Interview with Leslie Leyland Fields, author of 'Nearing a Far God'

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Interview with Leslie Leyland Fields, author of 'Nearing a Far God'

Inrerview by John Watkins

How did you get into writing?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always needed to name the world, but never did I expect to become an actual published ‘writer’. My growing-up years were really challenging. When you’re just trying to survive you don’t dream of such things. You don’t dream at all. But I could write. Writing was a lifeline for me those years, and it’s remained so. Life is so full of mystery and struggle; like Jacob, I have to keep wrestling the angel to find out my own true name, and the true names of the things of this world.

Life gets in the way of hearing God. How does praying the Psalms help?

We live in such a noisy, frantic world, and our lives are often the same. Sometimes we think we need to fix ourselves before we come into God’s presence. But the Psalms show us that our Father takes us as we are. This is the only book in the Bible where the Holy Spirit inspired men to speak back to God. And here they are saying things like, ‘Where are you, O God?’ ’How long, O God, how long?’ There’s grief, lament, accusation, confession, every emotion. God invites his people into dialogue no matter how painful and raw our state. Of course! My biological father had no interest in what I thought or felt, but our heavenly Father deeply desires to hear the depths of our hearts.

How do you match the psalmists’ experiences with New Testament fulfilment?

The Bible is one unified story. And the Psalms are quoted in the New Testament more than any other OT book. In Nearing A Far God I invite the reader, as they are writing their own psalm-prayers, to include New Testament verses. For instance, in the chapter on ‘Psalms of Confession’, the reader is encouraged to enlarge and illustrate the psalmist’s words of contrition with the passage from 1 John, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…’ It’s powerful to bring the Psalms and the NT together this way.

You have a chapter on thanksgiving. Why are we not more thankful?

Thanksgiving is not our native language, for so many reasons. We seem to be born forgetful and with a ‘negativity bias’. Our culture is always leaning toward the future – growth, progress, achievement – which causes stress, fueling negativity and forgetfulness. Even when we’re prosperous, we’re stressed and forgetful. These are enemies of thankfulness. But we don’t have to wait to conjure up feelings of thankfulness. We can go to the Psalms anytime. They’re waiting for us. They’ll not only refocus our eyes and heart, they’ll also teach us to speak and enact our own prayers of thanksgiving.

What place does singing (metrical, plainsong etc.) the Psalms have?

They’re poems set to music, so there is deep musicality in the language itself and then of course they were sung. They were also often accompanied by bodily movements and postures: actions of praise, of confession, of lament. We’ve lost much of the whole-brain and whole-body nature of worship. Nearing A Far God leads us in returning to this whole-brain and body aspect. I’d like to see this return to the church.

What is your prayer for Nearing a Far God?

The Psalms are so much more than an ancient song book. Six times in the Psalms the writers invite us to ’Sing to the Lord a new song!’ This is for us to do as well. We each have a new song to sing because our rock and our redeemer keeps on saving and rescuing! And the Psalms show us how. In the book, I lead people in seven ways to enter the Psalms, following an acronym, NEARING. It includes writing, it includes body movement; it engages the whole self. For nearly twenty years, I’ve practised these means of entering fully into holy dialogue with God. I’m excited now as I watch so many others discover through the Psalms how near their heavenly Father is, how much he hears and responds to every word of our hearts. How can we turn away from that?


* Leslie Leyland Fields is an internationally recognised speaker, teacher and multi-award winning author of fourteen books. Currently she leads faith and writing retreats around the world and directs the Memoir Masterclass, a large online community for spiritual memoir.

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