Reading as Prayer through Lent & Easter: a book (p)review

We are nearing the beginning of Lent. I love this season! I find the preparatory seasons of the church calendar (Lent and Advent) great times to press into devotional practices which are difficult for me the rest of the time. Wednesday, I will find a church service to attend so I can get the Face-palm of Death (AKA the Imposition of Ashes). I will fast. I will engage spiritual disciplines. This season is sacred time and I enter in eager to see what God will do in me. 

between-midnight-and-dawnOne of my conversation partners this Lent will be Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide for  Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide (Paraclete Press, 2016),  compiled by Sarah Arthur). This is one of three devotionals Arthur has edited following the church calendar (also: At the Still Point: a Literary Guide for Prayer in Ordinary Time, and Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer For Advent, Christmas and Epiphany). At the Still Point was the only one of these devotionals I have read any of before, though my Ordinary Time resolve is nowhere near as resolute as my Lenten devotion.

Between Midnight and Dawn pairs suggested weekly Scripture readings with prayers, poetry and fiction readings. There are seven readings for each week of Lent—six poems and one piece of fiction. During Holy Week and Triduum, there are scriptures and 5-7 literary selections for each day, before returning to the weekly format of Scriptures, poetry, and fiction for each week of Eastertide.

The poems and fiction are selected to lead us deeper into the land of Prayer. Arthur suggests reading this literature, applying aspects of lectio divina—lectio (reading), meditatio (reading it again, several more times, slowly), oratio (paying attention to words and phrases) and contemplatio (shifting our focus to God’s presence, p.13). Certainly, this takes a little bit of time. The story sections are longer (because ‘fiction doesn’t work its magic right away’), so Arthur suggests saving the story for a day of the week when we have time to just focus on the story.

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing. 2002) is a similar sort of devotional, using literature as a way into this liturgical season. Arthur’s selection is different in that she is more focused on reading literature as an act of prayer, and the scriptural readings (absent from Bread and Wine) give focus to daily practice.

As of yet, I haven’t really read the book, only scanned the selections, the poems and stories selected.  Arthur has chosen both contemporary and eminent voices from the past.  Poets like Hopkins, Donne, Rosetti, Herbert, Tennyson but also those like Luci Shaw, Katherine James, Scott Cairns, John Fry, Tania Runyan). There are stories from Buechner, Chesterton, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, George Macdonald. There are some favorite poets and poems I am surprised to not see here, but I am interested to read the ones which Arthur has chosen. I am excited to journey with poets and storytellers on my Lenten journey

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press for the purposes of review.

If you would like to get a copy for yourself for Lent you can purchase it from

Paraclete Press

Amazon (also available on Kindle)

Barnes & Noble

or wherever fine books are sold.



The Devotional Life of Brian: a book review

It has been a while since I read a Brian McLaren book. I first discovered his writing in the heyday of Theooze( before it all cracked up and became the Hatchery). I read articles by McLaren and I soon got hold of his books, consuming them when I was More Ready Than [I] Realized. I dreamed of Finding Faith in the Church on the Other Side. And I devoured his A New Kind of Christian trilogy. Sure, it was contrived and stilted (like most didactic fiction), but it helped me think through some stuff. I was bothered, even then, that the only prominent person of color in the Emergent Church Canon, was McLaren’s fictionalized Jamaican High School teacher, Neo, though it would be years before I recognized this as the”Magical Negro” motif (i.e. Neo existed in the story to guide the white protagonist, Pastor Dan Poole, toward his Emergent self-actualization). And I read McLaren and Tony Campolo’s Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel with a church small group. Each week, one of our small group members would give us her feminist critique of Campolo and McLaren’s androcentric metaphors (e.g. the Culture-Controlled church was neutered, bastardized, and lacking virility).

There were always things in his writing that I rolled my eyes at, but I learned a lot from McLaren (and I don’t think he’d write any of these books quite the same way today). He named issues I had with the church, gave me a conceptual vocabulary to understand stuff, and got me asking good questions. He wasn’t a perfect author, but I am grateful for what I learned from him.

But at some point, I O.D.ed on his brand of Generous Orthodoxy and quit reading his books altogether. I didn’t have a major reaction against him or anything. I just lost interest. Sometimes I would see his latest new release at the library, and bring it home, intent on digging in, only to return it weeks later unread (with maybe an 80¢ late fee). I still enjoyed reading an occasional online article by him or hearing his voice on some theology guy’s podcast, but I only following his spiritual journey from afar.

9781478947462So I picked up Seeking Aliveness with both a sense of nostalgia and curiosity.  Based on his book We Make the Road By Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books, 2014), Seeking Aliveness breaks that book’s 52 chapters into daily readings—5 to 7 readings per week.

So, this is a Christian devotional, but with slightly less Bible. McLaren lists 3-4 short passages at the start of each week, the daily entries are McLaren riffing on the weekly theme—our daily Brian, so to speak. Which isn’t to say there is not some meaty stuff here and some solid biblical reflection. McLaren’s musings cover the grand sweep of biblical narrative from Creation to New Creation, the liturgical calendar, theology and suggestions for living out our faith. Most of these reflections are rooted, one way or another, in the gospels and the life of Jesus. And McLaren invites readers to commit the key verses for each week to memory (ix). Each of the daily entries closes with an aphorism to ponder, a question, a prayer to pray or something to practice in daily life.

The 52 chapters are divided into four sections. Part I is on being “alive in the story of Creation. Part II is about being “alive in the Adventure of Jesus.” Part 3 is “alive in a global uprising” and Part 4 is “alive in the Spirit of God.” The unifying metaphor of these reflections is ‘aliveness,’ which McLaren roots in the Christian story and the style of life Christ recommends:

Aliveness, [Jesus] will teach, is a gift available to all by God’s grace. It flows not from taking but from giving, not from fear but from faith, not from conflict but from reconciliation, not from domination but from service. It isn’t found in the outward trappings of religion—rules, and rituals, controversies and scruples, temples and traditions. No, it springs up from our innermost being like a fountain of living water. It intoxicates us like the best win ever and so turns life from a disappointment into a banquet. This new life of aliveness and love opens us up to rethink everything—to go back and become like little children again. Then we can rediscover the world with a fresh, childlike wonder—seeing the world in a new light, the light of Christ (126).

McLaren doesn’t talk about how Jesus came to save us from eternal conscious torment once we die. Instead, he discusses Jesus’  reversal of the road we are already on, and our expectations, “Jesus used fire-and-brimstone language to warn his countrymen about the catastrophe they faced if they followed their current path—a wide and smooth highway leading to another violent uprising against the Romans. Violence won’t produce peace, he warned, it will only lead to more destruction” (171). Jesus’ non-violence and love stood in stark contrast to the violent tendencies in his, and our country. Salvation is not just about what happens at the end of space and time; it is in turning from destructive patterns and becoming fully alive. At times, this takes the narrow, rough path of ‘non-violent social change.’ Picking up on the values and activity of Jesus, God’s purposes for Creation and the Spirit’s movement, McLaren’s retelling of the biblical story suggests ways to act justly—caring for Creation, solidarity with the poor, and being a peacemaker.

McLaren can be somewhat of a polarizing figure. When I was preparing this review, I came across a couple of other reviews of the book. One person loved it, the next person thought that this was too New Age-y and liberal. My conservative friends don’t appreciate how much McLaren (and the progressive evangelicalism he inspired) are willing to deconstruct ( Lifeway stopped selling McLaren’s books before Lifeway not selling your books was cool). Other friends think McLaren’s impact has been largely positive even if he doesn’t quite go far enough.

Personally, I enjoyed this book. I probably wouldn’t use it as a devotional—I’m not a really great devotional reader—but the chapter titles and daily entries makes this a  searchable collection of bite-size Brian McLaren reflections on various topics. There are no footnotes (this is a devotional, not a textbook) or extraneous quotations from other authors. Just Brian and Bible talking about what it means to truly be alive. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from FaithWords in exchange for my honest review.

Preparing for Advent with Paraclete Press: Part 2

Advent starts this coming Sunday, December 3, though less liturgically minded congregations (such as the one I worship at) may have started their countdown already (this year, the Fourth Sunday of Advent coincides with Christmas Eve). And as always, the supermarket Advent Calendars with waxy, cheap chocolate countdown the days to Christmas, beginning on December 1.

So maybe, just maybe you are still on the hunt for an Advent devotional to ground you in the midst of the hurly burly of holiday cheer. I mentioned in my “Part 1” post that Paraclete Press has some great Advent devotionals for the season. These include titles like  God with Us (edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe), Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Compiled by Sarah Arthur) and Sybil Macbeth’s The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist

Here are three other titles worth considering:

Time to Get Ready

time-to-get-ready-an-advent-christmas-reader-to-wake-your-soul-6Along with God with Usthis devotional by Mark Villano I’ve used in the last couple of Advent seasons (here is my post from two years ago). Villano is a Catholic, campus minister, with an MFA in Cinematic Arts from USC and an M.Div from Catholic University of America. As such, Villano blends scriptural insight with personal reflections, peppered with pop-cultural references. Villano illustrates the biblical story, connecting Advent and Christmas to life.

His entry for the first day of Advent closes with this exhortation and invitation:

Do we ever feel like we’re sleepwalking through life? That we’re just going though the motions? Is this just another day at work, at school, at church? Just another Christmas? Are we so caught up in the routines and the preparations of these dates on the calendar that we miss what’s most important about this time in our lives? How does our soul try to warn us? Do we see the possibilities that exist now, the new beginnings that can only happen now?

Advent comes and says “wake up” to these new possibilities. Listen to those cries of the soul. Be open to God’s saving mercy breaking through . Be open to what it is calling you to do (6-7)

In the rest of the devotional, Villano shows us how to be open to God’s movement, to receive the season as kairos (God’s time), to attend to the story of Jesus’ advent and reimagine its implications for our life today.

This devotional is meaty without being too heady. Young and old will appreciate it.

My Soul Waits

my-soul-waitsThis is a new devotional, but the author isn’t new to me. This will be the third book I’ve read from Fr. Martin Shannon, including a similar devotional he produced on the Psalms for the Lenten/Easter season (reviewed here).  Fr. Shannon is an episcopal priest, liturgist and a member of the Community of Jesus (the ecumenical, Benedictine community that operates Paraclete Press).

Steeped in Benedictine spirituality, Fr. Shannon lives and prays the psalms in community. The 41 psalms (which take us from Advent to Epiphany) include psalms of praise, psalms of lament, penitential psalms, psalms of thanksgiving, orientation, disorientation, reorientation.  Shannon writes:

Except for a few places (such as the first day of Advent and Christmas Day), the forty-one psalms in this collection are not presented in any particular order. This is because neither your life nor my life goes in any particular order either. The ascending and descending notes of life are sounded mostly without warning and part of my learning to get ready and to make room is to go with the ups and downs as they come, to find in each one a new chord for the “new song.” The Psalms are tried and true instruments upon which the songs of my life can be played out while in Advent and every other time, my soul waits (viii).

Shannon’s daily reflections on the Psalms, describe the world of the psalmists, the theology of the psalms and their significance for us, with an eye especially for this season. Each entry also ends with a word “from the Fathers” (notable saints from the early centuries of the church).  Shannon also includes short profiles of the Church Fathers quoted in this book (125-131).

The Psalms are the prayerbook of the church, and Fr. Shannon is a good guide to take us through this season!

Your Light Gives Us Hope: 24 Daily Practices for Advent

your-light-gives-us-hopeGerman Benedictine Monk Anselm Grün, of Cellarer of Münsterschwarzach Abbey is a teacher and spiritual director. His 2015 devotional, Dein Licht schekt uns Hoffnung, is presented here in translation. The daily entries take us from December 1 to 24 (like the chalky chocolate calendars) and emphasize practice. Grün includes introductions for each week of Advent, and reflections on Saints days, and brief reflections on the lectionary text; however half (or more) of each entry describes a ‘practice’ designed to help us press into the rebirth, renewal and the arrival of God in our midst.

These practices are mostly moments of personal reflection, lighting a candle, mindfulness meditation, long walks and prayer. Grün gives us an outline of practices and topics to reflect on for each day of the season.

Grün is a new author to me, but evidently a well known spiritual writer in his native Germany. I am excited to dig into this one and allow these practice to form me while I wait.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of these books from Paraclete Press in exchange for my review (or preview in this case).

Glory Everyday: a book review

I am not sure how I came to follow Kaitlin Curtice on Twitter, but I did and my Twitter feed has been better for it. She is a speaker & worship leader and writer who has been featured in Sojourners. If you have followed her blog through the month of November, she has been blogging daily, her reflections on Native American Awareness Month her experience as a Potawatomi woman. Her blog, articles, and social media presence challenge white, eurocentric Christianity and remind us of the diversity of the Kingdom of God and Christ’s heartbeat for justice.

glory-happeningHer new book, Glory HappeningFinding the Divine in Everyday Places (Paraclete Press: 2017) explores  God’s glory in everyday life in ordinary life. Like Kathleen Norris’s Quotidian Mysteries, Curtice interrogates her daily life for glimpses of the divine. She explores the dimensions of  her life as a Native American Christian, a woman, a wife and mother of two, to see what it reveals of God’s glory. Each chapter of this book is a snapshot of her life, combined with a short, poetic prayer addressed to God or Jesus.

Curtice observes that in the Bible and Christian tradition, God’s glory is made manifest in various ways (introduction, xiii). The ways God’s glory are manifest provide the structure for the book, the 50 entries are arranged in seven sections: creation, light, weight, voice, fire, honor, worship, and kingdom.  There are 6 or 7 entries for each section (with the exception of fire, which only has 4). The brief entries and accompanying prayer make this a perfect daily devotional to awake our sense of God.

The chapters run the gambit of Curtice’s life experience. She describes her marriage and family life, pregnancy, the wonder in eyes of her two sons,  reflections on her native identity, remembrances of conversations and encounters with other people and cultures, and the wisdom of authors and teachers.

Pervading all this is a sense of celebration and gratitude for life, which I find really refreshing. Especially since Curtice is something of an activist with eyes-wide-open to the injustices of the dominant culture in the United States (e.g. against Native Americans, African Americans, Muslims, etc). It is easy for activist types to come across as cynical and jaded but I got none of that from this book. This isn’t to say she is overly rosy about our current cultural moment. Just that she trusts that God’s glory is made manifest and holds out a strong hope for the Kingdom coming.

The prayer that closes the book captures this sense of  trust, hope and gratitude:

Mystery of everything that we understand

and most certainly everything that we don’t,

teach us to rest in this unknowing.

Teach us to rest in each other,

to rest in the presence of a stranger,

in the kindness that is always unexpected,

that surprises us, that gives us a taste of you,

as much as we can bare[sic] to understand.

You are Creation,

you are Light,

you are Weight,

you are Voice.

You hold Fire,

you give Honor,

you gift Worship,

and you are Kingdom,





for all the glory.


If you are like me, it is too easy to get bogged down by the pressures of daily life and a soul-numbing news cycle filled with the misdeeds of powerful men, convenient deceptions, and partisan politicking. Curtice pulls back the curtain a little to reveal the ways God’s glory and kingdom are breaking into our present.  It also doesn’t hurt that Curtice is a great writer too!  I give this book 4 stars  – ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

Preparing for Advent with Paraclete Press: Part 1 (Family Edition)

Advent is almost here and if you are hunting for Advent devotionals, Paraclete Press have some great ones. In fact, for the past few years, Paraclete has been my go-to publisher for books for Advent and Lent.  They are the  publishing arm of the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical Christian community in the Benedictine monastic tradition. Two family oriented books I’m really excited about are: All Creation Waits and Look!

All Creation Waits

all-creation-waitsFor Advent last year, my family read through Gayle Boss’s All Creation Waits, which counted down the days of December to Christmas with woodland creatures. In the northern hemisphere the days leading up to Christmas are dark and cold. Boss had us look to animals, some asleep, others with only wit and instinct to carry them through lean winter days. From the animals we learn what it means to wait. And Christmas morn we read of Jesus the light come into the world.

All Creation Waits may be my favorite devotional we’ve read as a family. Last year, my wife and I read this with kids (then ages 9,7, 5 and almost 2). The two-year-old paid no attention but the other kids listened with interest, excited to discover how each creature waited out winter. And of course David Klein’s beautiful woodcuts brought each animal story to life (Here is my post about the book from last November). This is a perfect daily reader for the season, and not just great for kids. It helped me see the season a little more and discover how to wait through dark days.


lookA new book I’m excited about is Look!: A Child’s Guide to Advent & Christmas by Laura Alary, Illustrated by Ann Boyajian.  Alary and Boyajian previously collaborated on a similar book for Lent and Easter, Make Room, which my kids also loved (my review of that book is here).

Alary describes the traditions of Advent (e.g. the Jesse Tree, the Advent Wreath) and what the season of Advent means. She explores what it means to wait by inviting us to look back, look around and look ahead. We look back at the people of Israel suffering in oppression but awaiting God’s action on their behalf. We look around, the way John the Baptist watched and waited for the time at hand and saw the Spirit descend like a dove on his Jesus after he baptized Him. We look ahead, the way Mary heard the angels word’s, consented and became pregnant with her savior and lord. And yet nine month she carried him (and 30 years raised him!). With Mary we learn to say yes to the things God may be calling us to.

Alary has practical suggestions of how we can step out and be more kindhearted and generous with others. This is what most excites me about this book. When my kids read Make Room they came away with a new appreciation for the liturgical season and the ways attempt to make more space for God in our lives. This book invites kids to pay attention and I wonder what they will see!

Notice of material connection: I received copies of these books from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest reviews


From Bud to Blossom: a book review

I am a faith blogger, meaning I blog about the Bible, theology, and the intersection of faith and life. I also review books (which you know if you’re reading this). I discovered the Redbud Writers Guild several years ago and immediately wanted to join. Then I discovered I couldn’t, all because it is a group of women writers and I am ill-equipped to join such a group.¹ That didn’t stop me from reading their blogs and following their authors everbloomon social media.  

I am not that broken up about not being able to join. I don’t actually need to break the faith blogger gender barrier, and the blogosphere is replete with other writers groups that my voice fits well in; however, I was impressed by the quality of writing I repeatedly encountered from members of the guild, bloggers and authors I’ve appreciated, women like: April Yamasaki, Margot Starbuck, Leslie Layland Fields, Jen Pollock Michael, Emily Gibson and others. This is a diverse bunch of women (not all of whom would feel at home in a Woman of Faith tour with geraniums in their hats). These are pastors, theology students, homemakers, activists, poets, novelists, theologians—women of color and anglos, Boomers, Xers and Millennials.

A new book project, Everbloom (Paraclete Press, April 2017), compiles stories, poetry and reflections from the women of Redbud (quite a few who were new voices for me). These stories speak of grief, anxiety, pain, loss and redemption.  These women share personal stories of difficult and grace-filled moments and the freedom found in Christ. The book is at turns vulnerable and full of good humor. Each author shares their story, closes with a brief prayer and a writing prompt for personal reflection.

This book is written by women, rooted in their experience, and the intended especially for a woman audience. Some of the writing prompts make this explicit: “What has been painful and necessary for you to grow as a woman and in relationship with God?”(16); “Reflect on your own ideas of motherhood using this statement: mother knows best.” (140); “Describe a strong influential woman in your life.” (202), etc.. But honestly, this is just a solid collection of writing, full of varied and poignant stories and guys would be encouraged by it too. I always feel sad when I visit a Christian bookstore and thoughtful women authors are quarantined in the ‘woman’s interest’ section (lest they have authority over a man or something). Sometimes us male readers will have to adjust these reflections to our experience, but women readers are accustomed to making adjustments for male authors everyday (or anytime their pastor throws Braveheart into their sermon). So guys: this is well written, man up and don’t be scared!

But with Mother’s Day just around the corner, this is a great gift idea for a mom or special woman in your life, It is a rich storehouse of stories, prayers and opportunities for reflection. I give this four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

A Lenten E-votional

unnamedWe are in the first full week of Lent and just incase you may still be hunting for a devotional, here is a good option:

Paraclete Press has been my go-t0 source for Lenten reading for several years now. I’ve used prayer books published by them, and read a few of their devotionals and family resources, in order to help me be present to God through during the Lenten season. God for Us, with its multi-author, multi-discipline and multi-denominational approach remains a personal favorite of mine (each author provides a week’s worth of reflections). This year, I have been praying the psalms with Martin Shannon, CJ (According to Your Mercy). [Link’s above take you to my reviews of these books]

Both of these devotional are available to you as a subscription service. For $9.99, the daily readings come right to your inbox. Perhaps you don’t need another book cluttering up your home or struggle to read an e-book devotional (without a visual reminder, e-books are easy to forget about). But if you live life tethered to a screen, at a desk or through a personal device, this is a way carve out some sacred space for reflection. Click on the banners below to subscribe via Paraclete Press’s website: