Francis Phillips reviews
The Rosary in Space and Time, by Ruth Rees, Gracewing. £7.99.
This book, written disarmingly by ‘a sinner for sinners’ and dedicated to the Holy Family, is certainly the most stimulating book I have read on this subject for a long time. This is because it is not written from a pious or narrowly devotional perspective. It is written in forthright prose by a journalist and a convert from Judaism, who once worked as an actress.
Hence it is both very readable and also dramatic, with the added richness of a Jewish viewpoint on this often difficult but most beautiful of all prayers. All the earnest fidelity of the author’s Jewish forebears has been harnessed to her Catholic zeal.
It is divided into two parts: Part I, ‘On prayer generally’, gives a cosmic slant to her theme. She emphasises that there can be no conflict between science and faith; physics and metaphysics are different sides of the same coin. Thus prayer is never simply personal and parochial; the author reminds us that the physicists’ ‘butterfly effect’ in which the tiny movement of a butterfly’s wings can cause a physical reaction the other side of the globe is also true of prayer: one loving, humble plea to God can move a mountain if we truly have faith. Although we might know this in theory, it is always good to be reminded of it by a writer of such strong conviction.
How much more preferable to the scientific expression ‘Big Bang’ is Ruth Rees’s definition of the origin of the world, where the cosmos is seen as ‘an explosion of divine love’. Through prayer we can harness that love to transform the world, whether we fight on the front line, like the contemplative orders, or we are lay people like the author, who prays for everyone on the Bakerloo Line when she travels on the London underground.
Part II is on the rosary itself. Here the ‘time’ and ‘place’ of the title include much local Jewish tradition of the time, which a Christian might not know: what an inn and a stable meant in Palestine 2,000 years ago; what the Temple in Jerusalem would have looked like; what a betrothal signified and much more. Research into the Jewish background to the Mysteries of the rosary, and a recommendation that we pray it alongside the relevant scriptural passages make this book a most absorbing narrative.
The author uses evidence from the medical and scientific research on the Holy Shroud, supported by the writings of mystics, to bring home to us the horror behind the sorrowful mysteries. She also dispels accepted stories without historical basis, such as that Our Lady gave St Dominic the rosary, or that her dormition took place in Ephesus rather than Jerusalem.
Behind these detailed explanations emerges a woman of great personal faith. The author initially promised Our Lady to pray the rosary daily for only two years, recognising her human frailty to commit herself to more. This has grown to a daily habit, prayed ‘alone, in church, in front of the Blessed Sacrament.’ For those who do not have the time or place to do likewise or even a rosary to hand she suggests using the fingers, as Cardinal Mindszenty was forced to do during his captivity. She is rightly indignant about using a holy object such as the rosary as a fashion statement.
Throughout this book, and its greatest value, is Ruth Rees’ urgent reminder that Christians must pray in order to ‘increase the spiritual capital that is running out so quickly’. Indeed, she asserts that ‘if you do not pray you are not a Christian’. Instead of deploring depressing newspaper headlines an easy thing to do - we should ‘convert the energy of angry despair’ into a creative force by means of the rosary.
The book ends, as it begins, with the cosmos: in response to the unbeliever’s challenge of life in other solar systems unaffected by Christianity, the author counters with two fascinating questions: ‘Is it not possible that God may have chosen our insignificant little planet, located on the outer rim of a huge galaxy, to be the Galilee of the cosmos? And that the time will come when a new generation of missionaries will spread the Gospel throughout the universe, and take their Rosaries along with them?’ We will be reaching, literally, for the stars.
© 2004 Francis Phillips
Theotokos Catholic Books - Book Reviews Section - www.theotokos.org.uk