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-reader-s-edition-rediscovering-the-meaning-of-lent-and-easter-25
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.

Winner, Winner Kosher Dinner: a book review

My introduction to Lauren Winner’s writing came more than a decade ago. My wife had read and liked Girl Meets God¬†and loved it. I picked up her¬†other¬†book,¬†Mudhouse Sabbath¬†because I loved the premise. Winner’s turn toward God took her through Orthodox Judaism to Christianity (the story recounted in her first memoir).¬†Mudhouse Sabbath¬†was about the nourishing spiritual practices she found in Judaism and missed after her conversion to Christianity. She wrote appreciatively about what she found in Judaism and how these practices continued to nourish her, and weren’t incompatible with her new faith.

Paraclete Press has just released the study edition of¬†Mudhouse Sabbath.¬†This is not a rewrite. The chapters have the same format as they did when Winner first conceived the book. ¬†In Winner’s new introduction she notes a couple of places where she would now¬†write it differently, especially in her failure to explore God’s justice and her expectation of encountering Him as we work toward it (viii). ¬†For example, the practice of fasting and Sabbath have implications for justice in the Hebrew scriptures which Winner left unexplored in the earlier edition (ix-x). She also acknowledges her growing cautiousness about borrowing from Judaism as a Christian (urging humility and grace).

The difference between this edition and its earlier incarnation (other than the new introduction) is the study notes. Winner’s words remain the same but the chapters are peppered with quotations, selections from Jewish authors and Hebrew scripture and discussion questions. While Winner’s original was thoughtful and engaged Judaism, it was much more a personal reflection on how she¬†as a Christian convert¬†could still appropriate these practices as part of her own¬†spiritual life. That was the charm of the book. The study edition helps Christian readers engage these concepts and practices more thoughtfully for themselves.

Personally I like this edition a lot. It is possible to treat this book like the original, reading the main body of text as an exhortation to beef up your personal spiritual practices. But a study edition invites you into something more demanding and rewarding. The first edition was more privatized. This edition invites engagement. I gave the original four stars once upon a time, this I give five. Christian readers will find a deep well of spiritual practice. Jewish readers may find a book from a Christian borrowing from their traditions off-putting, but will be put at ease by the care and sensitivity with which Winner engages their religious tradition.  If you never read the original, skip it. This is the definitive edition.

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

My choice for Lent 2014: a book (p)review

The past couple of years my Lenten practice has been enriched by books from¬†Paraclete Press. Two years ago I prayed the daily offices from the¬†Prayer Book of the Early Christians¬†through Lent. Last year my wife and I read¬†Seeking His Mind: 40 Meetings With Christ¬†by M. Basil Pennington as part of our evening devotions.I was on the hunt for a good reader for Lent this year and was excited by Paraclete’s latest offering,¬†God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter.¬†I am highly impressed and excited about this! I have read¬†God With Us, the companion volume to this book which explores the meaning of Advent and Christmas. ¬†So I had some inkling of what to expect when I opened the book.

However, I was ill-prepared for how beautiful this book is. It is a hardcover book with ribbon bookmarks. Inside, it has inside a stunning collection of art work. Icons, religious art, landscapes, and still life which deepen our experience of Jesus life, death and resurrection. The art is well chosen to illustrate the readings, they are not just pretty pictures. I counted over a hundred paintings, in a variety of styles but mostly from the Western European tradition.

God For Us¬†is edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (of Image Journal). Pennoyer and Wolfe have assembled an impressive list of of Christian writers and poets which include the likes of Richard Rohr, Lauren Winner, Scott Cairns, James Schaap, Luci Shaw, and Kathleen Norris. There is a preface from Greg Pennoyer and an introduction by Ronald Rolheiser, OMI. Beth Bevis opens the volume with a section on the history of Lent and has fourteen other articles which punctuate the text. These authors share a commitment to Christ and they are all great writers (five of which are personal favorites). However they also represent a range of church traditions. They are Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Presbyterian (maybe more–I don’t know the denominational affiliation of James Schaap or Beth Bevis).

Each week of Lent has daily readings ¬†by one of these contributors. Richard Rohr writes the entries from Shrove Tuesday to the Saturday of the first full week of Lent (a week-and-a-half’s worth). ¬†Lauren Winner covers week two; Scott Cairns, week three, James Schaap , week four; Luci Shaw, week five; and Kathleen Norris covers Holy Week and Easter Sunday. ¬†Bevis’s articles introduce each of the weeks as well as important feast and fast days. ¬†The daily entries are each about two days long, reflect on the daily lectionary and close with a brief ¬†printed prayer. This a substantive devotional which opens up the contributors’ own practice of Lent. The literary gifts of the authors ensures that this devotional

I really like the format for this book. Reading one author for a ¬†week and then changing to the next, provides both continuity and variety. Beth Bevis’s articles illumiate aspects of church tradition (i.e. Lent as the season of Baptismal preparation, differences between practices East and West, etc.). This gives a rooted-ness and framework for the rest of the book. I love how well this book is crafted!

As I look over  this book I am grateful for a book that helps me press fully into the meaning of the season. I will be reading this through Lent and would love some friends to read this with. So if you are shopping for a Lenten devotional, perhaps we can read in community and go through this together.

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