John V. TAYLOR, The Incarnate God. The Mowbray Lent Book. London and New York: Continuum, 2004. pp. 157. $19.95 pb ISBN 0-8264-7127-7..
Reviewed by Linda M. MALONEY, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Enosburg Falls, VT 05450

The Incarnate God was indeed a godsend for me. At the beginning of Lent I moved to a new place and a new parish and became separated from my spiritual director. As I plunged into the busy time of Lent and the flat-out race that is Holy Week for a priest, Taylor's book was a lifeline, a still point in all that chaos.

It helps that Taylor and I are pretty much singing on the same page when it comes to theology, especially our view of the Incarnation as the heart and center, the key to the whole meaning of human life. I was apprehensive at first, when I read that for most of his career Taylor had worked with the Church Missionary Society in Africa. The Anglican churches missionized by CMS have been the most resistant to the theological "innovations" coming out of North America. At any rate, these sermons and essays, all written between 1974 and 1985 when Taylor was bishop of Winchester in England, or in the years of his retirement (he died in 2001), betray no spirit of intra-church antagonism. They are all focused on the marvel of God's love for humanity and for the world, manifested in Jesus the Christ.

The essays are arranged in such a way that one moves through the Church year from Advent to Advent. I kept wishing I could have heard the sermons preached, as I marked one heart-piercing passage after another. Sometimes I laughed instead of weeping. Often I noted something I want to incorporate in my own prayer and preaching. I marked: "Mystery is not the unexplained but the queston that persists beyond all possible explanation" (p. 4). And "imagining that human sin is the only accident in the story [of creation] is another form of the same arrogance [i.e., of an anthropocentric view of things]" (p. 6). And this, which illustrates Taylor's view of Incarnation in its most basic terms: ". . . the men, women and children who spilled out of all those dark homes, streamed down the alleys and crammed the house where he was talking, till it reeked of their toil and poverty and sickness, these were his people. They pressed upon him because he spoke like one of them, and with him there was no need to explain their desperation or their dreams. So long as they could hear that voice and touch that hand they knew God had not forsaken them. Look into their faces rather than the charmed circle around the crib if you want to understand Christmas" (p. 14).

In one of the last essays, Taylor tells a congregation what it can expect as an answer to prayer:
"Together you will find that God does answer your prayers, but not every time, for it is your unanswered prayers that teach you loyalty.
"The gospel you share with others changes some of them, but not all, so that their rejection of it may force you to think it out more honestly.
"The Spirit equips you with gifts you did not have before, yet you still fall lest success make you hard and threatening to others.
"You will struggle to bring your local community nearer to God's rule, and you will be frustrated without losing your nerve, for you know his place is with those who wait, not with those who have arrived.
"There will be miracles but not too often, for the most precious gift you have to offer others is your weakness" (p. 149).
The back cover blurb says "John Taylor's greatest gift was as a communicator." I found that to be more than true, and I recommend this little collection to anyone who wants to be touched by the thoughts of a man very much in touch with God

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books