Wholeness Through Coloring: a book review

I have been known to steal crayons from my kids when we go out to eat so I could draw and color too, but I don’t totally get the adult coloring craze. If I am going to sit down with a crayon in hand, I want to create something new—sketching, drawing, creating. I don’t want to color inside the lines, or outside. In my world, there are no lines. 

words-of-healingBut Words of Healing: A Coloring Book to Comfort and Inspire is a fantastic coloring book. Like other Paraclete Press coloring books, the right-hand page has a pattern and design with a Capital letter, the left-hand page has a word that begins with that letter, and a Bible verse. So on one page, you read the word Deliver with Psalm 91:14, “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name,” on the corresponding page, is a calligraphic “D” with a leafy pattern behind it.  Coloring the letter provides space to meditate on the word and passage, and to pray. A full-color Lectio Divina. 

This is great when you consider the coloring book’s theme, healing. The words and verses speak of God’s kindness, healing, renewal, hope, light, freedom, grace, good news and more. In the Christian sense, healing means being made whole. It is always God’s work.

When we are in need of healing—when we are broken or wounded, in pain or suffering from a chronic illness—we do not have the mental space for study, hard work or creative endeavor. Spiritual practices that are too demanding will not be helpful because we do not have the mental capacity for them. Coloring in a book like this is a way of quiet way of being in God’s presence, to allow Him to work. 

As someone who has been privileged to walk alongside people in pain, and provide pastoral care and home visits,  I appreciate a resource like this. It provides people an easy way to connect with God when they don’t have the psychological wherewithal for reading, theology or heroic spiritual disciplines. I may not be an avid colorer, but I can commend this book for the simple way it enables us to be available to God when we feel broken, tired, hurt and like we have nothing left to give. This is the sort of resource that is nice to hand off to someone who is going through hard times. I give it five stars. 

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

Walking the Hard Road: a book review

Alzheimer’s is a hard road to travel, for both the afflicted and their loved ones. When Martha Maddux was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of fifty (in Sept. 1997), her and her husband Carlen Maddux were both heart broken. Martha, up to that point, had been a spirited mother and civic activist, passionate and confident. The disease would take its toll on her; yet Carlen was determined to be her anchor and uphold her through this new and trying season of their time together. A Path Revealed shares Carlen’s story, of walking alongside Martha, the spiritual resources that sustained them and the healing they both experienced as a consequence of her long illness (Martha passed away in June, 2014).

a-path-revealedThis is a spiritual memoir. We hear about how God met Martha and Carlen in the land of Alzheimer’s. Their path is both contemplative and the charismatic, and they are supported by a web of friends and mentors along the way. Early on in their journey, a Presbyterian pastor/mentor suggests Carlen and Martha go to a Catholic retreat center. There, Carlen learns the comfort that comes from meeting God through contemplative prayer. Slong the way he also hears God and experiences his presence at healing conferences, retreat centers, Thomas Merton’s old cabin, nursing homes, hospital rooms, and on a trip to Australia. Martha and Carlen both are healed of bitterness and resentment harbored toward their fathers. For Carlen this came through an experience of inner healing of past memories through prayer.  He also forgives Martha’s father for past abuse.  His healing and contemplative life clears the way for Carlen to experience a deeper sense of God’s presence and love. Martha too experiences the affirmation of God’s presence to her through  a prophetic word of an Episcopalian healing minister.

Carlen shares his journey as encouragement for others who likewise find themselves navigating difficult paths because of sickness or crisis.  There is no formula here. Carlen and Martha’s story is not mappable on anyone elses, but there is a gracious wisdom hard one. He shares the resources, and faithful confidence that comes from one who has walked the hard road and can now help others on their way.

Carlen and Martha’s story made me think of another couple I know who are facing down Alzheimer’s. Like Carlen and Martha, their story is marked by small victories, good friends and God’s presence with them. I give this book four stars and recommend it especially for those who are navigating Alzheimer’s or other difficult experiences.

Note: I recieved a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

Mind Your Health: a book review

Marchant  is a popular science writer with a PhD in genetics and medical microbiology who has written for New Scientist, Nature, the Guardian, and the Smithonian .  She is rigorously skeptical of alternative therapies and the miraculous; however she isn’t dismissive  of the fact that people are sometimes helped by them. Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body is her examination of the mind’s  power to influence physical health and well being. She reviews various scientific studies, interviews those who have participated in them, and explores what the brain can or cannot do as far as healing our bodies.

cureMarchant observes a well known phenomena in contemporary medical research: the placebo effect. She cites research which shows that in some instances, a placebo works even if the person knows they are getting the placebo, though it impacts symptoms rather than the disease itself (still valuable for quality of life). She also notes the ‘nocebo effect’ where a person’s health declines because of the belief that something is causing them harm (i.e. believing you were poisoned, or had a curse put on you). Placebos can be a powerful counter medicine to these psychosomatic ailments and empathetic patient care does make a real difference in prognosis.  So Marchant admits some value in alternative medicines:

Therapies such as homeopathy and Reiki contain no active ingredient and show no benefit in rigorous clinical trials. They are based on principles that from a scientific point of view are nonsensical—almost certainly do not work in the way they claim they do. But with long, personal consultations and empathetic care, they are perfectly honed to maximize placebo responses. For that reason they probably do provide real relief, particularly for chronic ailments that conventional medicine is not well equipped to treat (39)

Marchant examines the benefits of combining a placebo with Pavlovian conditioning, the benefits of cognitive therapies in fighting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, hypnosis in treating Irritable Bowl Syndrome,  and the benefits virtual reality for Pain management. In the latter part of the book she talks about how stress affects health, the benefits of meditation the importance of relationships and  positive outlook for aging well, and how manipulating the vagus nerve through electricity may impact our immunity. Her final chapter examines the role of faith in healing, specifically at Lourdes.

Marchant doesn’t believe in miracles and treats religious ritual like a powerful placebo. She does volunteer at Lourdes and record her observations of a worship service she participated in:

I feel out of place amid all the singing and signing. I’ve never attended a Catholic Mass, and I usually try my hardest to avoid religious ceremonies. I get uneasy about the idea of substituting reason and clear thinking for robes, incantations and mysterious higher powers. But at the same time it is beautiful; a hugely impressive assault on the senses. (266).

Later she writes, “Lourdes didn’t turn me into a believer. But after attending this giant underground service, I’m struck by the physical force that religious belief can have” (227). She sees the power of religion to effect people’s health, for good or ill,  in mechanisms like stress and ritual. She prefers a naturalistic interpretation of how healing occurs—a scientific explanation of how healing took place invalidates it as a miracle (which she doesn’t believe in anyway).

I have participated and benefited from healing prayers, but I am also aware of studies on intercessory prayer that show no significant change, and reveal  faith healers’ success rates as equal to that of a placebo (about 29%).  I don’t share Marchant’s skepticism of the miraculous. I do, however, appreciate her  well-documented look at the science behind the power of the mind to influence physical health. Her bias towards a rigorous look at the evidence is what made me want to read the book. I especially found the studies of the placebo effect in the first part of the book interesting, and this is a fun read. I recommend this for anyone interested in our current understanding of the brain’s ability to effect our body. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Random House and Crown Publishers through the Blogging For Books Program in exchange for my honest review.



Prayers for Veterans Day

A few miles north of me my Canadian friends observe Remembrance Day–a solemn day which honors those who have fallen in service to their country. Here in the United States, today is a day to honor the living soldiers who have served and on Memorial Day (in May) we honor our dead. However there is a certain bleed through with the two holidays. When we honor those scarred by war, we also acknowledge the reality of war, the wounds and the wounding, the death and dying. For all who have been touched by the ravages of war, Lord have mercy:

Almighty  and Living God,

    we rise with thanks for those whose sacrifice purchased our freedom,
      those who died in service of the nation, and those who have returned

        and have struggled to rebuild their lives.

Our hearts brim with gratitude and ache with sadness–

      We are grateful for all they’ve done
      We cry for all that they have suffered

Prince of Peace

    We pray for the wounds they carry–
      The horrors that haunt them,
      injuries, lost friends, PTSD.
    We cry out for your healing and full restoration
    of all whose souls are ravaged by war.

Spirit of Peace-

    provide rest for these weary souls
    and hasten the day when sword will be plowshares
    and Your Peace reigns on the earth.

Broken Souls Made Whole: a book review.

Help for the Fractured Soul by Candyce Roberts

When a person has suffered severe abuse they are damaged socially and emotionally and physically. They also bear spiritual scars and need healing. Author Candyce Roberts has walked with many survivors of abuse as a minister of inner healing to those who are traumatized. This book describes some of the issues that sufferers of abuse face and the wisdom that Roberts has accumulated from ministering to them.

The ministry of inner healing involves inviting Jesus into the wounded areas of our heart and allowing him to bring healing to our past memories and broken parts.  In focusing on sufferers of abuse, Roberts has often met those who have a ‘fractured personality’ (like Dissociative Identity Disorder but she cautions non-mental health professionals against diagnosing anyone). Often in sessions of prayer ministry, survivors of abuse will manifest different personalities. These are parts of the self that need healing and integration.

Throughout this book Roberts gives advice to prayer ministers on: confronting fear and denial, inviting Christ in the picture to minister to the person, helping the person work toward forgiveness, addressing false beliefs, ministering to children, learning wholeness, the role of community in bringing healing to the abused and cultivating intimacy.  Roberts brings a lot of wisdom and experience to bear on the issues and is a trustworthy guide on how to minister to broken people. While the focus of this book is survivors of abuse, much of what she has to say applies to prayers for inner healing in general.

But while I affirm inner healing and Roberts general approach to it, I remain skeptical about pieces of this. Roberts (and Neil T. Anderson who writes the forward) speak of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA).  Her rhetoric about SRA is not the goat/human sacrifice hysteria of the late 1980’s, but she does posit that there are victims of abuse perpetuated by members pf cults(Satanists or otherwise) who intentionally fragment the personality of a child through ritual abuse. This is a bold and controversial claim, not least because trauma memories are not universally accepted as particularly reliable. Wounded people may ‘remember’ traumas in therapy when primed by a therapist, whether or not the events actually occurred. It seems to me a similar phenomenon may also happen in inner healing ministry, so I skeptical about the more fanciful tales (though I would concede that the world really has people that evil who cause wounds that deep). However whether abuse is real or imagined by someone, they still need the healing Jesus offers and Roberts method of prayer seems effective to me.  My heart goes out to the victims and I don’t want to seem insensitive about the parts I disagree with Roberts on.

So I give this book a middle of the road endorsement (3/5). There was a lot in here I found helpful and I think Roberts offers some helpful advice for praying for inner healing with the wounded, but I am unsure that everything that happened to the survivors she describes, really happened the way they described it.

Thank you to Chosen books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.

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.