VOID IF DETACHED is essentially a collection of the Reverend Richard Murdoch’s sermons, framed by historical and personal context provided by Murdoch’s daughter, Sarah Bowen. Murdoch was a Presbyterian minister, a father of two daughters (Sarah and her sister Amy), and an active counselor, community member and helper. He loved and supported Sarah even as she questioned her Christian beliefs, encouraged her to read and research widely and thoughtfully, and in the end, it was his sermons that brought her to a new, more expansive and discerning faith.
The book centers around Murdoch’s sermons, which are organized not by the chronological order in which he gave them, but by the order of the texts in the Bible from which he took them. Thus, the book progresses from Genesis through Revelation, with historical context for each book or set of books provided by Bowen in between the sermons. Murdoch’s style is thoughtful and philosophical, setting each verse in context and discussing its deeper religious and philosophical ramifications – sometimes going off on tangents, but always interesting tangents. He was not a fire-and-brimstone speaker, preferring a quieter and more reflective approach, but his words are no less heartfelt and genuine for that, and his take on different Biblical stories and their meanings is interesting and worth consideration.
Reverend Murdoch’s theology is a kindly one, more concerned with healing and counseling than with judging or berating, and the sins he focuses on most tend to be failures of charity and love for one’s neighbor. His love of history and his educated perspective are very useful, giving his audience (and the reader) a flavor of what the world was like at the time the various Biblical texts were written, and offering some perspective on the original meaning and intent of the words. While Ms. Bowen’s interludes explaining the historical and multicultural settings are also quite useful, her own personal spiritual journey is mostly confined to the prologue and the epilogue. Some thoughts of hers on the spiritual and religious meaning of the individual sermons, of how they drew her back into relationship with the Divine, might enrich the book. We readers can certainly reflect for ourselves on how the sermons affected us, but it might be interesting to compare our reactions to hers, and see more clearly how her father’s words affected her.
VOID IF DETACHED is a thoughtful and intelligent guide to Christian (and other) religious ideas through the eyes of an educated, kindly minister and his loving, but questioning, daughter.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader