Review: "The Making of Us" by Sheridan Voysey
Sheridan Voysey is an Australian author and radio presenter who, with his wife Merryn, experienced a 10-year struggle with infertility. The painful loss of remaining childless is recounted in his book “Resurrection Year”, and resulted in Merryn taking up a life-changing job offer in research at Oxford University. Sheridan therefore faced giving up a successful career in Australia to relocate to England, where he and his work weren’t really known. Following this move across the globe, he profoundly questioned his identity and purpose. This book is part memoir, part pilgrimage, as he undertook a 115 mile walk with his friend DJ in a week, from Lindisfarne to Durham Cathedral, in the footsteps of St Cuthbert, a monk who evangelised the north of England in the 600’s. I really wanted to read this book because, for my 50th birthday, I walked 50 km of St Cuthbert’s Way in three days, ending the journey by walking the poles on the sands of Lindisfarne. It was also an unforgettable spiritual experience for me. My feet also took a while to recover!
As his journey commences, Sheridan feels directionless, like a “plastic bag I once saw floating along the freeway.” The whole account is a worshipful metaphor. The language is poetic and lyrical. The descriptions of landscapes, whether sweepingly beautiful or built up and industrial, interweave with discussions between Sheridan and DJ about their feelings, their past, and plans for the future. In Chapter 4, “Visions and Whispers”, they walk through the sand dunes on Bamburgh Beach, and DJ recounts how much his atheism was isolating until he found himself at a church altar praying for salvation. Sheridan’s rejoinder about spiritual guidance relates to how God encouraged him to join “Family Radio”, a small, undeveloped station at the time. The appeal to join this station was minimal, but this move was to set the course of his career for the next 18 years. He advises that “Sometimes the God of wonders guides us with clear words and lights in the sky. Like a rushing wind…He sweeps us into His plans and into unexpected places” (p.54).
People feature so much in this book, and their stories matter. Whether it be ice cream shop owner Brenda in Cresswell, who has seen that the loss of mining has made her community of ninety seven people more close knit, or Paul, one of the ministers at a church in Monkwearmouth, whose wife will give birth to a child with a serious heart defect and Down’s syndrome, Sheridan concludes that there is only one real vocation, whatever our job or circumstances, “one great river from which all the streams of life flow: to love God and love others” (p.98).
Both walkers are honest about questioning faith and having no personal control over circumstances. Chapter 8, about comparison, particularly resonated with me and how we sometimes measure ourselves against the seeming success and ‘brightness’ of others. The story of Cuthbert is never far away too. As a novice, prior, hermit and bishop, he experienced adversity and suffering, which resulted in him bringing life and healing to those he met. He spread the gospel, saw thousands of Christians flourish, started modern conservation, and united a church on the verge of division. His legacy is inspirational. There is also a reflection guide with thoughts on each chapter, and Bible references to accompany the exploration. As one critic wrote, this is a book for a disciple.
I would suggest that this is not the genre of book that we usually review at TFT. It does not feature same-sex attraction, is not a study on disappointment and how to counteract biblically feelings of frustration and anger when life goes awry, and it is not a scholarly exposition of scripture. It is a book that advocates listening to God, finding space for peace, and being truthful about holding up our pain in silence to our Saviour. In encountering nature, friendship and church history, as well as sharing anecdotes and experiences from other wayfarers, both on this journey and in the past, God gently whispers encouragement and truth as Sheridan “attends” to His voice. Through the re-assessment of messy situations and the blurring of his calling, the author learns that “beautiful things can emerge from a life not going as planned. It can be the making of us.” (p.xiv). If you have ever struggled, or currently struggle, with crossing terrain that is uneven, or have metaphorical blisters on your feet and many unanswered questions (which I would suggest is a universal experience as a Christian), then please read this book. The experience will encourage you to be like Enoch, who “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24). As the last page states, you will “Walk on” (p.188).
The Making of Us by Sheridan Voysey
(W Publishing, 2019) 217 pages
£11.99 paperback, £9.99 E book
This book review was originally published in the Summer 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Summer 2021 edition of Ascend