“The best moments in reading are when you come across something
– a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you thought
special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone
else, a person you may never have met … and it is as if a hand has come
out and taken yours.”
This sums up how I felt when I first read Memories of God by Roberta Bondi. Bondi is a faculty member of Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and in her work as a church historian has sought to make the wisdom of the early church and the insights of monastic spirituality available to contemporary Christians. Although Bondi and I come from very different backgrounds there is much in her writing that resonates strongly with me.
Bondi firmly believes that true theology is about doing the work of telling one another our stories, of talking about the ways in which our concrete and particular experiences intersect with Christian doctrine. She believes this is real theology done in order to find a way to claim for our own time and our own generation what it means to be Christian.
For much of her life she has found herself to be a woman theologian in a male theological world, but her passion for honouring what she would call the true meaning of theology goes right back to her early childhood days. As an adult, she recognises that for much of her life her faith has been rooted in the wrong story of Jesus and through this book she unpacks and discovers new meanings and perspectives on her long-held beliefs about God, the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.
In each chapter she reflects on one of Christianity’s central teachings, interweaving profound theological thought with personal stories. There is much in this small book that echoed things that I’ve been exploring over a number of years but there were three main themes that spoke profoundly to me when I first read the book, now ten years ago.
The first was around what it means to be made in the image of God. Her comment on her realisation that “I, as a woman – neither as a defective male nor as a generic human being, but as a woman – am made in the image of God.”, radically changed my perspective on all that consciously and unconsciously I had taken on board since childhood. The second was about how we relate to God. She explores what damage is done to our relationship with God when we believe (as is so often taught) that he loves us in spite of who are, not because of who we are. And thirdly, in the church culture that I was brought up in which so valued rational thought, recognising that true rational thought can only be rational if it is loving, because God who made us and gave us our minds is a God of love.
This is a book that I read probably once a year, and although I’m now familiar with its content, and don’t necessarily come from the same standpoint as her on some issues, there is still something about it that inspires and encourages me again and again to do the real work of theology in my own life.
Reviewed by Ruth Hassall, leadership development adviser for CPAS.