by Mary Jacque Benner, RSM. © 1997-2012 Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women, Inc.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent in the Christian calendar. Those who observe Lent engage in practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, with the intention of turning one’s heart away from selfishness and toward God.
As we turn toward God, mindful of God’s mercy and forgiveness, we recall the requirement to love our neighbor, and to show mercy and compassion to one another. Lent offers an opportunity to reaffirm one’s commitment to practicing works of mercy. Further, if I want more time for serving others, this means I need to spend less time on self-indulgence. In this way, the works of mercy can be liberating.
One book I plan to savor this Lent is City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles. While I await my copy, I shall re-read her book Jesus Freak, in which she does an exemplary job of showing what it means to live out the call to show love to one another with tangible acts of care. It is a very inspiring book, and I highly recommend it.
Lent can be a special time for self-examination, and for rededication to God. Some denominations hold special communal gatherings for prayer, service, and thanksgiving. Other churches carve out periods for quiet reflection, opening doors for individuals seeking space for prayer. However you choose to observe this season, may God draw you closer.
Posted in reflection | Tagged Catholicism, Christianity, Lent, service, works of mercy | Leave a Comment »
In My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of strength, refuge, and belonging, author Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., shares a beautiful description of Chanukah from her grandfather, Rabbi Meyer Ziskind. I found this to be a beautiful, powerful message, and a heartfelt description of the holiday’s significance. I share it in hopes that these words will bless you:
“The story of Hannukah says that God’s light burns in the darkness even without oil, and it is so,” said my grandfather. “That is one of the miracles of the light. But there is more. There is a place in everyone that can carry the light. God has made us this way. When God says ‘LET THERE BE LIGHT,’ he is speaking to us personally, Neshume-le. He is telling us what is possible, how we might choose to live. But one candle does not do much in the darkness. God has not only given us the chance to carry the light, he has made it possible for us to kindle and strengthen the light in one another, passing the light along. This is the way that God’s light will shine forever in this world.”
May this special season of light bring joy to you and your loved ones.
Posted in holidays | Tagged blessings, Chanukah/Hannukah, inspiration, interfaith, Jewish women, Judaism, spirituality | Leave a Comment »
I am hungry for books that raise up the stories of women in the Bible, and was thrilled to discover Women of the Bible from Paraclete Press. The richly-illustrated volume from Margaret McAllister and Alida Massari is ideal for sharing with the young people in my life.
In this lovely book, we have a glimpse of the world through the eyes of Rachel, Miriam, Mary of Magdala, Lydia of Philippi, and six other remarkable women. Rather than a passing mention embedded in a tale of men, granted a mere few lines of text, their voices speak to us directly from these pages, helping the reader to imagine the faith of these important ancestors. The stories are filled with hope, tenderness, yearning, and a confident faith in God.
I especially enjoyed the story of Mary of Nazareth, in which she describes scenes of motherhood and of the life of her son, Jesus. Outside of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), there are few words ascribed to Mary in the Bible; yet she has such a significant place as a model of faithfulness. Through Margaret McAllister’s telling, young readers will be able to imagine Mary in her special role as a strong and loving mother.
Throughout the book, the colors are rich and vibrant, from Lydia’s purples and Mary’s blues, to golden fields and bright blue rivers. Alida Massari gives beautifully expressive faces to the people in these tales, and their landscapes are livened with playful patterns. The animals are enchanting, and any young artist will find inspiration in these pages.
This book would make a special addition to a child’s home library, as well as a welcome gift for a teacher or special friend.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Review is freely given.
Posted in book review | Tagged Catholic women, Christianity, illustrated books, inspiration, women in the Bible, young readers | 2 Comments »
I enjoyed My Basmati Bat Mitzvah very much, and certainly will recommend it to young readers as well as teachers. Author Paula J. Freedman does a beautiful job of sharing cultural traditions smoothly within the narrative, weaving them into the story as a natural and important part of her characters’ lives. Unlike other books I have read that address religious diversity, there is nothing preachy to this book.
The main character, Tara, has strong and loving relationships with friends and family, and these are made very believable. Throughout the story, Tara is an engaging and likeable character. As she prepares for her bat mitzvah, a rite of passage for Jewish youth, she wonders how this step will affect her identity. Her father is of European decent and her mother is from India, a convert to Judaism; Tara is used to integrating both cultures. Meanwhile, Tara also copes with the confusion that often arises in junior high friendships. A warm-hearted girl, Tara strives to resolve her challenges while also being a loyal friend and a faithful daughter.
At the end of the book there is a brief and helpful glossary of the Yiddish and Hindi terms used in the text. All the terms are readily understandable with context clues, but this addition eliminates any guesswork.
I found myself wondering if there will be more stories about Tara in the future. So many children of mixed racial/ethnic/religious backgrounds will be able to relate to her experiences.
I feel very lucky that, thanks to Goodreads First Reads I was able to read this excellent book. With Hanukkah at the end of November, I am thinking about young people I know who would enjoy receiving this book as a gift.
Posted in book review | Tagged fiction, multicultural, young readers | 1 Comment »
Today is the feast day of Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Known as a man who expressed deep reverence for nature and who encouraged simple living, Francis is a beloved role model for people beyond the boundaries of the Christian church. We are fortunate that Francis left behind writings that can help us understand his ways of thinking and living.
Paraclete Press has published a lovely collection, Francis of Assisi in His Own Words: The essential writings. Translated, introduced, and annotated by Jon M. Sweeney, these writings are accessible to casual readers while also helpful to religion students. There are many books available on the life and writings of Francis, but this volume truly is a gem.
Several songs and prayers are included in this collection. Among these, I particularly appreciated Francis’ canticle for the women at the convent of San Damiano, the Poor Clares, which expresses simple beauty and heartfelt gratitude. When reading the rule, I appreciated Sweeney’s scripture citations in the margins. The language of the Bible was woven into the thinking of Francis and his contemporaries, while modern readers benefit from this extra help.
It can be easy to romanticize Francis of Assisi, but spending time with his writings provides a glimpse of the prayerful thinking at the foundation of his ministry. Through these writings, Francis continues to offer inspiration and practical advice for spiritual living. Within his words we can see evidence that Francis aimed to live his life in imitation of the gospel ways of Jesus of Nazareth.
I encourage you to support small publishers, and to explore the other titles about Francis of Assisi available from Paraclete Press.
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided for review purposes. No fee was received.
Posted in book review | Tagged Christianity, inspiration, saints, spiritual disciplines, spirituality | 2 Comments »