The Drama of Living

Becoming Wise in the Spirit

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How can we live wisely in the twenty-first century, alert to God and to other people amid the ups and downs of modern life? We find ourselves in the middle of complex situations, relationships, responsibilities, ongoing dramas, and challenges. Our response to these circumstances requires us to draw on many sources and to constantly exercise imagination, discernment, and judgment.

In this sequel to his well-received book The Shape of Living, renowned theologian David Ford offers insights into living wisely in the Spirit in a culture of distraction. Ford provides a reflective contemporary Christian spirituality that is drawn from the Gospel of John, the work of internationally respected poet Micheal O'Siadhail, and his own life experiences. He explores themes such as the ordinary and public dramas of living, the centrality of face-to-face relationships, the habits that shape our lives, friendship and love, aging and dying, and jazz. Discussion questions for individual or group use are included.

1. The Drama of Living: Public and Ordinary
2. Improvising Wisdom: Within and between Traditions
3. Face-to-Face: The Heart of Life's Drama
4. Rereading and Rehearsing: Classic Surprises
5. Loving: Intimate, Dramatic, Ultimate
6. Improvised Lives: Timing, Aging, Dying
7. Playing without End: Wise in the Spirit
Appendix: A Vocation of Love


"This is a tour de force. We all take part in the drama of living, and Ford's wisdom shapes our engagement with its depths and fullness. This extraordinary book draws on the riches of his own experience, contemporary poetry, and the mysterious Gospel of John. It both explores the complexities of daily life and inspires wise and creative responses."

Micheal O'Siadhail, award-winning poet

"David Ford here combines a treatise in individual and social anthropology with a reading of the Fourth Gospel in order to assist us while we join him in the 'search for wisdom in the drama of living.' The interweavings among the themes are further strengthened by frequent citations in verse from the Irish poet Micheal O'Siadhail. Altogether this is a book that may properly engage the attention of theological and humanistic readers alike."

Geoffrey Wainwright, professor emeritus of Christian theology, Duke University

"By tearing down the wall of hostility between autobiography and theology, David Ford draws theology into dailiness, discarding the modern division of 'head' from 'heart.' This memoir unself-consciously blends personal experience, poetry, fiction, drama, jazz, Scripture, and the suffering of the disabled, those of the Shoah, and the dying, inviting us to read our own interiority through the great minds and tragic moments that have nourished us on the paths we have trod."

Ellen Charry, Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. David F. Ford

    David F. Ford

    David F. Ford (PhD, University of Cambridge) is Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, where he has taught for more than twenty years, and director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Program. He is also a Fellow of Selwyn College and the author...

    Continue reading about David F. Ford


"This rich, relevant volume, a sequel to Ford's stunning The Shape of Living, is an author's report on his past books, a participant's report on Scriptural Reasoning meetings, an annotated anthology of the poetry of Micheal O'Siadhail, and a dramatic reading of the Gospel of John. The surprising thing about the book is its wholeness, as Ford seeks to draw readers (and rereaders) to wiser living."

D. Brent Laytham,

Christian Century

"The Drama of Living could be characterized as sapiential theology--reflection on theology that draws out its wisdom for daily living. Ford weaves together a mélange of sources, especially the Gospel of John and the poetry of his friend Micheal O'Siadhail. . . . A familiar theme for Ford is sounded in this book: the urgent need and opportunities for interreligious understanding and cooperation. Religious traditions at their best are about the pursuit and application of wisdom."

Christian Century

"If the 'inwardness'--to use a Kierkegaardian term--of lived practice is to be brought into academic discourse, philosophers of religion need to complement theories of practice with first-person accounts of spiritual exercises. . . . The secularist character of Western academic culture makes many theologians (let alone philosophers) reluctant to bring them into the public domain. This gives us reason enough to welcome the intimate, confessional tone of David Ford's The Drama of Living. . . . The reception of a book so firmly rooted in experience will depend in part on how far the reader shares its author's interests and tastes. But its themes are certainly broad enough--love, friendship, commitment, spiritual growth. They are explored with sensitivity, openness, and optimism."

Clare Carlisle,

Times Literary Supplement

"This unusual, meditative volume is in many respects sui generis. In it, we hear a distinguished theologian . . . integrate reflection on poetry, Scripture, and deep spiritual wisdom that has emerged from his rich life experience. . . . The exquisite poetry engaged is that of Micheal O'Siadhail, the author's lifelong friend and interlocutor. The luminous Scripture engaged is from the Gospel of John, on which the author is preparing a full-scale commentary. Insightful exegesis of both is intertwined with wisdom gleaned from a wide range of life experiences. . . . Interfaith engagement also figures prominently. . . . This is a book that needs to be read slowly and meditatively, and Ford's rich interdisciplinary reflection will no doubt hook different readers in different ways."

Frances Taylor Gench,


"Ford is a theologian of intertextuality, an insatiable host to conversations between scripts and people; and in The Drama of Living he does not disappoint. Here he brings together the mysterious Gospel of St. John, the poetry of Micheal O'Siadhail, and life as we live it today--including our habits, living, and ways we cope with time. . . . With many others, I remain grateful for that increasingly rare Anglican approach that not only is unafraid to reason and unashamed to adore, but unapologetic in exploring human complexity with a graceful attitude."

Mark Oakley,

Church Times

"I've been waiting for this sequel to The Shape of Living. . . . Subtle, nuanced, deep, beautiful without being flamboyant, this wise, thoughtful theologian has given us practical theology and a spirituality of life itself. It isn't simple, but it is eloquent. . . . I cannot wait to spend some slow, quiet time with this."

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds Books blog

"This sequel to The Shape of Living . . . offers further insights on how to stay centered on God and the spirit in a world of distraction and challenge. Discussion questions make for a survey recommended for any spiritual thinker."

Midwest Book Review