Unlike last year, when, in the weeks leading up to Easter, I read almost exclusively theology, I opted this year for a more laid-back approach and only read one “Lent book” which was this. I only started it about 10 days before the start of the Easter weekend, but as it is quite a short book (172 pages + introduction, acknowledgements, bibliography, etc.) I was able to go through it quite slowly and ponderously and finished it on Good Friday.
The subject of the book is humility, which the author (a fairly high church Anglican at my old stomping ground of Durham Cathedral) acknowledges is very tricky to write about. Most of the first chapter is devoted to the challenges of writing about the subject without taking pride in the fact that one is humble. He puts it much better than I do, though.
This is what I would describe as a “lifestyle christianity” book. It’s not self-help dressed up in christian clothes but neither is it a detailed theological study. Cherry picks out examples from his own life and draws on as many, if not more, secular sources as he does biblical quotations. In this respect, the writing style is not entirely dissimilar from that of C.S. Lewis.
The barefoot of the title is derived from Cherry’s own experience of pilgrimages to Lindisfarne where some people went barefoot as they crossed the mud flat at low tide. The subtitle of the book, “walking the way of passionate humility,” is sort of defined but is really demonstrated throughout the whole book. It is hard to sum up in a paragraph, so having made several attempts whilst writing this review, I decided not to and simply recommend that you read the book yourself.
What is core to Cherry’s viewpoint that passionate humility goes firmly against conventional (or we might say ‘worldly’) wisdom. It is not piousness or grovelling, where the example of Dickens’ character, Uriah Heap, is held as an example of exactly what Cherry doesn’t mean. This is far more affirmative, yet not self-seeking. It is the practicalities of ‘living out’ this worldview that Cherry unpacks.
The only downside I found in the book is that Cherry does adopt an extremely “high church” position where there is some talk of “holy spaces” (a subject I have been intending to write about for some time, and hope to pick up soon) and at one point slights some elderly people for saying bits of liturgy that only the priest ought to say, as if some words ought to be forbidden from being uttered by the hoi polloy.
Yet this is a small aside and may well pass unnoticed by readers of a similarly high church background. This is an intensely thought-provoking book and one that I would recommend to you to read at any time, not just during Lent/Easter.
Stephen Cherry’s personal blog may be found here.