Reviewed by Jmes Sale Amazon
The Prayerful Kiss is a prolonged, transcendental and theological - Catholic - meditation on God, Christ and Mary. The meditation assumes many forms: poetry, reflection, confession, philosophy, abstractions, reminiscences, and prayer. If I have missed a category out - so be it; it is a dense and complex book! Perhaps the starting point to understanding it is contained in the Preface where Etheredge is compared to GK Chesterton, and particularly Chesterton’s wonder at life. I think it true to say that Etheredge marvels that existence exists (’Out of what impenetrably white lightness suddenly spoke Existence?’), and part of his quest is to search for its meaning, its deeper layers of meaning. Indeed, the arrangement of the book in that sense is like an onion as Etheredge unpeels, strips back, and determines to reach the still point where his longings are satisfied. For the collection veers from profound abstractions to highly personal anecdotes and stories. It could be said that Etheredge is a Christian for our times, for out on social media we have a plethora of people going on about their problems, mental health issues, vulnerabilities and uncertainties, etc., but in an entirely secular way in which somehow underlying most of the griping is the complaint that the State should do more in supporting them. There is none of that with Etheredge: it is from the living God that salvation is to be found, salvation in all things. The most moving and pivotal incident in the whole collection, and which underpins most of it, is the abortion of his first child, whom he perceives to be still alive in heaven; and also whom he equates, in terms of its emotional intensity, with the dead Christ in the arms of Mary. As he says, ‘Thirty years on, however, this child is as present to me as every other child [he currently has 8 other children and 2 further ones who are ‘in heaven’]; and, even if I cannot explain it, I am conscious of a fatherhood that I cannot forget.’ This loss is something that Etheredge, or anyone else, can barely come to terms with; but unlike most people who, for one reason or another, decide to move on, Etheredge won’t move on: he has to confront the demons of this devastating tragedy, again and again. He has to wrestle - as I imagine Jacob did with the angel on the ladder to heaven - until finally all is reconciled: in his mind, emotions, spirit; and the great reconciler is his imagination as he explores all the nuances of his tragedy. To say it is his ‘imagination’ which is the great reconciler is not here to be secular: for the imagination is the creative spirit itself that God imbued all humanity with in the original Creation. Thus, it is God speaking and reconciling through him. All this, however, can make for heavy work - it is so intense, one finds it difficult to read in large chunks. That said, there are moments of simple beauty too: ‘A beautiful singing, / Of Love being the beginning.’ So I strongly recommend this book: if you are struggling with your faith, then this is for you; if you have no faith and think the world has done you down, then read what happened to Etheredge; if you are looking for a deep affirmation of life and creation, then this book will not disappoint.