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,

yesterday,

today,

tomorrow.

Hallelujah

for all the glory.

Amen.

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.

LOOK!

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:

GFU

AccordingTYM

Praying the Psalms Toward Easter: a book review

It is through the psalmists’ syntax, imagery, and bold cries that we learn to pray. With laments and petitions and songs of thanksgiving and gratitude, the Psalms name dimensions of the spiritual life. My devotional life has been enriched by praying psalms. After all, Psalms is the prayer book of the church and source of Jesus’ own prayers.  according-to-your-mercy

 According to Your Mercy by Martin Shannon, CJ is a Lenten devotional with daily readings from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Shannon, is an Episcopal priest, liturgist, author and member of the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, MA. In each of the forty-seven daily readings,  Shannon offers a brief commentary, a quotation from one of the Church Fathers, and a short poetic, prayerful response to the daily psalm. While the entries follow the Lenten calendar, most of the psalms he uses aren’t placed in a particular order (with the exception the psalms for Holy Week). “They are simply a collection of prayers that reflect various twists and turns on the Lenten Journey.  As a season of penitence, Lent lends itself to such meandering for, when all is said and done, we know where we will end up” (introduction, xi).

The first reading begins with Psalm 121 (“I lift my eyes unto the mountains? Where does my help come from?), reflecting on the pilgrims’ journey to Jerusalem (one of the Songs of Ascent). A quotation from Augustine reflects on the promise of Divine protection. The selection of other Church Fathers cited includes saints from the third to eighth centuries, both East and West. Paraclete

I am excited to delve into this devotional. Shannon is a thoughtful reader of the Psalms and his selections, reflections and quotations seem well suited for Lent. The book shall be my companion in the days ahead.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, James: a book review

Tim Keller is a pastor, popular author and a sought-after conference speaker. Even those of us on the egalitarian, non-Reformed end of the evangelical spectrum appreciate Keller’s graciousness, intelligence, and humility. He is kind of like our Calvinist, complementarian man-crush. Sam Allberry  is an editor at the Gospel Coalition, a global speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) an author, and the founding editor of Living Out (a ministry for those struggling with same-sex attraction). Keller and Allberry have teamed up for a 90 day devotional on John 14-17, Romans and the book of James. Their  walk through these passages were first published in Explore Quarterly, a journal published by the Good Book Company.

kellberryThe daily entries walk through a passage of scripture by breaking it up into a verse or two mini-sections, asking probing questions, and providing brief explanatory notes. Each day closes with suggestions on how to apply the passage, and often suggestions for what to pray in response. There is a blank, lined page for notes and prayers for each entry. These studies are designed to be done with an open Bible beside your devotional, so you can reference the words on the Page.

Carl Laferton, Good Book Company Editorial Director, writes a helpful introduction (seems like a series introduction as he makes no reference to the actual passages discussed in this volume). He suggests that as you read the passage for each day you note a highlight (the truth from God which strikes you most) the query (questions about what you are reading) and the change (ways God’s spirit is prompting you to change) (8). At the close of each study Laferton suggests writing a one sentence summary of how God spoke to you each day and a short prayer about what you have seen. This format is not reflected in the notes of Keller and Allberry’s daily entries; nevertheless it seems like a fruitful way to approach God’s word expectantly.

Because Keller and Allberry elected to write questions and notes for each verse or two mini-section, there isn’t a heuristic framework for the type of questions they ask. For example, many Bible Study methods use some version of Observation, Interpretation, Application. Mostly they ask the observational questions (questions about what it says in the text) and interpretive questions (questions about what you think the passage means) for every couple verse section, saving the application questions for the whole passage.

This is a 90 day journey and I have had this in possession for about a week. I haven’t been able to more than skim through it; however I read enough to get a sense of the entries for the purposes of this review. I will focus mostly on entries from Romans in my comments bellow.

The authors of this volume are both theologically conservative and this is reflected in their approach to passages and particular notes. That is to be expected, we all bring our own theological lens to scripture, but they do attend to what they read in each passage. So for example, in their discussion of Romans 1:26-32 they give a brief explanation of how homosexuality is viewed as a sin in the passage, “homosexuality is described as ‘against nature’ (para phusin).” But they are also careful to not turn it into a super sin as some conservative interpreters might, “But notice it comes after Paul has identified the root of all sin: worshiping something other than God. And it comes before a long list of other sins, including envy and gossiping. Active homosexuality is no more or less sinful than these—all come from worshiping the created, rather than the Creator” (104). This is perhaps a controversial passage to highlight (the only verses in this study which would address anything about homosexuality and the LGBTQ lifestyle) but it gives you a sense of how they attempt to follow the contours of the biblical text and are constrained by it.  Romans 9-11 give a classic Reformed understanding of election, predestination, God’s foreknowledge and the future of Israel (175-192), though not in a heavy-handed way.

The notes are not detailed. There are no footnotes or suggestions for further reading to delve deeply into the passage. Keller and Allberry give a non-technical, lay-person friendly interpretation of the passage, but if you do each daily study right, you, the reader, are doing all the heavy lifting, accessing biblical truth for yourself rather than depending on them for interpretation. Because they walk through whole books of the Bible, or sections of books in the case of John 14-17, this is much more detailed than those daily-thoughts-on-a-verse devotionals they sell at the supermarket.

Yet, because this work is not scholarly, there are the occasional lapses common to popular preachers. When they are discussing Romans 8:15-17 they write, “Abba means ‘Daddy,'” I know how well this preaches (I’ve preached it myself), but the best linguistic evidence would just translate Abba as father or dad without the informal, familiar feel of daddy. Nothing serious but not always careful speech. I also think breaking up passages into small daily chunks, can obscure the rhetorical structure and the flow of an argument. I think a bird’s-eye-view is so important for grasping an epistle’s meaning (especially a theologically sophisticated one like Romans). Keller and Allberry clearly have a road map they are following through each biblical book, but like your GPS they only reveal where to turn next. They don’t give you a large overview of the terrain, trajectory and destination of each book.  A good orienting essay introducing the books covered would help tremendously.

I love the Bible. The upper room discourses & Jesus’ high priestly prayer, the book of Romans and James, contain some of my go-to passages. If you are looking for a devotional or guided study to discover these sections of scripture, this is a good choice. It would be  impossible to read through this in 90 days and not grow in your understanding of these books and their meaning. And reading this devotional, as intended, will help you hear the voice of God in the text. Keller and Allberry are good guides, by no means perfect, but this would be helpful alongside other resources which help you to engage the Bible. I give this three-and-a-half stars.

I received this book via Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.