Praying to the Spirit: a prayer book review

I’ve become quite the fan of Jack Levison. I’ve read a couple of his books, Fresh Air and Forty Days with the Holy Spirit [as I write this review, Fresh Air  and Forty Days are both only $1.99 on Amazon!].  Fresh Air is the popular level version of his scholarly tome Filled with the Spirit. Forty Days with the Holy Spirit is a daily devotional with scripture, devotions, space for reflection and prayer. I find his writing both insightful and personally, spiritually enriching. Reading Levison I’ve been blessed with a greater understanding and a deeper experience of the Spirit. His newest book, Holy Spirit I Pray is a book of fifty prayers, which invites readers to  pray to Spirit.

Holy Spirit I Pray by Jack Levison

In his introduction, Levison writes, “A book of prayers to the Holy Spirit, even a slender one is an oddity. While they probably exist, I know of no others. In a modest way this book is unprecedented” (introduction, p.5).  Nevertheless, Levison notes the long tradition of addressing the Spirit in prayer (i.e. liturgical prayers, prayers of Christian saints like Hildegaard of Bingen, or the Cappadocians). So while books of this kind are somewhat novel, praying the prayers in this volume, is joining in the chorus of Christian tradition.

The fifty prayers in this volume are composed by Levison. Each is paired with a relevant Bible passage. These are presented without comment or reflection. Instead Levison uses his introduction to unfold several  concepts to help orient readers toward prayer: the meaning of ruach (Hebrew for Spirit, wind breath), the nature of the Spirit’s filling, and the Spirit’s eagle-like-brooding (vii-xi). These are important concepts which Levison explores more in-depth elsewhere. What he says here is brief, but explicates what you need to know to fully appreciated his prayer-metaphors and the connections he makes. Continue reading Praying to the Spirit: a prayer book 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.

Take up and Breath: a Book Review

When I picked up Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit For an Inspired Life and saw endorsments from N.T. Wright, Eugene Peterson, Walter Brueggemann, Scot McKnight, William Willimon and Phillyis Tickle I got excited. I am always on the hunt for a good book on the Holy Spirit so seeing this one endorsed by some of my favorite authors made me want to take up and read.  Much of what is written on the Holy Spirit has an ‘anything goes’ feel to it with low-level discernment, but these people don’t endorse those books. So I had high hopes that this book would thoughtfully present the reality of the Spirit in a way that was fresh, insightful, inspiring and eye-opening. I was not disappointed.

Jack Levison is professor of New Testament at Seattle Pacific University. He’s written an engaging book with each of the chapters profiling  people from the Bible and illuminating aspects of the spirit’s activity. Through out the book he speaks of the   ‘holy spirit’ rather than “Holy Spirit” because he is trying to be attentive to the way the biblical language functions (he is not denying the Trinity). The Greek word pnuema and the Hebrew ruach both mean wind, breath or spirit (ruach means wind fifty times in the Hebrew Bible, but the rest of its nearly four hundred occurrences refer to the spirit from God). Levison wants to preserve the way a single word in the Hebrew or Greek ‘could encompass stormy winds and settled souls, the rush of the divine and the hush of human holiness(17).’ And so he attends to where he hears the spirit in the text and shows us the way God’s spirit is powerful and unsettling,  life-giving and good.

Levison does not always go to the most common passages people use when speaking of the spirit. But each of the people he profiles and the passages he chooses reveal who this spirit is. Here is a taste of some of the things I learned as I read this book  and the biblical passages it alludes to:

  • With Job I reflected on how life is a gift and God’s spirit sustains us all (yes, all).  Job is confident that though he is on the verge of death, he still has life from the spirit-breath of God is in him.
  • From Daniel we learn that the gift of the spirit’s wisdom comes from a lifetime of decisions and habits (i.e. Daniel’s resistance to royal rations, his repudiation of royal ambition, his rejection of power, practice of prayer and simplicity, etc.).
  • Simeon‘s spirit-inspired-song was not just ejaculatory praise but bears the evidence of someone who has studied and searched the scriptures for a lifetime. Simeon unfolds for us Isaiah’s expansive and inclusive vision.
  • Joel‘s dream (the one that is  recounted by Peter at Pentecost) speaks of a day when the spirit is not poured into individuals only but is poured out on all flesh and all societies. It is a radically inclusive vision that is not fully realized in Acts.
  • Chloe‘s complaint to Paul (reported in 1 Cor. 3) was of the divisiveness in the Corinthian church.  Paul’s tells the Corinthians about the way that the spirit inhabits communities.
  • Levison takes us to Ezekiel‘s valley of dried bones and discusses the spirit’s promise of restoration for the exiled and broken community of Israel. He contrasts this with the Spirit’s work in the healthy thriving church of Antioch (who sent Paul and Barnabas out) where the Christians exhibited a love of learning, an ear for prophecy, were nurtured by the practices of worship and fasting, were extremely generous, had multicultural leadership and in all these things, were a source of grace. The spirit is at work in communities which feel dead and lifeless as well as in lively ones.
  • The spirit is not always gentle. The same spirit that descended like a dove on Jesus at his baptism, propelled him into the wilderness for a time of testing.  Levison also notes that in Mark’s gospel, the only time that Jesus promises the spirit to the disciples was so that they could testify when facing severe persecution (but not escape!). The spirit will lead us to the heart of our vocation (just like it did Jesus) but this doesn’t mean that what the spirit brings is always easy.
  • Levison talks about Peter‘s Pentecost sermon and Paul’s passages on spiritual gifts and tongues in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 (this is where many treatments on the Spirit begin). In this chapter he contrasts the craziness of revivalism and snake handlers with the somewhat subdued mainline perspective and the book of Common Prayer. He concludes that there is no evidence in the Bible that we should avoid spiritual experiences but that the thrust of these passages also compels us to engage the Biblical text so that we could see more clearly the ways the spirit is moving in us. Levison’s vision of the spirit makes room for both spontaneity and serious study.

I loved the solid exegesis and the many insightful gems I found in this book (I didn’t share all of them, Elihu plays the foil for the first three chapters). My one small complaint is that Levison never got around to treating my own ‘go to’ passages on the Holy Spirit (John 14-16, 20). But I do love that the passages he chose to focus on are often neglected ones (and he put a fresh spin on some old favorites).

I would recommend this book for anyone who want to understand more of the spirit (or Spirit). This is a popular level book and is accessible for most people (he has an earlier  scholarly volume  called Filled With the Spirit). Levison is an great teacher and opens up these passages in exciting ways (often sharing stories of his own family life to illustrate his points). In each chapter you read several passages of scripture so I read this devotionally and really found that it helped nourish my spirit during a busy week. This one gets a high recommendation from me.

I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for this review. This is my fair and honest review.