Wounded In Spirit: an Advent Devotional (p)review and GIVEAWAY!!!

The secular and liturgical calendars nearly converge this year, so whether you mark the start of Advent with those calendars of chalky, cheap chocolate from your local supermarket, or through participation in Sunday worship, the season begins this weekend. During Advent I always look for a devotional to read through, as I attempt to wait well. Friends at Paraclete Press were nice enough to share with me Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, a new devotional by David Bannon. Bannon combines reflections on grief, hope, wounds and waiting with beautiful works of art. It is an exquisite book!

9781640601451But Advent is the season of waiting. To wait is to note that things are not yet as they should be. And so, this is a difficult season for a lot of us. For all the promise of holiday cheer, these are long dark nights, often touched by heartache, loneliness, estrangement, deep wounds, and mourning. Bannon is no stranger to grief and heartache. In 2006 he was convicted for criminal impersonation. In 2015 his daughter died of a heroin overdose (introduction, XVI).  He know what it means to be broken and bereaved, to long for wholeness, healing and the coming of God’s shalom. He doesn’t speak explicitly about his own story in these meditations. He focuses instead on the stories of the artists—their stories, wounds and the works they produced.

The art in this book is varied in style, though exclusively Western European,ranging from the Renaissance era to about mid 20th Century. There are works by celebrated artists like Gauguin, Tissot, Caravaggio, Tanner, Delacroix, Van Gogh and Dürer, as well as notable pieces from artists with less household name recognition. Bannon describes the artist’s life, and the ways their wounds bleed onto the canvas. He invites us to stop and pay attention, to really see the artist and their work, to experience healing and perchance commune. Each daily meditation includes quotations for reflection from notable artists, writers, philosophers or theologians.

Art is something that has been healing for me on my own spiritual journey so I am looking forward to sitting with these artists and their work. I have not read the whole book yet, just introduction and several entries, though Bannon appears to be a good guide.

Waiting is painful. Things are not yet as they should be. But waiting doesn’t have to be dull and dreary, it can be a sensory experience, a time of entering more fully into Life. A time to grieve, yes, but joy comes in the morning.

Paraclete Press, has graciously allowed me to run a giveaway on my blog of 3 copies of the book? Yeah, James, but how can I win? 

There are 2 ways to enter:

  1. Comment below and tell me what do you find most difficult about this time of year.
  2. Share this giveaway on Social Media by hitting the share button below, Be sure to comment and share the link in the comment section, so I see your entry!

Winners will be chosen Thursday, 11/29 at 9pm Pacific Time.

An Inner Step Toward God: a book review and GIVEAWAY!!!

Alexander Men was a popular Russian Orthodox priest during the final decades of the USSR. Through much of his ministry career, his writings were suppressed. Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when the nation had a new experience of religious Freedom, Men was vocal in his proclamation of the gospel. Before the Soviet’s ultimate collapse, Men was murdered. Many regard him as a martyr.

During his life time, his books on Orthodoxy and the spiritual life were circulated in a clandestine manner–published under pseudonyms and passed out as carbon-copied manuscripts (or published abroad and smuggled back into the country). But because Men wrote in Russian, much of his writings remain unknown in the English speaking world. Editor April French and translator Christa Belyaeva have compiled many of Men’s works into a slim volume, An Inner Step Toward God. Readers will be treated to Men’s practical  insights on the nature of prayer and its practice in the Russian Orthodox tradition.

There are four sections of this book.  Part one records parts of two lectures: an informal one delivered in a parishioner’s house, and a formal lecture delivered in February, 1990 (months before his murder). Part two reproduces A Practical Guide to Prayer, a catechetical work utilized by small groups of Men’s congregants to deepen their prayer lives. Part three focuses on prayer and the Great Lent.  There is a chapter where Men describes the Prayer of St. Ephrem of Syria (a prayer sent daily through Lent by Orthodox Christians) and devotional instructions for this season. Part four has sermon selections from Men on various saints,  his public prayers and further selections from his sermons and lectures on prayer.  In addition to these sections, there are appendices which record  insights from Men and other Orthodox Christians on the life of prayer.

As a lowly Protestant, I often turn to the writings of the Christian east and find wells of deep insight. Writers like Kallistos Ware, John Zizioulas, Anthony Bloom, Paul of Finland and Alexander Schmemann have shaped my theology,  my love of the sacraments and appreciation for liturgy. I remain firm in my non-Orthodoxy but these authors help me see the wisdom and depths of the Great Tradition.  Men is a devout and insightful Orthodox author and I am grateful for discovering him through this gem of a book.

Men saw prayer as a means of cultivating an awareness of God’s presence throughout life and allowing God to transform us:

So let us pray that we may know He is with us right now.  The Word of God will be with us. We will take Him home, and He will live in us. And Finally, let us live in the light and in hope.  We believers are happy people who do not take advantage of happiness; we are rich people who neither take possession of nor utilize our treasure. Therefore, today we will wash away everything–our resentments, our disappointments, our worries and expectations, our sin and our burdens. We bring these things to the Lord so that He might strengthen us, for this is what is most important (18).

Men talks about breathing, prayer postures, managing distractions and ‘higher forms of prayer’ (i.e. cultivating an inner awareness of God through all of life). However his method of prayer is relatively simple: daily prayer with a prayer book, time reading and meditating on Holy Scripture, and the Eucharist.  Orthodox prayer practice consists of saying set prayers (i.e. rote prayers from a prayer book or the Jesus prayer) as a means of attuning your heart to God. Men argues that these forms of prayers awaken us to God’s presence, and work on us regardless of whether or not we ‘feel like praying or not.’ To say the words from a prayer book, day in and day out is formational.  I find myself challenged and inspired by Men’s prescription for daily regular prayer.

This book provided strategies for deepening my personal prayer life and introduced me to voice of someone outside of my own tradition. I am grateful for Men’s life and witness and to April French and Paraclete press for introducing me to him!

GIVE AWAY!!!

Paraclete Press was gracious enough to share a review copy with me. That means that in addition to the one I purchased, I have an extra copy to share with one of you. If you would like to win my copy, please comment below telling me how you practice (or don’t practice) daily prayer.  I will choose a winner, at random, from the comments. You have until April 18 to enter!

 

Sometimes Church Don’t Feel Like it Should: Book Review and Book Giveaway!!!

If you are part of a church (and you should be), sooner or later you are bound to experience a ‘church hurt.’ Everyday wounded people leave the church never to return because of their woundedness and others’ jerk-face jerkiness. Trust me, I know. I have struggled to not be bitter at big-ego-pastors, manipulative back-stabbers, gossips and dismissive deacons. All too common and par for the course for many churches. I could tell you stories, my own and friend’s stories, about how churches discriminate, dehumanize and destroy people. Clearly there are major problems.

In Stephen Mansfield’s interesting book, he quite intentionally doesn’t address any of the problems we find in church. You could read this book and the circumstances at the First Church of Senior Pastor Overcompensating may actually not change at all. Mansfield’s purpose is a little more basic: he wants to help you heal and fix what you can inside of you, so you could rejoin the fold of God’s people. From his own experience of church hurt and that of others he interviewed, he discovered:

No matter how petty the cause is, every religiously wounded soul I encountered was in danger of a tainted life of smallness and pain, of missed destinies, and the bitter downward spiral. And every soul I encountered had the power to be free, for each of them, no matter how legitmately, was clenching the very offense or rage or self-pity or vision of vengance that was making life a microcosm of hell (10).

So he wrote this book to help people move past their wounds, their pain and anger, their church hurt, to a place of healing, forgiveness and freedom.

Mansfield examines examples of betrayal and hurt from church history, the Bible and his own experience and reflects on how to manage betrayal and wounds without letting it poison your personal and ecclesial life. He offers helpful advice, provides questions to help people sort through how they are handling their wounds, and help them learn from the experience and he attends to possible spiritual dynamics and directs people on how to re-engage the church after experiencing wounds (possibly a different church, but not necessarily).

I wouldn’t say that this is the most insightful book, but I really appreciate Mansfield’s focus on helping people move on and not let their ‘church hurts’ keep them from giving and receive love in the body of Christ. Certainly at different points in my own journey, a guide like this could have been helpful and may have guided me through some difficult circumstances.

Sounds Great James! How Can I Get This Book for Free?

So glad you asked that. As it so happens, I have a voucher for a free book which you can redeem from your local bookstore or directly from Tyndale. I will happily mail this to one of you. In order to get your free copy, please comment below (you have to provide a valid email address so I can contact you, but that won’t post publicly). As I am free to arbitrarily pick the winner, tell me a little bit about why a book like this would be helpful to you.

Regardless if you win this book, my hope is that you will find a way to navigate past your hurts and re-engage in church, feeling the joy of fellowship.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me (and maybe you) with a copy of this book for the purpose of this review/giveaway.