Searching for meaning, truth or just to understand yourself better - then this is for you!
The meaning and mystery of life is ultimately found in personal relationship, sometimes with another and, for those who search, sometimes with God. In Taking Heart the experiences of four people who are spiritually searching and looking for a direct experience of God are explored, and their different journeys through self-doubt to self-acceptance and to the heart of faith are discussed. These four people are neither especially religious nor spiritual, and nor are they famous. They are ordinary people on an extraordinary search for meaning.
As with all journeys there is discovery but also an uncovering and a recovering. All heart journeys are an exodus that takes us out of captivity and are also the passion story which is at the heart of the mystery of faith, a journey through the very worst and towards the very best. And, throughout the spiritual journey, God is shaping and forming our inner life in the unknown depths of our heart.
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What a gift to read a book that takes us straight into the heart of matters. Fiona Gardner, a qualified psychoanalytic psychotherapist, spiritual director and former chair of The Thomas Merton Society, has written a short but rich book about the core of our spiritual journey and transformation. She uncovers the heart, the centre of all spirituality. This book is a wonderful brief account of the spiritual journey of true transformation in a contemporary and day-to-day situation, and a guide into the complexities of the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of our being. Gardner shows us the way to the core of our being. Starting from the motto of the book by Alexander Ryrie about our ‘hidden secret place, the inner chamber of our hearts’, through the thoughts of not only Thomas Merton but also Carl Jung and others, she penetrates into the deepest connection with Christ. Woven throughout the book are real life stories of four of her clients: their journeys, struggles, but more so their rebirth in freeing themselves from those psychological and spiritual mechanisms which keep us trapped. In doing so we meet, what Merton called, our ‘Inward Stranger’. Reading the book feels like walking a labyrinth. It brings us closer into contact with our hidden parts, and creates a sense of wholeness. Her gentle support lets us breathe in dialogue with the Breath of Life. Gardner surely is what Jim Forrest calls her in his introduction to the book, ‘a spiritual cardiologist’. She demonstrates the existential value of spiritual direction: to truly heal, opposed to the more common and broadly accepted cognitive-behavioural psychological approaches that aim to ‘fix’. Gardner’s intellectual viewpoints are rather transparent. She often starts her chain of thoughts by starting at ‘the church’, then via Merton and Jung arriving at Christ. She can sometimes be polemical against the church, something like a ‘free spirit’ against a framework of an ‘institutionalized spirit’. Staying close to the life stories of her clients and her own, for me personally, is enough to make her point. Whilst reading, the following question kept coming to mind: who is she actually writing for? Writing on the subject of spiritual transformation and discovering the True Self is not original. We recognise the use of Merton and Jung’s ‘false self’, and ‘shadow work’. So, I wonder what would have been her aim in writing this book? The answer had to come from the reading itself. I read the book commuting to work in the early hours of the morning. The writings nourished me, sustained my heart and soul and reconciled me with my own psychological and spiritual diversity and complexity. I also found her insights and thoughts resonating in the conversations I had with patients on the surgical, psychiatric, oncology and palliative care wards. Through the subtle and investigating mind of Gardner I heard more hidden emotions coming through. For me, as a hospital chaplain and spiritual director, it reawakened my inner ear. Therefore the wisdom that lights up through the whole of the book, the gems, were transferred into the patients’ lives and sometimes helped lifting some of their spiritual and emotional suffering. The originality of the book no doubt is the way Fiona Gardner explores the heart like an adventurer, familiar with the map but not numbed, to find unexplored tracks, cul-de-sacs, and sometimes hidden caves. Taking Heart lives up to the expectation included in the title: it is worth the effort to take heart because our spiritual journey, guided by a professional like Gardner herself, sets us free, and gives a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment. ~ Sylvia Grevel (Sylvia Grevel is a researcher in Innovation and Spiritual Care at the Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen Nl., a Phd candidate, The Merton Journal
Everyone, knowingly or not, is on a life-path towards wisdom and spiritual maturity. An insightful guide for the journey, Fiona Gardner knows God dwells in our hearts and shows us reliably here how to find Him - a heart-warming read. ~ Larry Culliford, author of Much Ado about Something and The Big Book of Wisdom
There is nothing more personal than one’s spiritual journey. And yet, it is precisely the particularity of our quest for transcendence that makes the lessons learned and relationships built along the way universally recognizable and relatable. Fiona Gardner shares with us the journeys of four seekers, each with their own joys and hopes, challenges and anxieties, but each illuminating a path to the spiritual through the heart. This book is more than an introduction to the spiritual life, it is a compass pointing the way for modern women and men searching for a profounder sense of spirituality and a deeper sense of self! ~ Daniel P. Horan, OFM, author of All God’s Creatures: A Theology of Creation, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton and Dating God
It is our personal relationships that define our humanity, and the things at which we stumble, the questions with which we grapple, provide the moments of encounter, of discovery. Fiona Gardner draws upon her insights as a theologian and a psychotherapist to point us towards the God who gives shape and meaning to our inner journey. ~ John Moses, Dean Emeritus of St Paul's London, author of The Art of Thomas Merton and Divine Discontent