Jesuit book club – ‘Haunted by Christ’

May 31, 2023 in Featured News, News

The Belfast Jesuit Centre » run a book club every Wednesday which include discussions in small groups addressing spiritual reads that support, critique and challenge faith. Members come from a wide range of educational backgrounds across Ireland and internationally. Below, Gerry Clarke SJ talks about the book club’s latest title Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith by Richard Harries (SPCK 2018) » and an inspiring encounter with the author.

Inspirational encounter with the author

Probably the most successful title among our chosen reads in the cross-border Belfast Book Club is our current book Haunted by Christ by Richard Harries, former Anglican Bishop of Oxford and Life Peer. Each chapter explores a poet or novelist who is in some way ‘haunted by Christ’: even if they profess atheism or agnosticism… Fyodor Dostoevsky, Samuel Beckett, George Mackay Brown with a host of others challenge believers to question and refine their faith. And this is rich fare for our online Wednesday night discussions.

Since its founding in 2018 some of our chosen authors have even joined us for an evening or sent a message of encouragement. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks offered us a moving Jewish blessing shortly before he died and we were joined by theologians Donal Dorr and Padraig O’Tuama as well as journalist Derek Scally and papal biographer Austin Ivereigh.

What about inviting Richard Harries, former Anglican Bishop of Oxford and Life Peer?

A quick internet search unearthed the website of the House of Lords and an email address for Lord Harries of Pentregarth, with precise instructions how to address a Life Peer and what was suitable or not for an email to the aforesaid.

With a certain amount of Kierkegaardian “fear and trembling” a carefully worded email was dispatched to Lord Harries, wondering would such a grandee of the British establishment brush off our little cross-border reading club with disdain. But this was far from the case. This sensitive churchman who embraces writers from the four nations of these islands and further afield was only too keen to acknowledge our enjoyment of Haunted by Christ. And he appreciated that we recognised the book as the fruit of “not working”: the many nights he spent at boarding school with his nose in literature. A reply wasn’t long in coming …

“It was hugely encouraging to know that my book has been of use in this way. Thank you so much for writing. I am glad you spotted that it came out of ‘not working’. Please tell the group how reassuring it is for an author to know that their work resonates with others.

Please excuse me not joining the group for an evening, nice though that would be, but I am the main carer for my wife and we have a rather tight routine. In case they are of any interest to the group I attach a prayer and a poem I have written recently, also details of my autobiography due to be published very soon.

All good wishes and blessings on your group.


And here, with permission, is the poem:

The Last Laugh

They say Jesus sometimes smiled
But never laughed.
Life is no laughing matter.

But what would we do without laughs?
Laughs at the pretensions of the proud.
Laughs at the strutting ego
Slipping on its own piss.

Laughs to keep us going.
Laughter rather than tears
When all is cracking up.

Laughter as defiance;
The croak of those unbroken,
Broken on the rack of fate.

How long O Lord, how long?
When will your smile break into a laugh?
That Last laugh
When the cruel are scorned and the mighty held in derision?

When will we share your last lasting laugh?
The laughter of relief and reconciliation,
Rapture and revelry.
Tears streaming diamonds.
All the goodness of creation
Rocking in the aisles.

Or perhaps the Prayer:

The Pull

Pole to whom the compass of our life swings,
points and sings.
Magnet by which the filings of our days are drawn,
held and borne.
Sun to which the face of our heart turns,
grows and learns.
Moon which pulls the tide of our human being,
living and doing.
Home to whom we like pigeons do fly,
sigh and cry

Unknown known
Known unknown
You alone
Call our hearts to be your own.

Richard Harries’ autobiography »

To register and receive the zoom link for the Jesuit Book Club or simply for more information, email [email protected]