Days of Awe and Wonder: How To Be A Christian In The Twenty-First Century, by Marcus Borg, July 2017. SPCK, ISBN 978-0281078257, 256 pages. RRP £14.99 (paperback)
This book comprises essays, sermons and selected highlights from the late Marcus Borg’s work between 1984-2014. Not all of them have been in print before, so even his most comprehensive followers will find plenty of new things here to chew over. Although each of the 16 chapters can stand happily alone, their combined weight gives us a picture of Borg’s personal faith journey from small, anxious, God-bothered boy to the world’s leading spokesperson for progressive Christianity until his death in 2015.
Throughout the collection Borg plays with a set of recurring themes. It begins with his chart of pitstops in the unmappable “world of Spirit”; many of these, he shows, are described throughout the Scriptures in terms of dazzling luminosity, energy and power. Others’ trips to the world of Spirit are experienced viscerally and individually, whether or not they share a common cultural context. Between our quotidian world and the world of Spirit is the mediating figure of Jesus, generating for us the energy-zap of sacred pneuma. Mere “belief”, says Borg, is far too limited a concept to usefully extend to that place.
Jumping from the universal to the exceedingly intimate, Borg shares his own story about becoming unexpectedly touched and transformed by the world of Spirit. As he points out, a typical reaction to being caught on the hop is to blurt out “Oh my God!”. For him, that exclamation expresses truth. His journey over several decades led to quite different understandings of “truth” from that of his traditional Lutheran childhood, but that specifically Lutheran injection to preach the Gospel afresh into every emerging generation has continued to captivate his storyteller’s heart.
A particular pleasure of this collection is the inclusion of addresses and sermons that have never before been folded into Borg’s work. The transcriptions of spoken work make Borg’s authentic voice even clearer than it is on YouTube (YouTube doesn’t do footnotes) while aphorisms such as “Lent is about mortality and transformation” and “God is womblike, Jesus says, therefore you be womblike” stand out against the far more scholarly contexts of his published texts.
There is of course a downside to anthologies such as this one: they can easily do a serious disservice to both the thought and the author by boiling down complex arguments to reductionist soundbites. Although it is certainly the case that this one, slim volume could never substitute for Borg’s chunky back-catalogue, Green Christian readers will nonetheless enjoy the opportunity that the book provides to stimulate conversations about God, social justice, inter-religious dialogue and about common sense.
A final observation is that the book is topped and tailed by fond personal memories of the late author. Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful, warm and funny eulogy gives thanks for the gift of Borg’s good life and good death while Borg’s widow, Marianne, invites the reader to carry on his good work and to “become part of the unending conversation”. Thanks Marianne; great book, and I don’t mind if I do.
Dr Hellen Giblin-Jowett FRSA