg of the Beat Generation, then range through the anger of African Americans in the 1960s and through the barren landscapes of post-industrial Wales. A chapter on Haiti follows as an interlude before the collection concludes with a hearing for novelists Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi and their post-colonial perspective of Britain.
Griffiths admits that together they form an eclectic choice but that a common thread of alienation weaves amongst them. He writes candidly and intelligently about how some of these voices have shocked him into a change of outlook - a realisation that the gulf between the gospel proclaimed by the churches and those on the margins of our society is vast indeed. This is the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book and Rowan Williams teases out the underlying theme in his foreword: "How did a faith whose origins had so much to do with life at the margins become so awkward at engaging with the experience of the marginal in the modern period?"
Liberation theology has been an attempt to bridge this cultural gap. Griffiths spent ten years of his ministry in Haiti and says that the experience humbled and healed him. He gives a general account of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Ti Legliz, Haiti's liberation theology movement. Though the account is fascinating I wanted to know more about how Griffiths' time there, in the parish of the poor, had helped to form him. A deeper reflection on his personal experience here would have provided a counterbalance to the rich literary fare which he serves so appetisingly.
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