God is For Us: a Lent Review

The season of Lent starts in a week. If you are hoping to find a good Lent devotional, one of the best on the market is God For Us (Paraclete: 2013).  I used it as my primary devotional a couple of years ago and referred to it throughout the Lenten season last year. The book has a poet or spiritual writer give a week’s worth of daily devotions. Contributers include: Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Luci Shaw, James Schaap and Lauren Winner. Beth Bevis’s historical articles on the celebration of Lent and various feast days punctuate the text Ronald Rolheiser, OMI writes the introduction and all of this was assembled under Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe’s editorial eyes (both of Image Journal).

God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter (Paraclete 2016)

For this Lenten season, Paraclete has just released the readers God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter – Reader’s Edition. The book’s text is the same as the previous edition; however the earlier edition was sort of a coffee table book, with glossy pages full of art. The Reader’s Edition is a simple paperback with french flaps. While I absolutely loved the beauty of the previous edition, this is somewhat more practical and user friendly. I felt guilty about underlining and making notes in the original edition (I still did it) because it was such a pretty book. The Reader’s Edition doesn’t contain the art or the glossy pages and is more portable.

However, I did notice one small error unique to this edition. Page 35 of my copy, mistakenly attributes the entry to the late Richard John Neuhaus (I have a review copy, so I may be looking at a proof copy). My guess is that this a typographical error. Neuhaus contributed to the companion volume God With Us: Readings For Advent and Christmas which Paraclete also published a reader’s edition of, late last year. I checked that page of the devotional because I remembered that the lectionary readings for that day (First Sunday of Lent) didn’t correlate to the passages that Richard Rohr discussed in his devotion. They still don’t.

This doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the overall text. This devotional stands apart for its ecumenical spirit–bringing together an impressive list of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox (Cairns) spiritual writers. the devotions vary, but they are all quality.  If you are looking for a devotional that will deepen your experience and appreciation of the practice of Lent, this is perhaps the best one out there. Bevis’s contributions give this a historical rootedness often missing from devotional literature.  I give this edition 4.5 stars.

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

P.S.–This devotional is also available from Paraclete with a companion CD of Easter themed Gregorian chant. I have not listened to the CD, but I have been impressed with Paraclete’s collection of sacred music and see how popping this CD in as you read the book will help mark sacred time.

Ready to Wait: a book (p)review

Looking for a devotional which is accessible and theologically rich?  One that explores liturgy, Scripture and the Spiritual life? Here is a good choice for Advent and Christmas and one I plan to spend a little bit of time with.

time-to-get-ready-an-advent-christmas-reader-to-wake-your-soul-6Mark Villano the Director of Mission and Ministry at Marymount California University. In Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas Reader to Wake Your Soulhe combines scriptural insights, liturgical reflections with pop-culture and true-to-life illustrations.  Villano  guides us as we prepare to enter into the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

Villano has spent more than a decade in Catholic Campus ministry. He explores spiritual insights in a culturally relevant manner. However this isn’t just  ‘a college devotional.’  Villano helps all of us enter into the true meaning of season–the coming of a Savior and the rhythm of God’s grace.

While Villano is deeply steeped in the Catholic tradition, this is a reader that all Christians can read fruitfully. He doesn’t speak of Marian devotion in ways that makes a Protestant like me uncomfortable. Instead he commends Mary’s response (week four of Advent) in a way that invites us to respond with similar openness to Gods movement in our lives.  Each daily reading explores the Bible, Christian tradition and its meaning for us. On the whole, I found the entries I read orthodox and inspirational [typically I read every word of books I review, but I made an exception and skimmed this one as I plan to use it through out the holiday seasons].

I look forward to spending time with this devotional through Advent.  Available at paracletepress.com, Amazon.com or wherever good books are sold.  Preliminary rating: 4 stars.

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

Forty Days for Breathing Deeply: a book review

A few years ago I read Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for the Inspired Life. I wrote a gushing review of it.  My enthusiasm for that book was due in part to the way Levison unfolded the mystery of the Spirit’s presence in scripture in a number of ways, and connected it to everyday life. While my previous run-ins with the Holy Spirit focused on his role in convicting us for sin, empowering us for mission, and ecstatic experience, Levison helped me enlarge my frame to see how the Spirit sustains us with his breath, and is active not only through ‘events’ but through habits, decisions (and a lifetime of decisions), and meditation. Levison also explored how the Spirit poured himself out on God’s people (not just individuals but communities). While Fresh Air was a popular level book but full of rich insights

It is about three years later and I am again reading Levison. This time it is a devotional, 40 Days with the Holy Spirit. In forty daily readings, Levison reflects on Spirit’s presence and activity in the Bible through seven verbs:

  • Breathing– the ruach, Spirit Breath, which sustains each of us.
  • Praying–the listening, receiving and Abba-whisper of the Spirit.
  • Practicing–the long-haul of Spiritual formation.
  • Learning–the way meditating ( gnawing) on the Scripture opens us up to a deeper experience of the Spirit.
  • Leading–How the Spirit inspires, equips, sustains, empowers leaders.
  • Building–How the Spirit forms (and re-forms) vibrant communities of faith.
  • Blossoming–How the Spirit transforms us into what we were meant to be.

Each of the forty entries begins with a scripture, a brief meditation from Levison on the theme, a space for personal reflection and a space to ‘breathe’–a short prayer to the Holy Spirit.

As with Fresh Air, I am inspired by the texts that Levison includes here. The devotional format demands a slow read and thoughtful lingering. Also Levison’s meditations treat forty different scriptural passages. He is a perceptive reader and he treats some ‘Spirit’ passages that are overlooked (i.e. looking at the Spirit-breath of Job, how the faithfulness of Joseph allows him to exhibit the Spirit, the intimacy of Jesus’ breath in the Johannine Pentecost, etc). Also Levison’s prayers are artful and inspiring. Where I am not always a ‘devotional’ guy, I felt drawn in by Levison’s depth and insight.

Often when we talk about what it means to be ‘Spirit Filled’ we hold up a small dimension of the Spirit’s work in our lives. This book will lead you deeper into the life of the Spirit where we will encounter his wisdom, his inspiration, his daily teaching, his empowerment, his sustaining us through suffering, his enabling us to persevere and grow in grace, his guidance, his constituting community his transformative work. . .  If you are looking for a devotional which will enlarge your vision (and experience) of God, look no further. Five stars.

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

Are You the One? : a book review

In John’s gospel, John refers to himself as the ‘one that Jesus loved.’ He was also one of the Zebedee boys–the ‘Sons of Thunder’ whose mother asked that they sit on Jesus right and left side when he comes into his kingdom. Far from being outright rebuked for their power grab, Jesus wanted to make sure that they had counted the cost. Robert Crosby begins The One That Jesus Loves by reflecting on John and James’ mother’s ‘outrageous request.’ But his purpose is to encourage us to press into our relationship with Christ, always reaching for more intimacy.

So in forty pithy chapters, Crosby explores the rings of relationship which form around Jesus. The crowds are curious. The five thousand are a needy bunch who come because they are fed. The seventy are those whom Christ commissions as co-workers. The twelve shared life with Jesus for three years, the three celebrated an suffered with Jesus (on the mount of Transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane. Finally the one laid his head on Jesus breast on the last supper, and was the only one to stick with him through the crucifixion and the one that records Jesus words when he calls us friends.

This is a devotional book, and not a commentary and so lacks some exegetical precision. Crosby uses the social circles of Jesus evocatively to draw us into deeper relationship with Him. Certainly these aren’t the only circles around Jesus. Crosby could have included ‘the four thousand,’ the more than 500 brothers he appeared to after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6), the 120 believers who were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 1:15), the women who accompanied and supported the Twelve in Jesus ministry and mission (Luke 8:1-3), or the four (Peter, James, and John plus Andrew) who ask him about the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age, etc. I would be careful in drawing the lines of these circles too strongly. This was a semi-permeable web of relationships and people around Jesus were always invited to something more. As Crosby notes, even the twelve had a Judas and ‘in the twelve we are doing one of two things: we are following or falling back’ (179).

I applaud this book for focusing on cultivating deeper intimacy with Jesus. Crosby will make you want to press in, to be closer to Christ and whatever ring you find yourself in, you will hear the voice of Jesus inviting you to more. The short chapters make it ideal for personal devotional reading, but he does include conversation starters at the back of the book for use with small groups or in one-on-one discipleship. I give this book three stars: ★★★

Notice of material connection I recieved this book for the purposes of review. I was not asked to write a positive review but an honest one.

Doors to the Sacred: a book review

One of my favorite Gerard Manley Hopkins poems declares, “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” With a cultivated awareness, we begin to see Christ’s presence in our lives and in the lives of those we encounter. While Hopkins explored the divine revealed in creation, Bridget Haase sees God in the faces of the people that she meets and the circumstances she faces. Doors to the Sacred: Everyday Events as Hints of the Holy opens fifty-two different doors, exploring where God shows up in the midst of our day-to-day life.

Haase is an Ursuline sister and a story teller. Each of the entries in this book tell a brief story. Sometimes Haase describes chance encounters with strangers. At other times she shares about the children she teaches (or the grown-up-ones she’s taught). She also tells a little of her own experience growing up and her vocation as a nun. These stories are paired with perceptive questions which probe God’s presence in our life and a prayer (sometimes quotations from scripture or from saints and holy people).

Haase invites readers to hunt for God with her, but she asks that we take our time, not rush through. These fifty-two entries correspond, by design, to the fifty-two weeks of a year and Haase promises that a year with this book will keep us busy. She also suggests reading this book as a devotional for a weekend retreat or a day of ‘intensive reflection’ (4).  For the purpose of this review, I read this book far too quickly, but I took enough time to get a sense  of where Haase’s prose would take me. I  took time to journal my responses to the questions she asked at the end of several of the chapters. I felt that her reflections and questions aided my awareness of the God-with-me and helped me retrace my steps to see where God has been present in my life. Some of her questions also helped me probe my own anxiety for where I don’t sense God’s presence and where I long for his guidance.

This is not your typical devotional. Haase doesn’t organize her reflections around a particular spiritual theme or scriptural passage. The experience of reading this book is more like ‘exploring a basement’ (4), or digging through boxes in the attic to see what you find there. Christ is present everywhere playing in ten thousand places and hiding behind every door. I dog-eared several pages to return to later. I give this book four stars: ★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.