Ellen Clark-King’s book helps beginners spread their spiritual wings. Photo: Mark Munn
When the Ven. Dr. Ellen Clark-King was working as a spiritual director, she kept mentally reaching for a book on the shelf to lend to her clients.
But it wasn’t on the shelf.
“No one seemed to have written it,” says Clark-King, archdeacon of Burrard and priest associate at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver. So she wrote it herself.
“My inspiration was the Christian spiritual tradition-its wonderful diversity, depth of wisdom and the manifold different paths it beckons people on-all of which lead to a closer relationship with God,” says Clark-King, who holds a degree in history from the University of Cambridge.
And so, interrupted by a move from England to Canada and increasing pastoral duties in Vancouver, Clark-King began work about seven years ago on The Path to Your Door: Approaches to Christian Spirituality (Continuum, 2011). She was finally able to complete this seekers’ guidebook in 2010 while on a three-month sabbatical at the Vaughan Park Anglican Retreat Centre in Auckland, N.Z.
Originally inspired by the needs of retreat leaders and spiritual directors, The Path is a thorough but readable introduction to key themes in historical and contemporary Christian spiritual traditions, from St. Augustine to Thomas Merton. The intended audience is broad: all those who are beginning to explore the untravelled byways of the soul, whether they define themselves as Christians or as non-religious spiritual questers. “The book is introductory and accessible, so it’s open to any interested reader,” says Clark-King.
The aim of the book is to encourage readers to find their own paths. “I want people to recognize that there are many ways of prayer and…we all need to find the way of prayer that works for us at this point in our spiritual journey,” says Clark-King. The work is structured around seven themes: word; silence; creation and creativity; wilderness; body; desire; and mystery. “These have all been significant on my own spiritual journey as well as echoing across the breadth of Christian spiritual experience,” she says.
Through an array of spirituality-enhancing exercises, readers can actually engage with the material and “…encounter rather than just read about the different forms of spirituality,” she says.
She recalls an older woman participating in a course based on the book who said delightedly, after being introduced to Celtic spirituality and the place of the natural world in prayer: “Oh, I didn’t know that was prayer-I do have a spiritual practice after all!”
Not surprisingly, reaction to The Path has been very positive. “I have had many individual readers comment on both the breadth and the depth of the material covered and how it has resonated with their own spiritual journey,” she says. A few churches have used it as a study book, and people have found it a good source of spiritual fellowship and an excellent discussion starter.