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Review: Bright Shining: How Grace changes Everything.

As is often the case with some of the books I’ve read in recent times, this one was purchased after hearing an interview with Julia Baird on ABC radio. In this case a Conversation with Richard Feidler.

I’ve certainly suggested it to a few clients even before I finished it.

Early in the book Julia gives the example of grace of giving blood. Julia writes how “Donors need to voluntarily go to a place where they will have a needle stuck into their arm and are asked all kinds of questions about their behaviour when there is nothing wrong with them.” She then quotes Professor Barbara Masser (who is Joint Chair of Donor Research at Australian Red Cross Lifeblood) “People do it time and time again, and it is kind of baffling as to why — we’ve been searching for that answer for some time.” The professor goes onto say “They are the most amazing individuals”.

At the start of one of the early chapters, Julia quotes Brazilian nurse technician Semei Araújo Cunha who says:

We must remove the word ‘empathy’ from the

[news]papers and put it into practice.

Our humanity is thirsty for affection, care and attention…

We must do it without expecting anything in return.

This is to me what the book is all about, practicing empathy grace and kindness without necessarily expecting anything in return. Although discussed more in the radio interview than the book, Julia refers to having had (what seems to me to be) some pretty horrendous surgeries in relation to an unnamed cancer. She notes the compassion and kindness of various nursing and other support staff, who would (probably) not have known her from the proverbial “bar of soap”.

Throughout the book, Julia quotes large numbers of people, including those who have studied the related areas of forgiveness, compassion, and related subjects.

One section of the book I found particularly interesting which was about the practice of forgiveness. And how for those who have been “wronged” to forgive others, is for those who have been wronged to forgive when (if ever) they are ready. Rather than the “wrongdoer” expecting or seeking to be forgiven. In particular she writes about the Stolen Generations and comments of (then) Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and his suggestion that the non-aboriginal population should be forgiven for historical events, notwithstanding the ongoing effects of these earlier wrongs.

Not that it is only the Stolen Generations that rate a mention in this context of forgiveness. There is talk about sexual and other abuse in the context of religious institutions, as well as other scenarios.

She also writes of the work of various academics researching forgiveness. As well as the horrendous impacts of online trolling and faceless anonymous “keyboard warriors”.

In one of the final chapters, she writes about those who have forgiven those who have wronged them. For example, a fellow who lost both hands after a letter bomb (from pro-apartheid forces) exploded and how “When you forgive, you don’t release them as much as release yourself from what they did to you.”

In summary, “Bright Shining: How grace changes everything” is an interesting and thought-provoking read about how kindness, forgiveness and compassion can transform (at least) an individual’s life. Now I’ll go looking for her previous book “Phosphorescence : On awe, wonder & things that sustain you when the world goes dark” which gets a few references throughout Bright Shining.


– Julia Baird (Author of Bright Shining: How Grace changes Everything)

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