This month I’m reading…
Lighting the Beacons: Kindling the flame of faith in our hearts
Bishop Jill Duff SPCK, 978-9780281087778
The imagery in this book is breathtaking – a vision of beacons being lit all over Britain; women, men and children bringing light, hope and love to their communities, and guiding people towards Christ. I found it stirred faith afresh in my heart that God is at work in our country.
There was much to ponder and be challenged by. Bishop Jill is convinced that the key beacons God is raising up will come from among the poor – but how often has the Church ignored or looked down upon those from humble or difficult backgrounds?
I love the way that Bishop Jill weaves her own experiences and those of inspirational historic figures to expound and explain scriptures – as well as her vision of beacons of light.
The book deals with some deep subjects, such as deliverance, repentance and disappointment. Bishop Jill looks at what helps to light our beacons, as well as what quenches the fire.
This is a profound book; well worth reading, digesting and praying through. To that end there are group discussion questions and suggestions for personal devotion provided at the end of each chapter.
Why did you choose beacons as the imagery focused on in your book?
Beacons captured my imagination at an early age when my mum explained that Rivington Pike, near our home in Bolton, was the site of a beacon that signalled the arrival of the Spanish Armada in the English Channel. I love the way that God’s Spirit inhabits our imaginings, and this image of chains of light has resonated with me over the last ten years, ever since I started praying in earnest for the renewal of faith across the north west.
In fact the more I prayed for my region, the more I was drawn into a sense of agony in God’s heart, the whisper of the Spirit saying: “We miss you, please come home.” Many others have had a similar vision, most notably Jean Darnell in 1967.
Most recently, the now-global #ThyKingdomCome ten days of prayer leads up to beacon events at Pentecost and uses the imagery of lights being lit across the world. Beacons are a beautiful image for men, women and children on fire with the Spirit of God, shining his light into all their spheres of influence.
Throughout the book you reference the Lord of the Rings – what is it about that trilogy that resonates with you so much?
Who can beat Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy for an imaginative narrative of the Christian story? I love that the real heroes are the little people – the hobbits. Unlike the power-hungry race of men, the hobbits like nothing better than to stay by the fire at home, smoking their pipes. But it’s this quiet humility that means they are trusted with an adventure of epic proportions that helps break the power of evil in Middle Earth.
You refer to various ancient, and less known, heroes and heroines of the faith in the book. Why do they inspire you so much in your own faith journey?
I love that as Christians we become part of a family – God’s worldwide family. We also become part of a family that stretches back through time. For me the saints, and especially the mystics, are like giants of faith who spur me on in faith.
I am especially grateful to Teresa of Avila and Gertrude of Helfta who have helped me understand what it means to share the sufferings of Christ. We don’t usually think of suffering in those terms today. But scripture is full of this challenging call.
Why do you think the Church has a tendency not to preach about deliverance?
Deliverance is one of those words that is often lost in translation. For many it conjures up freaky elements of horror movies or the fantasy world of fiction.
Deliverance is neither threatening nor fantasy. As the Bible describes, there is an unseen spiritual world of good and evil. We can find ourselves oppressed by evil spirits, especially at points of trauma. Note the important distinction from the cinematic sensations – we can be oppressed by evil, not inhabited. They might trouble us, but they don’t live in us. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits in the 16th century, was masterful at describing what this sort of oppression might feel like in practice: sudden fear, sudden anger, sudden despair, which then lurks.
In the church I come from, deliverance is conducted with care and wisdom, abiding by safeguarding guidelines, by authorised ministers, as only one aspect of healing among many – including the resources of medicine. Jesus encouraged us to pray in the Lord’s prayer “deliver us from evil”. The beautifully simple thing is that praying in the name of Jesus in situations of demonic oppression really does work wonders.
Why do you think God is raising up key beacon lighters from among the poor?
My experience is that the less ego, the more room for God. Lancashire is full of both the very wealthy and very poor. As I visit across the county, it is often amongst the poor that I find most openness to God. They know they need God. They make room for him. He is delighted to honour that.
You talk about us being the main fire quenchers ourselves, rather than anything external. Could you explain what you mean by that?
We can tend to think we’re waiting around for God to send his fire to bring fresh life to the Church. But I have become convinced that it is the sin of the Church that is stopping the visitation of the Holy Spirit.
In my book, I list the top five beacon quenchers that I regularly spot: belittling the enthusiasm of others; cynicism about the word of God and the power of God; despair and the cloak of despondency; heresy and the fear of heresy. It’s the fifth one that is most hidden, most insidious, most boring – disobedience.
What do you hope this book will do for your readers?
Quite simply, that it will help to light beacons, to fire faith in hearts, whether readers are new to faith, disappointed or bruised by faith, or aspiring to be a giant of faith.
Bishop Jill Duff on: The books that have changed my life
Celebrating the Saints edited by Robert Atwell
This first introduced me to the writings of that great cloud of witnesses, the saints, who are cheering us on. Worth the investment.
Credo by Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg brings to life the lives of the seventh-century Celtic saints in a gripping historical novel of battles, synods, hermitages, miracles and the fire of the gospel spreading across the British Isles.
Finding the Still Point by Gerald O’Mahony
Jesuit priest, Gerald O’Mahony, draws on his experience of bipolar disorder and the Ignatian exercises of discerning the spirits, to offer practical advice in “finding the still point” in daily life. A must-read if you are ever overwhelmed by a to-do list.
Broken by Love is the inspiring biography of Val Jeal, who stepped out in faith and changed the lives of many female sex workers in Bristol.
After leading a very conventional life, a middle-aged Val told God she was available to be used by him. Moving to an inner-city church, God opened her eyes and heart to what was happening in Bristol, and so began a remarkable rollercoaster ride of love, compassion, burnout, determination, honesty, victories and defeats.
Founding the charity One25, Val worked with the female sex workers of Bristol, offering a listening ear, acceptance, support and a safe place to stay that has changed many lives. In the process, she learned not to be pigeonholed by her life experience, as God broke into her heart and started to do extraordinary things through her that she could never have imagined.
Val’s incredible story shows that it is never too late for God to work in your life and will encourage you to have the faith to step out and do what God has called you to do.
Broken by Love: Transforming the lives of women on the streets of Bristol by Val Jeal, is available now.
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