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Book Review

Margaret Silf

At Sea with God

ISBN 0 232 52438 6

DLT, London, £8.95, 2003

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed May 2005; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2005

This is a writer who has proved her value as a guide to many.  Here she takes the image of sea-faring and explores it as a model of our journey through life.


She begins with The Boat, which represents each of us as a fusion of body, mind and soul.  She continues with The Cargo and the Crew: ourselves with all the baggage that we carry with us, and the crew is the company of various kinds that is necessary on our journey.  Chapter Three deals with Setting Sail: the necessary preparations and plans, the impact of the actual start and the destination.  The next two chapters are entitled Navigating the High Seas and Perils of the Deep.  The sixth is called Going Nowhere and deals with the experience of being adrift, out of control of our journey, or simply stuck in a deep rut on the way and on the ways in which prayer can turn experience into wisdom.  The last chapter is Dropping Anchor - Moving On, and approaches the paradox of the need both to be still and to continue the voyage.


This imaginative approach is not my personal way but Margaret Silf clearly has gifts in conveying insights in this way.  For me the best part of the book was the evocation in the introduction of the sheer mystery of God and the sense of wonder and awe, combined with trust in God's love.  It describes vividly the lived experience of being 'at sea' in the events and relationships of life and the intuition that we don't make such a voyage alone.  It is a voyage that involves all creation and an adventure that can lead us closer to the core of our being and to the core of all being.


Gillian Clare OSC


Book Review

Margaret Silf

Soul Space: Making a Retreat in the Christian Tradition

ISBN 0 281 05317 0

SPCK, London, 2002, £9.99

(price at publication of review)

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

For Anglicans, the word retreat has often meant a fairly stereotyped spiritual exercise: two or three days of silence at a religious house or at a retreat centre, with two or three addresses each day.  It was a pattern encouraged by Fr Algy and Dorothy Swayne, and familiar still to many of our tertiaries.  Some of us were introduced to it at our theological colleges.  There were those who warmed to it and for whom a regular retreat became an essential part of their rule of life.  Others found it an interruption to their studies or a pointless exercise, as Bishop John Robinson testified nearly forty years ago in Honest to God.  It was a spiritual exercise for the few, and not flexible enough for many who might have felt the need of some space but were alarmed by the prospect of silence. 

There are indeed many other ways of making a retreat and of finding 'a little space for eternity to reveal itself'.  In this book, Margaret Silf describes various ways in which people in different retreat situations can find space for God and build the principle of 'retreat' into their lives.  It is not retreat reading - input for a private retreat - but a practical handbook and a guide for anybody wanting to get some space, from the busy mother tied to her house and family to the person fortunate enough to be able to get away.  It is divided into several sections, such as 'Beginning where you are', 'The Questions you didn't Like to Ask', (such as coping with silence) and a 'Fact File'.  Inevitably there are a lot of cross references and some repetition.  But there is much here to encourage any serious Christian to explore the possibility of making a retreat.  This book would be a useful resource for any parish library.                   

Reginald SSF


Book Review

Margaret Silf


A Gospel Journey into Life

ISBN 0-232-52403-3

DLT, London, 2001, £9.95

(price at publication of review)

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

Reading Wayfaring has been an incredibly worthwhile challenge.  With impaired vision I had wondered whether I would be able to read the book in a way that was conducive for reviewing.  So as a test, during my recent retreat I read Margaret Silf’s earlier book, Landmarks, which gave me a feel for her and for the actual print used.  Reading Wayfaring has been  thrilling, taking the typical Ignatian theme of creation, incarnation, death and resurrection in a vibrant readable way.  I found myself getting really excited – it was as if I was on a horse having a wonderful ride in the countryside – so much to see, and every now and then having to pull the reins so I could stop and take stock, view the scenery and acknowledge the Creator.  The format encourages this with lots of bible passages to ponder over, and helpful questions to prompt and enable the meditation.  There are also a number of drawings and quotations which help cement some of the ideas.  So it was not surprising when I got to the last chapter ‘Funnels of Love’ that the image of an hour glass was equally helpful.  There is so much to be absorbed, learned and experienced being part of God’s creation that, from time to time, we must let the experiences filter through and take us right to the initial cell we were at the beginning of our existence, better to grasp it in relation to our growing and deepening relationship with God.

As I read the book I became very aware of being on a journey – an amazing journey, wanting to read on and discover more about God, yet knowing that I will only know God better by taking time to stop, look and listen.  Early in the book, there is an extremely valuable section on busyness.  I think all of us who have workaholic tendencies should have this section writ large, to remind us how damaging and futile excessive busyness can be.  I have already shared the essence of this with people in spiritual direction.

Margaret combines an easy-flowing language with apt analogies which speak most vividly.  Her God-insights are very powerful and my understanding has deepened as a result of reading this book.  I warmly recommend it, not only to those who value Ignatian spirituality, but also to anyone who wants to journey deeper into God while firmly keeping their feet on the ground.

Phyllis CSF





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