Christopher Gleeson SJ, A Canopy of Stars: Some Reflections for the Journey, revised and expanded edition, David Lovell Publishing, 2017, ISBN9781863551618
When Fr Chris Gleeson SJ wrote the first edition of A Canopy of Stars he had recently completed many years as teacher and headmaster in Jesuit schools. His experience was evident in his book — it contained many moving, humorous and telling stories of his easy engagement with the schoolboys and their parents in school and at hard times such as the death of boys or their relatives.
The stories remain fresh in this revised edition of his work, and the original eight stars are now securely anchored by four pegs of the canopy. Together they comprise wise advice on the many aspects of living faithfully and fully.
Fr Gleeson’s style is expansive and leisurely, as fits an understanding of human life as full of ups and downs, directions and diversions, urgency and leisure, tidiness and messiness. The God he presents is one who enjoys the richness and untidiness of our lives, a God whose love is unchanging for us wherever we go.
The guiding image of the book is that of the journey which, for all its unpredictability, side tracks, dead ends and breaks, has its disciplines, preparations and rituals that we do well to take seriously. These, too, are illuminated in a fetching style.
The characteristic feature of Fr Gleeson’s writing is the way in which he chooses the best flowers from other writers’ gardens. The canopy that in this latest edition holds the stars in place is almost entirely composed of quotations. They are always illuminating and often most topical when they may seem to have aged. As this review is written Betty Cuthbert has died, and we celebrate her remarkable life and spirit, caught in this book by a few wonderful paragraphs by Caroline Jones.
In such writing there is also a reader’s delight in finding passages from one’s own favourite writers. Among them Brian Doyle — such a perceptive and faithful contributor to our various Jesuit publications who was recently and sadly taken from us — Kathleen Norris, Michael McGirr, Seamus Heaney and Peter Steele. Other readers will make their own selection.
A Canopy of Stars is a genial and encouraging companion for the journey. What more could we ask for when travelling?
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ