23/08/2015

Beyond Our Selves (by Catherine Marshall)

Catherine Marshall is best known for her biographical Christian book, ‘A Man Called Peter’, which tells the story of her marriage to the deep thinking minister, Peter Marshall, and his unexpected death in his forties. I found it very moving when I read it, many years ago, and was thinking I might read it again; in my vain search for this book on our shelves, I came across another by the same author. I have no idea if I’ve read it before. It has my father’s name in it so presumably I acquired (or possibly borrowed…) it from him at some point.

‘Beyond our selves’ is semi-biographical, charting the author’s own spiritual journey. However, that makes it sound very dry, and it’s nothing of the sort. It’s one of the most inspiring and encouraging books I’ve ever read. In the first chapter, she asks if her readers are satisfied with who they are and what they have. She recounts anecdotes from her own life and that of several people she has met or corresponded with, who realised that their lives were somewhat empty but did not know how to change anything.

The rest of the book charts her own discoveries, and - very gently - suggests ways in which people can involve God in their lives in new and often exciting ways. The second chapter looks at the nature of God, in a way that might seem challenging to those brought up with the idea of God as judgemental or demanding. The author talks of the time when her first husband Peter died, and the knowledge that God had his arms around her, upholding her even amidst her terrible grief. She describes experiences of others, and mentions her own upbringing with a father who she knew, absolutely, loved her.

Subsequent chapters deal with ways of being committed to God: of surrendering the ego, looking for guidance, finding strength when circumstances feel helpless, forgiving others, and seeking prayer for healing, both for oneself and for others. Catherine Marshall herself was diagnosed with TB as a young woman before modern treatments were available. She spent long years in bed which helped to form some of her spiritual insights; eventually she experienced a form of divine healing, but it was slow and gentle, nowhere near as dramatic as she had hoped.

Inevitably the book feels a little dated in places; it was written in 1961 when the author was middle-aged, and makes references to earlier parts of the 20th century. But that doesn’t matter. The writing is clear and encouraging, without false promises or exaggeration. I found it inspiring and thought-provoking, and hope I can find some of Marshall’s other books to read soon.

It’s not a book for the cynical, or for determined atheists; but for Christians - jaded or otherwise - or for those who are looking for something more, or indeed for agnostics or fringe Christians wondering what it’s all about, I would recommend this book highly.

'Beyond our selves' is not always in print, but widely available second-hand in various editions.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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