A review of ‘With my whole heart’, by James Jones

I am spending a lot of time just now in the chemotherapy unit of my local hospital. I go there to accompany my wife, who is undergoing this punishing treatment regime. You might think that a chemotherapy ward, with its mood music of whirring machines and bleeping alarms is the last place to read a book on the Psalms. James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool and author of With my whole heart, might disagree. The book, you see, was born in hospital.

When this usually active and dynamic man was taken into hospital for heart surgery early last year, it was a rude shock. During recovery and convalescence he found himself seeking solace in the Psalms, as generations have done before him. Therein lies the problem, of course, with any book on the Psalms – it has so many predecessors.  James Jones, though, has found a unique ‘entry point’ . In his seventy short meditations on the Psalms, he homes in uniquely on verses which mention the heart.

The mediations are a real tonic to the soul – never more than a page long, deeply honest and spiritually applicable. Each concludes with a short prayer, and some even suggest a meditative activity.  The writing is simple yet arresting enough that you can concentrate on it in even the most testing of environments, as I can testify from experience. There is a ‘take-home’ value to this content – with gems of wisdom small enough to take away and mull over long after the book is closed:

‘One of the blessings of being laid aside lies in the scaling down

of one’s expectations and in an ever greater appreciation for the ever smaller things in life.’

Like any medical facility, the chemo ward has its fair share of discarded magazines – from the classy to the sleazy. One particularly glaring example was the glossy magazine in such a place trumpeting its feature on divorce amongst couples where one partner has a serious illness – not the best choice in such a context, surely?

Context is always the key to theological understanding.  This is why the persecuted church today understands the New Testament with a clarity which escapes those of us languishing in Western liberty. In the same way, the context of suffering and weakness unlocks the theological treasure house of the Psalms. If you would like to give it a try, then this book could be the key.

With My Whole Heart, by James Jones ISBN 978 0 281 06805 0 – Published by SPCK May 2012