The Best of Jonathan’s Corner: An Anthology of Orthodox Christian Theology by C. J. S. Hayward. Free on 5/30/13
By Sydney Nicoletta W. Freedman
‘The Best of Jonathan’s Corner: An Anthology of Orthodox Christian Theology’ is a book that provides not only a good introduction to the author’s work but also a dose of the clear thinking and spiritual wisdom prescribed for our times. The author lives to create treasure, and he has mined, refined, and gathered wisdom for our age. It is not new knowledge, but rather, it has been artfully distilled from the writings of Church Fathers and his own life, from study and experience.
The pieces in this book speak with clarity about spiritual topics and with depth about practical ones, addressing the intrigues and issues that we all face, explore, and question. Orthodox Christian readers will find insightful discussions of art and worship, such as ‘Lesser Icons,’ and lucid, applicable discussions of the spiritual life, such as ‘God the Spiritual Father.’ This Eastern Orthodox perspective may shed light on matters for readers from other traditions as well. Such is especially true for pieces on such timely issues as economic hardship (‘Money’ and ‘The Best Things in Life are Free’) and the discussion of religion and science, including ‘”Religion and Science” Is Not Just Intelligent Design vs. Evolution.’. Regarding this latter work, a Roman Catholic reader recently deemed it to be one of the ‘most intelligent and erudite’ things that he has ever read. The essays on silence, the place of technology, and nature are treasures among the discussions of such popular and important issues. For those concerned with Orthodox theology and where it stands in relation to other denominations, ‘An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism’ is profitable reading.
Illuminating reflections on the Christian life, including ‘An Author’s Musing Memoirs’ and ‘Maximum Christ, Maximum Ambition, Maximum Repentance,’ crown the theological articles, stemming from Hayward’s experiences and vast knowledge of Orthodox theology. The homilies, articles, commentaries, and essays in this book are treasure enough, but the talented writer has also included numerous creative pieces.
The poetic and fictional works in this book offer the same spiritual knowledge for which our society thirsts but in the deeper and more elevated way that is inherent to their genres. Some of the poems, ‘Open,’ for example, are prayers, which readers may find to voice some of their own words and which fittingly glorify God and His saints. Other poetry, such as ‘How shall I Tell an Alchemist,’ pointedly deals with questions of spirituality and theology with the magnified acuity that only this particular art can achieve. Socratic dialogue (‘The Damned Backswing’) and other creative forms play their part as well, rounding out the book.
The work that stands out most among the creative pieces, perhaps among all of them, is that which opens the book, ‘The Angelic Letters.’ I have had the pleasure of reading nearly all of Hayward’s writings, and I was delighted that he undertook to write such a work. Readers who are familiar with C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’ will recognize at once that it is the very book which that author desired, but felt unable, to write in order to balance the demonic correspondence. It is a mark of Hayward’s skill, knowledge, and spiritual insight that he has successfully written something that such a theologian as Lewis did not wish to attempt, and according to a psychologist of his acquaintance, the average Harvard PhD has not ever met someone as talented as Hayward. He has of course accomplished this work with God’s help, but one must realize the spiritual struggle, mental effort, careful study, and deep prayer that has gone into every piece in this anthology.