Learning to Dance, Michael Mayne 2001

This is one of Susan Hill’s Best Forty (the books this British literary critic would take to a desert island if she were limited to only 40)and she describes it as follows:  ‘I have gained more from reading Michael’s books than from any other writer, not just about faith and the Christian life, but about all life, any life.”  She also describes reading it slowly, two lines at a time with pen and paper in hand because of the richness of the prose and the literary and artistic allusions.  So, if it seems strange that this lifetime Jew should read a book by the former head of Religious Programs for the BBC, the Vicar of Great St. Mary’s in Cambridge, and finally the Dean of Westminster Cathedral, wonder not. This is a beautiful book in which literature, art, nature, and relationships are woven into a quite wonderful tapestry, one that is anchored in his Christian faith but not determined by it.  Mayne uses the metaphor of ‘dancing’ throughout the book writing that  ‘My theme is the dance: the dance of life; the dance of the cosmos, of the natural world and the tiniest particles of matter; the dance of music and paint and words; the dance of those cruel times which feels like dancing in the dark; the dance of relationships, of forgiveness, friendship and love; the dance of faith; and finally, that hidden dance that some call heaven.’ His writing about topics as arcane as quantum physics, cosmology, DNA and other elements of the natural world is quite amazing, and the several epigrams that begin each chapter provide enough wonder and interest to warrant reading the book.  This may be the most unusual book in the nearly 2500 books that I’ve read in the last 40 years, but it’s one that I’d highly recommend for those who love literature, art, music or for those seeking to better understand their religious faith.  As Hill writes:  “….reading any of his books opens innumerable magical casements—-and is best done with pen and notebook to hand.”  Mayne died in 2006 at the age of 77.  In the final chapter of this book he wrote:  “….gratitude and grace.  I’ll buy that for an epitaph.  Or rather, I’ll go on working at it, trusting that one day I may be confident enough to cast away my inhibitions and really learn to dance.”

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