The Recovery of Love

Walking the way to wholeness

Naomi Starkey

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This is a highly unusual book blending imaginative narrative with Bible quotes and reflection. It won't be to everyone's taste but for people who are prepared to think differently, to find themselves challenged and have their thoughts stretched, it will take you on a journey into the heart of God's love.
Paula Gooder, lecturer in biblical studies and author of Heaven: A Rough Guide


'...Washed flat and almost clean by the ebb of the tide, the sand is bare except for a single set of footprints. And - why are we not surprised? - there he is again, ahead of us, waiting. Although it is barely dawn, there is light enough to see his face, recognise his smile. The shadows have gone, for this in-between time, anyway. When he speaks, we know his voice although we cannot place his accent. Five words; a question: "What do you really want?"'

Some people like to be taken on mystery tours; others prefer to have a clear idea of where they are going, and why, and how long it will take, and where they will stop for lunch. This book is, in some ways, a bit of a mystery tour, inspired in part by (although in no way claiming parity with) classic Christian dream texts such as Pilgrim's Progress, Piers Plowman and The Great Divorce, and also by the whole rich tradition of storytelling as a way of exploring aspects of faith and truth.

It begins in a city, evoking the stress and demands endemic to life in today's busy, predominantly urban culture. It also ends in the same city, but this city now reverberates with a little of the imagery of the city of God, the new Jerusalem, which scripture promises us is our final home. In between, the narrative takes us to explore a curious yet safe place, a mysterious house of many rooms where questions can be asked, experiences shared and the search for healing begun.

Using story, reflection on Bible passages and quotations for further thought from a range of Christian writers, the trajectory of the book is from emptiness and despair to certain hope, from confusion through penitence to the great joy of forgiving and receiving forgiveness. A constant theme is the interplay between God's unmerited grace and mercy and our human failings; at the heart of the story is the meaning of love - on the one hand, our hunger for it and our often weary search to find and secure it, and on the other hand, God's breathtaking love for us, his children, expressed supremely in the birth, life, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus.

The good news that we have been given to share is that the world's hunger for love can be met only in God's neverending embrace. Before that hunger can be understood, however, one question must be pondered and eventually answered: what do we really want?

What do you really want? It is time to begin.

Naomi Starkey introduces The Recovery of Love

So often we are conscious of our shortcomings and failures when we reflect on our experiences of love. We labour under the sense of not being 'good enough' for other people or for God. Perhaps we have heard the words 'God loves you' just too many times to grasp that this really is true - and that this truth can change everything.

I wanted to write a book exploring how much God longs to connect in love with his children, however messed up they feel. I wanted to explore the depth of healing released when people discover how deeply loved they are, which then begins to change how they love one other.

Having always enjoyed stories, I realised that using story could be a way of speaking to those who might not pick up a book of straightforward Christian teaching. Remembering the warm response for my Advent book, Pilgrims to the Manger, I decided to approach The Recovery of Love in a similar way, weaving together story, Bible passage and comment.

The book's setting is partly inspired by places I have known but also by memories of The Pilgrim's Progress, especially the vivid imagery of the dark and troubled City of Destruction and the Interpreter's House, where spiritual light breaks in, as truths are explained. So I decided to begin my book with the narrator inviting the reader to walk the turbulent streets of a large present-day city where love is just another commodity for sale. The story then brings us to a house of safety, where fears can be faced and laid to rest, using 'snapshots' of love and friendship, love and loss, love and betrayal, love and longing.

After some challenging moments of reflection and a resetting of the life compass, the book's journey continues, bringing reader and narrator back into the city, discovering the inner and outer transformation released by a healing experience of heavenly love.

My hope is that The Recovery of Love will provide stimulating insight into well-known and less well-known Bible passages. I hope it will also help people reflect on their own lives and recognise signs of God's presence and care, perhaps when and where they least expected. And, fundamentally, my hope is that it will convey the reassuring message that love has the last word.

Listen to an interview with Naomi Starkey

Listen to an interview with Naomi Starkey

Many thanks to UCB for providing this interview.


Part One: In search of love

  • 1 Planet Babylon
  • 2 Constant craving
  • 3 Broken
  • 4 The hidden garden
  • 5 Found

Part Two: Because he first loved us

  • 6 He chose her
  • 7 He cherished her
  • 8 She cheated on him
  • 9 She enraged him
  • 10 But still he loves

Part Three: Love and loss

  • 11 The mother: love
  • 12 The friends: love
  • 13 The friends: loss
  • 14 The mother: loss
  • 15 The end

Part Four: The recovery of love

  • 16 The beginning
  • 17 Walking free
  • 18 Working together
  • 19 Reaching out
  • 20 Dancing on water

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This is a highly unusual book blending imaginative narrative with Bible quotes and reflection. It won't be to everyone's taste but for people who are prepared to think differently, to find themselves challenged and have their thoughts stretched, it will take you on a journey into the heart of God's love.
Paula Gooder, lecturer in biblical studies and author of Heaven: A Rough Guide

All too often the world of faith exists in a separate compartment from where our real living has to happen. This fresh and honest book seeks to bring the two together in an authentic relationship, not by giving answers but by following the questions. Through story telling, gentle and tough by turns, the invitation is to awaken to a presence, often hidden, that waits to meet us in the midst of daily living.
David Runcorn, speaker, spiritual director and author of Spirituality Workbook

Author info

Naomi Starkey is BRF's Commissioning Editor for the Adult List, and editor of New Daylight Bible reading notes. She has previously written Pilgrims to the Manger and Good Enough Mother for BRF.


From Margaret Silf

'In the best kind of way it is 'shocking', in the same way that a refreshing cool shower on a sultry hot day shocks our skin and wakes us up to new possibilities... bringing the gospel to life in ways that cut right through the conventional platitudes.

Reviewed by Joy MacCormick

As on the first reading, I find your approach very engaging and accessible and the concept of a journey through the city a fascinating way to present the journey to wholeness. The description of 'Babylon' with its culture of 'more, bigger' as ends in themselves and the assumed source of happiness, and the 'high-risk, high-spend, high-return economy' are immediately recognisable as the values driving our present culture with all its dissatisfaction and inequality, based so often in fear. Surely no-one can fail to read the message there - especially when so clearly portrayed. Your description of the need to be aware of one's own contribution to the pain and mess; to voice this as well as one's own pain and anger, and in so doing begin to move on, resonates deeply with my own experience and I love your reference to the transformative effects of grace and love brought about by the presence of God (of Love) in, through and beyond all pain and chaos.

A special delight is your beautiful handling of the subject of the erotic element of love (Part 2) - too often neglected or denied - which I find many are afraid to mention or explore as part of their relationship with God. I hope and pray that those who read this book may be freed from the unnecessary guilt which so often seems to accompany this experience. What a gift you offer!

It's so good to see the issue of apparent abandonment by God (chapter 15) treated in a way that normalises it. I believe the Church has done people a great disservice by failing to address this issue - leading again to unnecessary guilt for those many who experience it. How often does one hear a sermon on the topic? How often are people seeking a deeper relationship with God told that this is a normal stage on the journey? How often is the experience of the mystics ever referred to? Is it not possible that when we cry "My God, why have you abandoned me?" we are actually closer to Christ than at any other time?

The call to leave the place of static familiarity (even the painful familiarity of grief, loss and woundedness) and to venture on as wounded healers into the unknown - even the unknown experience of a God we have not yet met - is a great invitation with which to end. May it encourage many to "Look for his footmarks" and "Follow"

Thank you for the gift of this book. Gift on many levels. It's been a real privilege to read it and respond.

From The Church Times - 3 May 2013

Here is the beauty of The Recovery of Love by Naomi Starkey. Some of it reads like a gripping romance - following tragedy and joy through the twists and turns of life. In other places, the biblical scholar in me was scribbling notes, thanks to some original biblical theology and far-reaching intertextual connections.

The book covers these two strands throughout: the human meeting the divine, and the 'bottom-up' in conversation with the 'top-down'. Each chapter is an interweaving of a messy nameless human story (it could be yours or mine - probably the more colourful parts of both), alongside an imaginative reflection on the biblical narrative.

It calls itself a 'mystery tour . . . inspired by . . . The Pilgrim's Progress, Piers Plowman and The Great Divorce'... (but) The Recovery of Love undoubtedly speaks in a contemporary (post-modern, urban, emotive) idiom.

I should confess that some of the intertwining is tantalising - I might even say exasperating, where the flip-flop between modes veers towards the formulaic and invasive. Precisely because of this, I would suggest that this is the ideal book for a group. Each member will be drawn to different details, frustrated by different features, and inspired by different insights. One session for discussion might not be enough. Reading it on my own, I found too much cud for chewing alone.

The more mixed the book group, the better. Even if you have not previously found your group diverse, I dare say this book might change that - so long as there is a willingness to let it connect with the life stories around the room. If you long to get more real with each other, this book could be the catalyst. If your meetings already verge on group psychotherapy, then you might need to rein one another in.

In a mischievous moment, I found myself imagining Sigmund Freud, Bridget Jones, John Stott, Bill Clinton, Eugene Peterson and J.K. Rowling in a group together. I predict that it would get lively, each enjoying this book, but for different reasons. Such reasons would include vividness of expression, evangelistic potential, narrative art, pastoral sensitivity and psychological depth.

With hindsight, it is not so much the details that linger about the tale of betrayal and endurance unfolded in the book: it is the mode of expression, the mechanism for 'bipolar' narration, as well as some magnificent poetic language that stays with me. While some might be drawn in search of information (perhaps 'how to recover love'), I would favour reading for inspiration (for the recovery of love, as the title suggests).

That inspiration includes the way in which scripture and experience engage in fruitful conversation. I shall not forget an exploration of the topic of shame in chapter 16, for example, through the acute perspective of the woman with the haemorrhages (Luke 8:43-48).

Storytelling becomes not so much about end, but means; about process, not product. My imagination is renewed to take the risk of connecting afresh scripture and tradition with reason and experience.
I am reminded once again: it takes the exercise of imagination to be faithful. I am grateful to Naomi Starkey for the risk of this book.

From Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Not an easy book to read but an important one to chew over.....

Taking as its theme 'The City' it explores through imagination and scripture reflection the dashed hopes which modern life 'in the city' offers to many and calls readers to seek the one who loves us and asks the question 'What do you really want?'

It requires time and concentration to shift between the different voices in each section of the book (not always helped by the changing typeface and font sizes) but it is worthwhile persevering as, each page leads the reader further into the dance of love which Christ offers.

Who should read this? Someone at the end of their tether, certainly as it will bring restoration and the promise of healing if the risk to love again is taken. Yet also it is a book for those who are certain of their place in society in church. Giving insight into the life of others it reminds all readers that the most permanent deprivations are not found in the bricks and mortar of the concrete jungle but in the hardness of unloving hearts.

Read it if you dare.

Revd Andrew Dotchin - March 2013

From the Church Times 25 Jan 2013

David Adam joins an author on her journey beyond today's Babylon

This is a mystery tour where the city landscape is recognisable, even if we do not like it. The city is described as the "Unholy City" and "of Emmanuelle rather than Emmanuel". We move into various rooms and meet people whom we will often recognise. We may even see ourselves. Imagination, story, Bible passages, and quotations at the end of each chapter take us forward. I felt that I had been this way before, and wondered whether I should just stop. But this is a compelling tour; and, if you are prepared to look at things differently, and have your life challenged, then this could be for you.

Moving on, you will be confronted by a presence, sometimes fleetingly seen, but always there. You may even discover the love that is offered you, and the companionship that will abide. We travel through "Planet Babylon", our cravings and brokenness, to a hidden garden, meeting the one who knows what it means to be "broken-hearted". We arrive at a "safe house". Within, we are told a love story of cherishing and cheating, of anger and constant love. We move to look at "the Mother's love" and the "friends' love", and to the loss of that love. We come to the end, travelling down into darkness.

The final sections are on "the recovery of love". A new day dawns, and we seek wholeness and love. He comes to us, open-armed, accepting, welcoming in love. We are "safe at last". But we are encouraged to move out and discover that he goes with us, and to redeem our world, as we are guided by him. Here we learn to dance on water and come face to face with our God. I hope that this encourages you to take the mystery tour and be changed by it.

Canon David Adam is a former Vicar of Holy Island

Book details

  • ISBN: 9781841018928
  • Published: 23 November 2012
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 160
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