Oh Light: An Anthology of Writings and Reflections to Enrich the Spirit
edited by Anna Gilkinson
Lower Hutt, Aotearoa, New Zealand: Disability, Spirituality and Faith Network, 2008
Reviewed by Anne Hadfield
Based in New Zealand, the Disability, Spirituality and Faith Network was formed in 2003 to give voice to the experience and spiritual journey of people who live with disability and chronic illness. Oh Light is a further step in sharing the insights and stories of this special group of people with the wider community. It is a voice that no spiritual director should ignore.
Oh Light is packed with poems, reflections, and quotations from people such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta and enhanced by Tim Denee’s selection of evocative photography. Editor Anna Gilkinson divided the book into six sections with titles such as “Bodywork,” “The Cure of Souls,” and “Rivers of Grace.”
I am reminded of our universal humanity when I read: “Every person in your world is differently abled, every person in your world is differently disabled” (49) and “We live, fall in love, create and join wholly with the creative spirit which is in us, everyone” (41).
The contributors struggle with daily limitations. Nancy Mairs, who has multiple sclerosis, shares: “Now I am who I will be. A body in trouble” (2). As a reader I am faced with the stark reality of living within a physical frame that no longer obeys my own commands.
Oh Light calls me to a deeper faith, one that does not depend on prosperity and good health but believes in the faithful presence of God. A dark night of mind or body can also be a dark night of the soul. Rhonda Swenson describes a sense of grace in a time of depression as a “moment of reconnection” (98). Robin List writes about the poignant moment when a wild hoiho penguin allowed his disabled daughter to stroke his white chest, “as we would all love to do but penguins don’t allow this exchange of grace to just anyone” (46).
The last section of the book, titled “Making Connections,” captures the gift that a person living with disability can offer to the wider community. We learn how mutuality is a powerful spiritual gift for all communities.
Oh Light has important insights for all spiritual directors. It encourages and empowers everyone who experiences disability. It widens the discussion on accessibility and hospitality. It invites us into a deeply embodied spirituality, which poet Trish Harris expresses as “the cathedral in my belly” and “the harmony singing out through my veins” (85–86).
Anne Hadfield, PhD, is a member of the New Zealand Association of Christian Spiritual Directors. She presented a workshop at the Spiritual Directors International educational events in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She has accompanied people from many denominations and cultures. She is a spiritual director and supervisor through SoulScape.