Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch

Summary: An Abbot feels he receives a call from God to leave his order and return to the world.

I am working my way back through Susan Howatch’s Church of England series. This six book series is about four different Church of England clergy told from five different main characters (one is told from the perspective of a mistress) over 30 year period.

Glamorous Powers was probably my least or second least favorite of the series on the first reading. But I discovered a lot more depth on a second reading. The first time I read this on kindle, this time I switched to audiobook.

As with all of Howatch’s writing, I think there is too much melodrama. But the melodrama makes a lot of sense to the story here. Jon Darrow is an Anglian monk. He is Abbot of one of the houses of the Fordite order (the order is fictional, but according to Wikipedia there are about 2400 Anglican Monks or Nuns around today.)

Darrow is the spiritual director from Glittering Images, the first book in the series. In the first book, Darrow was a near perfect figure, always knowing what to do, in near perfect communion with God and using his psychic abilities for spiritual direction. But several years after the first book he receives a vision that he interprets is a sign from God to leave the order and re-enter the world.

Earlier in his life, Darrow was married, had two children and after his wife died and his kids moved from home, he entered the monastic life and for 17 years followed his calling there. The first quarter of the book is about Darrow receiving the vision and then receiving spiritual direction from his superior (and long term competitor). This is a very different view of spiritual direction from the first book and I think useful to give a different perspective on what spiritual direction can be.

(Some spoilers from here on)

Darrow ends up leaving the order, messes up his reunion with his kids, meets the woman of his dreams, gets married too soon, tries to do too much to bring about this calling that he feels God has for him, avoids lots of good advice and counsel, inappropriately tries to shield those around him, while riding roughshod over them.

This is a great book to illustrate how clergy (or others) can ignore family and basic spiritual requirements of kindness and love to do what they see as their greater calling. In other words, quite often, those that feel called by God for a particular task seem to forget the more general callings of love and kindness and basic decency that we are all called to do.

Howatch also seems to have issues with fathers and marriage because again, this is a book that revolves around father figures and bad marriages. This could be cliché in the hands of a bad writer, especially since there are so many similar themes from the first book, but instead to me this feels even more insightful because of the overlapping themes from the first book.

We are often blind to reality in the heat of our passions, but God can redeem our blindness and the results of our sin for his own glory. There is no perfection in this book. Darrow, while at times being a goody, goody, shows the trap of spiritual work and the trap of trying to protect those around us instead of being vulnerable to allowing others to minister to us just as we seek to minister to those around us.

I am going to take a little time off of Howatch and catch up on some other things, but I will start the third book in the near future.

Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch: Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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