Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Water: A Spiritual History

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Water: A Spiritual History

Article excerpt

Water: A Spiritual History. By Ian Bradley. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012. 256 pp. $22.95 (cloth).

This book on the spiritual history of water has three functions. It is part history, part resource for those working on the subject of water within the religious traditions, and part a celebration of water through the ages. Bradley is drawn to the subject for its "two particularly striking and seemingly contradictory characteristics-its propensity to flow and be always on the move and its calm stillness while at rest to form a perfect mirror" (p. xi).

In its attempt to be all three things, the book occasionally disappoints the reader looking for deeper scriptural commentary or a more rigorous comparative theology of water across faiths. However, as an introduction to the subject in all its glory and diversity, written with a clear recognition of the joy and healing that water can bring, the book is both informative and delightful. The author demonstrates to the reader the wealth of material available, and conveys it in a lively and informative manner. In particular, the comparison of Roman baths and Celtic water cults, which somehow mutates into the rise of spas, hydropathy (the curing of illness through the use of water), and the cult of cleanliness, draws a fascinating thread through time and across cultures. At its heart, this book is about how water was used and celebrated throughout history, from Roman baths to the Water Walk at Lourdes, including a postscript on humanity's denigration and waste of this literally vital resource. The focus is on the spiritual in the largest sense of the term.

Bradley demonstrates both the spiritual and symbolic appropriation of water in many cultures throughout history. While most readers will recognize biblical water symbology as a place for human encounter with the divine or the source of life, Bradley also explores the less familiar appearance in many ancient cultures of "hydrolatry," the veneration or worship of water. …

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