My new devotional is Echoes of Eternity: A Contemplative Journal for Every Day by Rev. Hal M.Helms.My copy arrived on Christmas Eve and while I perused some of the entries, I didn’t start using it in earnest until January 1. Helms was a pastor who served five congregations before becoming the chaplain of the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The devotional was first published, in two volumes, before and after Helms’s death in 1997. This edition combines Helms’s two volumes, places one daily entry on each page, and slightly modernizes Helm’s language.
One entry per page, but these are not page-long-reflections. The daily entries consist of a scriptural verse and a short paragraph , written as a first-person message of God. The style is reminiscent of Sarah Young’s more recent Jesus Calling devotionals. Because these are short, each page is mostly blank, leaving lots of room for journaling and personal reflections. The first-person style is because these entries were originally from Helms’s own private prayer life—answers he received from God and recorded in his personal journals. These are words Helms heard himself and not merely some Divine-oracle literary device.
I am biased against one verse devotionals because they tend to take verses out of context. Helms doesn’t always explicate the passage’s background, but his reflections are sound. For example, his entry for January 2 is based on Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” This is a popular verse in many devotionals, but seldom is the context mentioned— hope for exiled Israel that divine wrath is not the final word. The verse, in context, says God will not forget his people; decontexualized Jeremiah 29:11 gives a Divine underwriting of my personal destiny. Helms doesn’t mention the background, but his word from the Lord for the day reflects the biblical context, “Flinch not, before my judgments, and do not let the enemy’s accusations lodge in your heart. Be patient under my discipline for its for your eternal good. My goodness will not fail you and grace will always abound.” This word is personal( this is after all a devotional), but it doesn’t forsake the reality of Divine disciple (which exiled Israel experienced).
Because of the first-personal divine message style, the entries have the feel of personal encounter with God (again, similar to Sarah Young’s devotional). The brevity of each entry means you can read in a moment, or you could slowdown and contemplate the breadth, height, width and depth of the Love of God and his purpose for your life.
Helm’s language invites us to deeper reflection which helps us to see God, the world and ourselves in new light. In his entry for Christmas day, he wrote, “My presence is an oasis of peace in this angry, troubled world. You have yet to learn to be silenced before the mystery. Eternity does not enter the thoughts of the angry soul. Let my haven of peace, the lowly stable, be a refuge from your anger and ambitions. Quiet my child, think of the mystery of the ages—and be at peace.” As I read this I reflected on the Incarnation and experienced more of God’s peace. The New Year’s entry reminded me, “You are meant to walk in a different realm—the larger reality of my kingdom.” So I spent my time reflecting on what it means to walk in God’s expansive kingdom.
I plan to use this this throughout 2017 and commend to you if you are on the hunt for a new daily devotional. I give this four stars.
Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.