The Deeper Centre

 (The Deeper Centre is published by Darton, Longman and Todd, 2006)

In The Deeper Centre, Eva Heymann, a Jewish refugee, convert to Catholicism and member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, reflects on a process of growth. Her memoir recounts her life experience and journey of faith, and her encounters with the people whose lives have touched her with their own at times painful experiences. But the book is as much about trees and what they have teach us as it is about Heymann herself.

Trees symbolise this growth process; each chapter is introduced with a quotation from Hermann Hesse, most of which are about trees. Heymann writes reflectively, with the wisdom of hindsight, and occasionally with a wry humour. It is not a book that aims to create an emotional impact. Perhaps the book's secret ­ and the paradox of its impact ­ is that Eva keeps her emotions between herself and the trees who are her silent interlocutors.

These are not dead-end conversations. Trees in the book not only symbolise, in themselves, man's search for meaning, but also, in Heymann's relationship with them, come to embody the truth that such meaning is discovered through relatedness. Trees express rootedness, silence, compassion, darkness, acceptance, groundedness, wisdom and the life-giving force of faith.

This is a book that makes rewarding Christmas reading, and not only because in the first chapter, 'Christmas Trees', Heymann dwells on her memories of trees decorated with candles flickering as a symbol of hope. The third chapter, 'Birth', reflects on the mystery of the Nativity with its source in the seed planted in Mary. The tree seems an appropriate symbol for the earthiness of the Incarnation.

The author's stories about her work as a psychiatric social worker, and with people living with HIV/AIDS, and her account of her early life and family, reveal an emotional honesty that goes hand-in-hand with a peace and joy. The epilogue, 'Tree Talk', a tree's poetic monologue, is a fitting ending for this book, written as it is with a deceptive simplicity, which half-reveals and half-conceals great depth ­ rather like a tree.

first posted LONDON - 18 December 2006 - 350 words

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