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Book Review

Eric James

Who is This?


Continuum, London, 2001, £9.99

(price at publication of review)


Reviewed May 2002; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2002


In one of these sermons Canon James lets slip that he is seventy-five, but there are no signs here that this preacher is becoming any less eager to ascend the pulpit steps.  This is his sixth such collection, which is interesting in itself, given the supposed pre-eminence of the sound bite.  These are not two-minute homilies: they are the carefully crafted pieces of a dedicated wordsmith – his 1999 Holy Week addresses and eighteen other sermons.


Some sermons, which sound wonderful, do not translate onto the printed page, but these manage the transition very well.  His style is quite literary – he often includes quite extensive quotations – but the lump never remains unleavened for too long.  He ‘never quite feel[s] a sermon is complete unless it contains a personal anecdote or two’ and confesses to his listeners at one point that he has ‘reached [his] ‘anecdotage’ in life’.  The result is a treasure trove of stories and reminiscences stretching back over fifty years in ordained ministry, a childhood in Dagenham, as well as his early working life in a riverside wharf on the south bank of the Thames, during the Second World War. 


The stories are not there as padding, they are more like touchstones:  he says ‘thinking about the cross means most of all discovering the cross at the heart of our own everyday experience, our own selves; discovering the cross-like self-giving of God at the very heart of our own existence and experience.’


I cannot finish without mentioning the front cover – a photograph of an installation of Mark Wallinger’s sculpture Ecce Homo.   The design is inspired: raised lettering, like Braille, not printed as such, so you have to feel it to find out what it says – a metaphor for the whole collection.


Stephen Roberts, Southwark Cathedral



Book Review

Eric James

The House of My Friends - Memories and Reflections

ISBN 0 8264 7062 9

Continuum, London, 2003, £16.99

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed January 2005; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2004

In 1992 Canon Eric James came to visit us in Masasi.  He was engaged on a biography of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, and travelled around the Diocese, seeing the places where Trevor had worked and talking to the many people who remembered him.

In the evenings he would have a meal with the Bishop, Richard Norgate, and I was also invited.  The talk would begin with the day's travels and adventures but would then quickly broaden out.  Bishop Richard was no mean raconteur himself but in the face of that flood of memories and reflections which was Eric's conversation, even he gave up.  Eric seemed to know everyone, and to have been friends with almost every famous name of the last half century.  The main impression that remains of those few evenings in the African bush is one of a richness and breadth of experience, of a long life fully lived.

The House of My Friends is a record of some of those who enriched or inspired Eric James on his life's journey.  We go from Shakespeare to Sidney Smith by way of Lancelot Andrewes, Fr Dolling and Charles Gore.  He is at his most moving when writing of Eric Abbott and Trevor Huddleston.

For me two themes stand out.  One is the coming to wholeness through one's own brokenness and wounded nature: to the new life through the cross.  King Lear is only one of many examples.  The other theme is that of servanthood, and the calling of the church, for instance, to be a servant in the inner city, the calling of the monarch to be a servant, and the calling of the priest to be, as it were, a deacon.

  James Anthony SSF



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