A Lenten Devotional (p)review

Lent is just around the corner and that means that though I am profane, most of the time, I hunt for resources to augment my devotional life, as I journey with Jesus on the road to the cross. Paraclete Press reliably carries some wonderful offerings. For this Lent, they have three new books which I will be using this year.

The first one, my whole family is particularly excited about: Gayle Boss’s Wild Hope: Stories from the Vanishing. Four years ago, we read together her Advent devotional, All Creation Waits which inhabits the waiting of animals through midwinter (in the American Midwest). We have read it, or parts of that devotional every year since. This year, I didn’t unearth our copy until half way through Advent, but we still had to read through the Christmas morning reading after the stockings on Christmas day.

Boss returns to the Wild to find more teachers for Lent. While her Advent animals taught us about the experience of waiting, these animals inhabit a season of suffering. The subtitle, ‘Stories for Lent from the Vanishing’ alludes to the fact that animals are now vanishing from our planet at a faster rate than at any other time in earth’s history. Boss explores the lives of these animals, with awe and wonder, and sadness for what they are made to suffer by human hands. The animals are grouped by week throughout Lent. Boss explores the animals that are hungry, sick, homeless, poisoned, hunted, and (for Holy Week) desecrated.

As with All Creation Waits, Boss’s reflections are accompanied by the stunning wood cuts of Illustrator David Klein. Unlike her Advent devotional, this is not quite a daily reader. There is an Ash Wednesday entry and then four readings for each of the weeks of Lent and Holy Week (only Ash Wednesday, and days in Holy Week, have day specific readings). I am really interested in how my children will respond to these readings. They care deeply about creation and are often sad about the ways we people have failed to care for the environment. I am eager to explore these stories with Boss, and hear about not just animal suffering, but about a pernicious and wild hope.


The next Lenten offering comes from Anglican theologian and Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathederal, London, Paula Gooder. Let Me Go There: The Spirit of Lent, follows Jesus through the 40 days of Lent, as the Spirit beckons him into the wilderness. Following six Lenten themes (wilderness, journey, fasting, taking up your cross, discipleship, prayer, and temptation). There are 34 readings designed to take you up to Holy Week, on the grounds that you will probably by then be wanting to turn your attention, reflections and devotions on to Jesus’ death and resurrection,” (8). That is 6 or 5 readings a week, until Holy Week, so you can miss a day or two of each week and not have to play catch up.

Gooder, is a New Testament scholar, and a favorite author of Rowan Williams and others. I am excited to dip into this one, as I journey with her through the wilderness of Lent.


Lead us Not into Temptation by Martin Shannon, CJ

Finally, Martin Shannon, CJ’s Lead Us Not into Temptation is designed to take us from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, exploring how to deal with, you guessed it, temptation. Shannon is an Episcopal priest, liturgist and a devotional writer. He is part of the Community of Jesus in Cape Cod, MA (the community which operates Paraclete Press). I have read and reviewed his devotionals in the past, including another Lenten devotional, According to Your Mercy (which explored praying the Psalms through Lent).

This devotional came out of a weeklong retreat that Shannon attended before Ash Wednesday 2019, with other members of the Community of Jesus (5). At that retreat, Shannon felt led to write a daily devotional on dealing with temptation for their community, and now they are offering it to the world. Shannon is a perceptive spiritual writer who reads scripture attentively. Each daily reading closes with a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fall, and Temptation.

Ash Wednesday is coming up, so order copies today (follow the links to the publisher website, or order from Amazon or wherever fine books are sold).

Notice of material connection: Paraclete Press provided me with copies to review.

The Color of Prayer: ★★★★★ coloring prayer book reviews

I am a big fan of Sybil MacBeth’s Praying in Color method (Or Praying in Black and White if you happen to be a masculine soul). It involves using drawings and colored pencils (or markers and crayons) to sort of mindmap your devotional life—intercessory prayer, Lectio Divina, prayers of gratitude, etc.  It is a perfect way to focus, for those of us who’s mind wanders during prayer. Prayers are captured in journals, sketchbooks and on graph paper. A record of our doodled devotion.   My wife has used this same method in children’s ministry, teaching kids to draw their prayers.

While I have benefitted from Macbeth’s method, I can, at times, be distracted by it. For the artistically inclined (or in my case, reclined), drawing prayers can draw us away from the heart of true prayer, when we focus on  the quality of our drawings instead of the prayer we are praying (Macbeth’s notes the struggles artists have with this method in a parenthetical note in Praying in Black and White).

pray-for-others-in-color

Macbeth and Paraclete Press have produced a new series of “Praying in Color” coloring books. Like other coloring books that Paraclete has produced, there are scriptures, quotations and other prompts on the left-hand pages, and a coloring sheet on the right-hand page. The difference is the right-hand pages reproduce the sort of ‘mindmap’ patterns which MacBeth uses in her Praying in Color books and workshops. The result is a simple, accessible way to appropriate her method in our own personal prayer times. Because the form is already given, it minimizes some of the artist’s distraction.

There are several volumes of these coloring books, corresponding to different ways of praying.  Praying for Others in Color  has Names and Titles of God on the Left-hand pages as a prompt to prayer (e.g. Abba, Deliverer, God of Compassion, Bread of Life, Holy Spirit, Restorer, etc), the right-hand page designs have bubbles and shapes to incorporate the name of God and those you are praying for (imaging God’s connection and care for those you bring before him). The images can be colored, augmented, added to, or simply written on as an aid to prayer.

contemplate-scripture-in-colorContemplating Scripture in Color is a chance to use drawing and coloring in Lectio Divina. MacBeth’s introduction instructs you how to use the words and images in the process of our scriptural meditation and prayer. We begin with Lectio (reading), reading the scriptural passage that accompanies the image, circling the word or phrase that jumps out on you. Meditatio (Meditation/chewing) we are invited to write down everything we associate with that word,  and to write our word on the coloring page and to ask God to share what he has to say about that word as we color. Oratio (Speaking) we speak our prayers to God as we color, maybe writing prayers and questions in the margins. Contemplatio (contemplate) is a ‘cool down period,’ a time to out down your pen and markers and sit with what emerged from the time. Several of the pages are left blank so that we can choose our own passage of Scripture and make our own drawings.

count-your-blessings-in-colorCount Your Blessings in Color is a chance to express gratitude. With prompts from scripture and quotes (from novelists, spiritual writers, and other luminaries), we are instructed to use these images to ‘count our blessings,’ creating a visual reminder of the what we have received.

Unlike most adult coloring books, the pages of each of these coloring books become a sort of spiritual journal as we pray for others, meditate on scripture or count our blessings. As with MacBeth’s other Praying in Color books, there is no right way to use these coloring books or preferred method. This is simply a format to help you dive deeper into the land of prayer. Users of these coloring books will find a nice balance between set formats and creative freedom.

These coloring books are great for personal use and make great gifts. I give them five stars. -★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I recieved copies of these coloring books from the publiser in exchange for my honest review

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.

Go Write the Book of Love: a personal journal review

Keeping a journal helps us reflect on our personal experience and understanding. Taking time to contemplate the nature and practice of love in our own lives, impacts how we interact with our loved ones.  Love Never Fails by Hilda St. Clair, is a new journal which combines the beauty of calligraphy and mixed-media artwork and inspirational quotes, with interactive writing exercises.

love-never-failsI am smitten by St. Clair’s journal (I reviewed her journal All Shall Be Well previously). This is beautiful. The left-hand pages have a full-color piece of art with an inspirational quote.  The quotations are mostly drawn from the Christian tradition. The exercises on the right-hand pages offer a good variety of activities. St. Clair has us: draw, color, list things, put stuff in boxes, interpret, plan and act on our reflections. Some of these exercises are conceptual—focusing on how we would describe love or depict it. Other entries evoke gratitude, causing us to reflect on where we’ve received love from others. Other exercises require action, asking us to love those we know need it. I found using this journal is a lot like going on a spiritual retreat, and this wouldn’t be a bad resource to accompany you on one.

You won’t learn to love someone from reading a book. You may gain some insights but real love, like prayer, involves sacrifice, presence, and cultivated relationship. Books dispense advice and increase our relational and conceptual awareness, but he who thinks he knows does not yet know as he ought. A Journal like this helps bridge gap. It draws away from mere knowledge toward introspection and self-understanding.  St Clair’s artwork, quotes, and exercises help us step out, to love in tangible ways with Love as our center.

The publisher’s website has a flip-book with some sample pages to give you a sense of what to expect here. I would recommend this both for personal use, or to give away to a loved-one.  It is fantastic.  I give it five stars.

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

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. 

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.

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.