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21 days back to God book review: A spiritual refugee of the 60s

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Mr Cameron’s story reaches out to others who may be hungering for more in our anti-spiritual age. Photo: Zac Durant/Unsplash
Mr Cameron’s story reaches out to others who may be hungering for more in our anti-spiritual age. Photo: Zac Durant/Unsplash

By Wanda Skowronska PhD

Journeys of the spirit are a part of the spiritual legacy of the Catholic Church, which includes the final journey of every soul through this life to the eternal realms. In 21 Days Back to God, just published by Coventry Press, we have the very engaging account of a person who says he “angrily rejected the church” at age 18 and joined the “Great Flight of the Sixties,” becoming a successful journalist and senior executive in Kerry Packer’s media empire. Bob Cameron’s awakening from what he calls his “long spiritual coma” will speak to many souls in our era, so pervaded by spiritual confusion, emptiness, dissatisfaction, and loss.

Mr Cameron’s re-awakening was not a sudden, zapping conversion as occurred with St Paul being knocked off a horse on the road to Damascus, but a gradual unfurling desire for healing and truth, a deep longing in the depths of his soul. Try as he might, he could not be rid of the “God spark still flickering in my rusty old soul” and decades later it resurfaced.

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After his youthful rejection of stereotypic impressions which had coloured his understanding of a church filled with “suffocating red tape,” he falteringly and quietly started to ponder21 Days back to God book Rev some new daring thoughts, namely, questioning if there was more to it all than he had realised. The silence of dawn, sudden reflections as he jogged, that spiritual “something” from hidden places in the soul, started Mr Cameron on a journey to a beauty and truth which is, as St Augustine observed, “ever ancient, ever new.”

It was not easy, with the seemingly infallible resistance of a confident mind and past hurts re-asserting themselves. Little by little, he remembered fragments of old prayers, and they wound their way into his yearning soul and he became a spiritual refugee from our desiccated, post-modern miasma, seeking hope, seeking signposts:

“Finally, it dawned on me that there was someone I could ask for help. Someone non-judgmental, kind, wise and always ready to share the load, in short, the perfect confidante: God. My soul may have been barnacle encrusted, but I did remember from childhood being taught to have an open dialogue with Jesus, that is chat with him.”

After his initially hesitant re-connection with God, he tried to find his way to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was not easy. Cameron’s account of his spiritual engagement in getting there is something akin to a spiritual thriller. Would he get there? How would he get there? In fact, he did not initially find help for his predicament. And here is where Google came in handy for the author:

21 Days Back to God by Bob Cameron (Coventry Press 2023).
21 Days Back to God by Bob Cameron (Coventry Press 2023).

“In the search box, I typed: ‘Just tried to re-join Catholic Church by going to confession. Priest not helpful. What can I do?’ Pages of results emerged seconds later. For example, if you type a version of that question in today you will get almost 17 million results in 0.62 seconds.”

Mr Cameron found a sympathetic priest to help him. After coming through his confusion and remaining open to wherever his soul-searching would take him, the eternal realities came flooding back into his soul, in their gentle light and strength. He was gradually overwhelmed by the sense of the sacred again. And he clung intensely to the new understanding and healing truth. He was well and truly on his way.

On the eight day of his journey the author is drawn to reread St Luke –a “deeply insightful and gripping Gospel to begin with … written by Luke, who wrote his account of the life of Christ for a friend called Theophilus.” It was as if he were reading it for the first time, as was his experience of saying the Creed again. He recalls that the Creed, with its “mysterious cycle of love, death and hope,” had a powerful effect on him, building a bridge to God and to other believers. He found himself saying this and other prayers, while walking, while travelling on a bus or train, even in a church. He pondered anew that people had died affirming belief in Christ and these very eternal realities he had discarded, years ago.

Mr Cameron’s wonderful story of return to the faith of his youth, gives not only his own deeply personal account but reaches out to others who may be hungering for more in our anti-spiritual era. He gives simple, memorable advice he found along the way—”say  hello to Jesus” and “find a prayer that resonates with you.” The tone throughout is gentle, inviting, poignant and utterly authentic; an effective riposte of a soul to our dark, confusing times.

21 Days Back to God will speak not only to adults but to children in Catholic schools who have little idea of the notion of what being a “spiritual refugee” from the 1960s was like, and how painful and courageous the journey back could be. His story will not only resonate with Catholics but with all seekers of good-will who sense that the material and scientific parameters of our world, as amazing as they may be, have failed us spiritually. They are not enough to answer that perennial voice within every person, which inevitably pierces through the hubris and noisy certainties of our age. This voice never ceases to awaken the soul to the mystery of the eternal realities threading the universe and to the post-modern spiritual hunger, ever asking for something more.

21 Days Back to God by Bob Cameron (Coventry Press 2023) is available from the Mustard Seed Bookshop, Pauline Books and Media, or the publisher.

Wanda Skowronska PhD is a Sydney psychologist and author of several books, including a book on Australian converts entitled Catholic Converts from Down Under … And All Over (2015) and more recently, Fr Paul Stenhouse: A Life of Wisdom, Compassion, and Inspiration (2020). She previously wrote for the Australian Catholic journal Annals and was a sessional lecturer at the Melbourne John Paul Institute.

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