Wounded In Spirit: an Advent Devotional (p)review and GIVEAWAY!!!

The secular and liturgical calendars nearly converge this year, so whether you mark the start of Advent with those calendars of chalky, cheap chocolate from your local supermarket, or through participation in Sunday worship, the season begins this weekend. During Advent I always look for a devotional to read through, as I attempt to wait well. Friends at Paraclete Press were nice enough to share with me Wounded in Spirit: Advent Art and Meditations, a new devotional by David Bannon. Bannon combines reflections on grief, hope, wounds and waiting with beautiful works of art. It is an exquisite book!

9781640601451But Advent is the season of waiting. To wait is to note that things are not yet as they should be. And so, this is a difficult season for a lot of us. For all the promise of holiday cheer, these are long dark nights, often touched by heartache, loneliness, estrangement, deep wounds, and mourning. Bannon is no stranger to grief and heartache. In 2006 he was convicted for criminal impersonation. In 2015 his daughter died of a heroin overdose (introduction, XVI).  He know what it means to be broken and bereaved, to long for wholeness, healing and the coming of God’s shalom. He doesn’t speak explicitly about his own story in these meditations. He focuses instead on the stories of the artists—their stories, wounds and the works they produced.

The art in this book is varied in style, though exclusively Western European,ranging from the Renaissance era to about mid 20th Century. There are works by celebrated artists like Gauguin, Tissot, Caravaggio, Tanner, Delacroix, Van Gogh and Dürer, as well as notable pieces from artists with less household name recognition. Bannon describes the artist’s life, and the ways their wounds bleed onto the canvas. He invites us to stop and pay attention, to really see the artist and their work, to experience healing and perchance commune. Each daily meditation includes quotations for reflection from notable artists, writers, philosophers or theologians.

Art is something that has been healing for me on my own spiritual journey so I am looking forward to sitting with these artists and their work. I have not read the whole book yet, just introduction and several entries, though Bannon appears to be a good guide.

Waiting is painful. Things are not yet as they should be. But waiting doesn’t have to be dull and dreary, it can be a sensory experience, a time of entering more fully into Life. A time to grieve, yes, but joy comes in the morning.

Paraclete Press, has graciously allowed me to run a giveaway on my blog of 3 copies of the book? Yeah, James, but how can I win? 

There are 2 ways to enter:

  1. Comment below and tell me what do you find most difficult about this time of year.
  2. Share this giveaway on Social Media by hitting the share button below, Be sure to comment and share the link in the comment section, so I see your entry!

Winners will be chosen Thursday, 11/29 at 9pm Pacific Time.

Having the Horse Sense to Hear the Divine: a ★★★★★ book review.

One of my earliest memories involves a horse. I would have been 2. My family lived on an acreage underneath the big sky of central Alberta. We had two horses, a mare, and her yearling colt. Cinnabar. One afternoon I was in the sandbox behind our house and decided to go down the hill and visit with the horses. They watched me disinterestedly from behind their barbwire fence, glancing sideways at me, munching the pasture grass. I crawled under the fence to get closer to them. The yearling turned and ran and kicked me in the face. His rear hoofs scraped across my cheeks, just below my temples. Had I been one step closer, or the horse a little older, I may not be here today.  My mom tells me that I ran up the hill with more rage than pain screaming, “Cinnabar kicked me!”

 horses-speak-of-godMy family moved to the city and we didn’t have horses after that, but I would ride them, some, at the nearby dude ranch, or on my grandparent’s farm in the summertime if they happened to be watching their neighbors’ horses.  I love horses. They are majestic creatures, and I’ve since learned to not climb under fences and walk behind them, to respect their size and give them a wide berth.

Laurie Brock, an Episcopal priest and crisis chaplain, has a better relationship to horses than I ever had. In Horses Speak of God: How Horses Can Teach Us to Listen and Be Transformed, she shares the things she has learned from the horses she rides: balance, steadfastness, vocation, trust, routine, love. Brock writes, “I began to ride as a hobby. I did not expect to learn a language that spoke of God” (9).

Throughout these seventeen mediations, Brock weaves together stories of riding lessons, the horses she’s ridden, ministry, the church calendar, Scripture and the liturgy.  She is the student and she honors horses as her teacher. She learns from them. Sometimes the horses teach her about losing control, about having courage, and empathy:

As I reflected on the moment when I’d walked away from my dirty dishes and into the midst of tragedy in the aftermath of a death, I knew they were the same emoitions similar experineces. I could be in the presence of  grief and its wildness because I rode Izzy. And suddenly, I realized that the rearranging that hapened inside of my soul had to do with the words that horses had opened to me. (5).

Sometimes a particular horse would reveal something for Brock about facing fear, or discovering vocation. Sometimes the process of learning to ride illuminates an aspect of her own faith journey. For example, ‘collecting’ a horse—raising the horse’s head while keeping it’s weight slightly on its hind legs so that its movements are focused and directed—becomes a metaphor for own soul, as she finds for her soul the balance between control, energy, and direction in the Collect of the Eucharistic liturgy. (67-71).

Brock is both priest and chaplain but this is not a book about discovering God in the church. It is a book about wrestling with God and learning faith while learning to ride, It is about experiencing the grace of God in the face of a horse, and seeing the face of God in the grace of a horse. This is poetic prose. I highly recommend this book, especially for animal lovers and for those who connect with God outside of the church. Brock does a great job of translating the wisdom of the Christian experience into the language of horse and rider. The lessons she learned from horses are kinder and more generative than getting kicked in the face by a horse. God’s grandeur and grace. The divine and the equine. I give this five stars. – ★★★★★

I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review

 

On Singing a New Song:

Yesterday, Advent started. As the season begins we note that we are in a time of waiting. To wait, means to anticipate what lies ahead, everything is not yet as it should be. The world is still tense and broken. The poor are shut outside the city gates, they hunger and thirst. The mourners weep, our grief is raw. Many are hated, excluded, reviled, persecuted.

But Advent begins, also, with a symbol of hope: a single candle lit against the lingering dark. The darkness does not overcome it. 

Recognizing that all is not as it should be, is to say the moment we are longing for has not arrived. We are here, in the in-between, and honestly, it feels like we’re all singing the same old song. This is where I live my life. I am a middle-age-man, vocationally frustrated and feeling stuck. I am a chrysalis, life is stasis. I no longer crawl but I have yet to become, to break free into the light, to stretch out my wings and grab the sky.

Do you feel this too? Does life feel stuck? We sing the old songs: ♪ ♫ Clowns to the Right, Jokers to the Left and I’m Stuck in the Middle with You ♪♫ Or: ♪♫  I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.

I came across these words from Augustine in Martin Shannon’s My Soul Waits (Paraclete, 2017)  yesterday morning:

Strip off the oldness; you know a new song. A new person, a New Covenant, a new song. People stuck in the old life have no business with this new song; only those who are new persons can learn it, renewed by grace and throwing off the old, sharers in the kingdom of heaven. All our love yearns toward that kingdom, and in its longing our life sings a new song. Let us sing this song not only with our tongues, but with our lives. (5)

Jesus is coming and has come, and though we wait, and all is not as it should be, we can sing a new song! This is a season of hope. What does it mean for us, today, to yearn toward the Kingdom? How do we sing a new song and sing our way to a new way of being? What is our new song?

O Light of the World, shine in our darkness. 

See the source image

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The Pilgrim in Pumps: a ★★★★★ book review

Angela Alaimo O’Donnell teaches English at Fordham University and is the associate director of Fordham’s Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. She has previously published seven poetry collections (in addition to publishing other books, articles, and essays). Her new collection of poems, Still Pilgrim showcases a steady faith and the journey of a woman through the seasons of life and liturgy.

still-pilgrimThe project was birthed after O’Donnell made a pilgrimage to Herman Melville’s grave, a few miles from her home in the New York. Melville had written of the passion of men going off to sea, but his grave plot in Woodlawn cemetery in the Brox was in only one of ‘New York’s five boroughs not surrounded by water” (69).  O’Donnell composed a poem, St. Melville, with these words, “Is this what you were called to still pilgrim,/to sleep beneath six small feet of earth?” (70). An old sailor interred in the earth, still but his work still lives on.

It is O’Donnell not Melville that dons the moniker Still Pilgrim in these poems (perhaps the poetic voice isn’t completely autobiographical, but I am willing to wager that she wears size nine shoes). All but one poem has “Still Pilgrim” in its title. Here is a random sampling: “The Still Pilgrim visits Ellis Island,” “The Still Pilgrim Tells a Fish Story,””The Still Pilgrim Honors Her Mother,” “The Still Pilgrim Sees a Healing, “The Still Pilgrim Hears a Diagnosis,” “The Still Pilgrim Describes How Heaven is.”

These poems are sonnets—metred with fourteen lines and a rhyme scheme—and are arranged fourteen poems in each of the four sections. The arrangement corresponds to the four seasons and is roughly shaped by the liturgical calendar. There are also prologue and epilogue poems, introducing and concluding this collection. The structure of tradition is juxtaposed against a contemporary life, the Still Pilgrim. More than once we hear the heal strike of her size nine pumps against the cobblestone of the pilgrim way. There are encounters between old and new and all the heartbreak and joy which comes through life’s journey. The tone is both serious and playful, at turns exuberant and sad.  O’Donnell writes in her afterward:

The poems in this book aim to tell a story, albeit by means of glimpses and gleanings rather than continous narrative. (This, after all, is more akin to hwo we experience and remember our lives. Continous narrative is a form of fiction.) The Still Pilgrim’s history consists of flashes of joy and visitations of sorrow, engagement with saints,and with artists (the Pilgrim’s personal patron saints), epiphanies sparked by words and songs and stories, revelations triggered by encounters with beauty and terror. The gentle reader who perseveres through these poems is no longer merely a reader—he or she is a partner in pilgrimage and a friend. (74).

I had not read O’Donnell’s work before and was caught off guard by these poems. The sustained character of the Still Pilgrim journeys through all life’s seasons, still a pilgrim from beginning to end.  This is the double entendre of “still.” It is more than stationary, but it also means continual persistence. Like Melville in his grave, lying still but whose work still lives on,  I hope to have much more encounters with the still pilgrim on the road ahead. I give this five stars. ★★★★★

Note: Many of these poems were previously published in various journals. Here is a link to five of these poems as they appeared in the Christian Century if you are curious what these poems are like: https://www.christiancentury.org/contributor/angela-odonnell

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of Still Pilgrim from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review

A Lenten E-votional

unnamedWe are in the first full week of Lent and just incase you may still be hunting for a devotional, here is a good option:

Paraclete Press has been my go-t0 source for Lenten reading for several years now. I’ve used prayer books published by them, and read a few of their devotionals and family resources, in order to help me be present to God through during the Lenten season. God for Us, with its multi-author, multi-discipline and multi-denominational approach remains a personal favorite of mine (each author provides a week’s worth of reflections). This year, I have been praying the psalms with Martin Shannon, CJ (According to Your Mercy). [Link’s above take you to my reviews of these books]

Both of these devotional are available to you as a subscription service. For $9.99, the daily readings come right to your inbox. Perhaps you don’t need another book cluttering up your home or struggle to read an e-book devotional (without a visual reminder, e-books are easy to forget about). But if you live life tethered to a screen, at a desk or through a personal device, this is a way carve out some sacred space for reflection. Click on the banners below to subscribe via Paraclete Press’s website:

GFU

AccordingTYM

A Visual Devotional: a book review

Iconography is an art-form rooted in Incarnation. Jesus, our God made flesh, showed us the image (eikon) of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).  Icons are symbolic depictions of Christ and the saints designed to be “windows of heaven” That is, they invite us to transcend the physical in our move towards the spiritual as we reach  for God.  They are a meeting place between heaven and earth (similar to prayer or Bible reading). An icon invites us to spend time with an image, not obsessing over brush strokes and the  skill of its author (artist), but the spiritual word beyond which it depicts.

iconsIconographer and author, Sr. Faith Riccio, Cj, is the iconagrapher behind  Icons: The Essential Collection.  The  book combines Sr. Riccio’s icons of Christ, the apostles, and saint of the church with Scripture, short bios and devotional selections from the tradition and contemporary selections, including authors like Henri Nouwen, M. Basil Pennington, Ernesto Cardenel, Jack Levison, Scott Cairns and Angela Alimo O’Donnell. This a gift book easily read through in one sitting; yet the images reflecting iconography of the Christian tradition and are invitations to encounter.

We meet images of Jesus, his Mother Mary and the Holy Apostles. We also meet saints East ( i.e. Anthony, the Cappadocians, John Chrysostom, Ignatius of Antioch) and West (Gregory the Great, Benedict, Francis). Riccio’s style reflects the iconography of the Eastern church (though she is a member of a Catholic Community in Massachusetts).

This is a beautiful book. Frederica Mathewes-Green writes the forward and Riccio provides a brief introduction. The scriptures, quotations and devotional selections are well chosen and Sr. Riccio’s icons (and close-up details) are beautiful. I say this as a lowly protestant who’s imagination is formed more by iconoclasm than icons (protestants after all protest). I don’t pretend to understand iconography, but as a lover of art and faith, I am moved by what these images evoke. I give this book four stars.

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

A Kid Friendly Pentecost: a kid’s book review

We are a couple of weeks away from Pentecost—the celebration of the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh: wind and fire, young and old seeing visions and dreaming dreams, and women and men speaking with other tongues. Acts 2 tells the story of one-hundred-and-twenty disciples gathered and waiting, surprised and vivified by the Spirit’s presence, knit together as one family—the church—the body of Christ.

the-day-when-god-made-church-a-child-s-book-about-pentecost-4The Day When God Made the Church: A Child’s First Pentecost Book by Rebekah McLeod Hutto (illustrated by Stephanie Haig) provides a way for parents, educators and ministers to share the story of the Holy Spirit’s coming with young children. With Haig’s vivid illustrations, Hutto narrates the rush of wind, the crowds confusion and highlight’s from Peter’s sermon. She stresses the good news of Christ’s resurrection and the joy and new life given by the Spirit to all who respond to the good news of Jesus.

Hutto is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister at Brick Presbyterian Church where she serves as Associate Minister for Christian Education and Discipleship. She manages to tell the story of Pentecost in an engaging way that is simple enough for a three or four-year-old to apprehend,  and true enough to events that older kids and adults (big kids) will also find it instructive.  Haig’s artwork includes ribbons of color and fire, people, animals and symbols. There is a variety of skin tones included among Jesus’ disciples, signally the diversity of the body of Christ.

This is a short picture book (paper back, 32 pages long) but it captures well  the birth of the church. I recommend this book for parents, Christian education directors, Sunday School teachers who want to share the joy and Good News of the Spirit with their children. I give this four stars.

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