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For those who are beginning their journey into motherhood, Helen Good Brenneman provides tremendous encouragement with Meditations for the New Mother. Each of thirty selections includes reflection on a scripture and a comforting prayer.

Readers receive a reminder that empowers anxious mothers: our God is the same God who gave courage to Mary the mother of Jesus, and who answered the prayer of Hannah the mother of Samuel. Strength and comfort can be drawn from the knowledge that mothers throughout the ages have turned to God, and we can do likewise.

These pages brim with hopefulness and gentle encouragement. Helen Good Brenneman guides readers to notice that the tasks of daily caregiving provide opportunities to turn our hearts toward God, to lean on God, to offer praise. In one prayer we read:
“Dear God, in view of all that is expected of a mother, I would feel most inadequate were not my hand in yours. I thank you for entrusting me with a living soul. Help me to bring out the best that is in my child by teaching that above all things we are to live, move, and have our being in you.”

Some of the meditations would resonate best with mothers who have birthed their children and who are married. However, other titles in the meditations series, forthcoming later this year, will better meet the needs of adoptive parents and single mothers.

Herald Press also has reissued Helen Good Brenneman’s Meditations for the Expectant Mother and Meditations for New Parents by Sara Wenger Shenk (president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) and Gerald Shenk.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

Part of the Modern Spiritual Masters series, Joan Chittister: Essential Writings is a collection of work from the prolific Benedictine author, scholar, and activist. Whether you are familiar with Sister Joan’s writings or are meeting her for the first time, this is a book that will inspire you.

Sister Joan has a voice that is both practical and philosophical, uplifting and challenging. I have re-read “Why I Stay” no fewer than a dozen times, engaging in dialogue with Sister Joan’s words as I reflect on my own experience of frustration with the church. Like much of Sister Joan’s prophetic writing, this piece is a rousing call to work for justice and equality for women. Other favorite pieces examine elements of Benedictine life, such as hospitality, mercy, and forgiveness.

The collection is edited by Mary Lou Kownacki, who serves with Sister Joan and the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, and Mary Hembrow Snyder, director of the Center for Mercy and Catholic Studies at Mercyhurst University. With more than sixty short selections, as well as a biographical introduction, Joan Chittister: Essential Writings provides much food for reflection.

On Sunday, March 1, 2015, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Sister Joan on Super Soul Sunday. You can watch the complete interview through Oprah’s website here.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

God’s Hotel

If you have any interest in health care, and in how we could be showing more love to those who need help, I urge you to read God’s Hotel: A doctor, a hospital, and a pilgrimage to the heart of medicine by Victoria Sweet. The author was a physician at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, which at one time would have been called an almshouse. It is a place that serves those with nowhere else to go. In God’s Hotel, Dr. Sweet shares a powerful journey of learning and healing.

During her studies of the history of medicine, Dr. Sweet focused on the medical work of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century German abbess who left behind several written works as well as a corpus of music. In sharing a historical perspective, Dr. Sweet reconnects readers with the origins of hospitals, which grew out of the radical sense of hospitality in monasteries, where monks and nuns took care of anyone who knocked at the door. There was an understanding that “whatever our current role, it was temporary.” Today I may be the nurse, and tomorrow I may be the patient who is ill. We must care for one another.

Dr. Sweet has good sense and a compassionate heart, and her feelings about how to practice medicine emerge directly from her experience serving patients. She has been a witness to miracles, and this is not something to take lightly. In caring for patients who lived in quite desperate circumstances, Dr. Sweet witnessed that, despite all the capabilities of modern medicine, sometimes peace, rest, and safety are just what a person needs to heal.

The stories of patient care and transformation are powerful, and Dr. Sweet brings a refreshing perspective on healthcare and wellness in the U.S. I highly recommend God’s Hotel.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, based on a copy that I borrowed from my local public library. No fee was received.

“True beauty tip: You are worthwhile to God.”

Please don’t let the title fool you. Kylie Bisutti‘s devotional, 30 Days to a More Beautiful You, uplifts the heart. This little book, written especially for teen girls, holds a lot of inspiration. While I might have chosen a different title (it reminds me too much of beauty magazine jargon), this devotional has sincerity and a substantial message. It will bring a fresh perspective to young women who are hungry for honesty and caring support.

It brings powerful encouragement for teens to hear a former model, who earned her living based on her physical appearance, speak about the topic of beauty. Kylie Bisutti experienced firsthand the dangers of a workplace where the only beauty that mattered was on the outside, and was an impossible, artificial standard. The pressure of cultural norms that try to put a teen’s focus on the superficial can be hard to resist. Kylie Bisutti‘s writing is full of reminders that God needs to be at the center.

For each day, 30 Days to a More Beautiful You has a Bible verse accompanied by a reflection or personal story, followed by questions to consider (“What things have become idols in your life?”; “How can you celebrate the unique way God created you?”), and a “true beauty tip” to carry the message into your life. With its compact 4″x6″ size, this book is very portable.

A great choice for a study group, 30 Days to a More Beautiful You brings an encouraging message to girls who might be seeking to know in their hearts that they are valued for who they are, for who God created them to be. Author Kylie Bisutti also has written I’m No Angel, in which she shares her story of finding work that would better fit with faithfully living her religious beliefs.

Please note: Some topics related to beauty and self-esteem can be very sensitive areas. Be prepared to talk about healthy weight and body image, if needed. The young women in your life will be glad for your listening and support.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy was provided by Tyndale House Publishers for review purposes. No fee was received.

Reconcile

In Reconcile: Conflict transformation for ordinary Christians, John Paul Lederach has updated and expanded upon the work he presented in The Journey toward Reconciliation (Herald Press, 1999). The writing integrates biblical lessons and stories from Lederach’s work in conflict transformation. This carefully written book could be beneficial to any individual or congregation willing to take seriously the healing message of reconciliation.

The vision presented in Reconcile has grown out of years of work with people in conflict, and out of careful reading of the gospel message of Jesus. With an Anabaptist theological perspective, Lederach expresses a commitment to following the example of Jesus in his actions. We might theoretically accept a call to be peacemakers, but shy away from the steps required to create healing. However, if we are to follow the lead of Jesus, “we move toward human troubles and choose to live in the messiness.” In order to build relationships, we must first move toward one another, rather than put up walls.

Practical steps are provided throughout the book, many of which are drawn directly from the Bible. A helpful chapter on Matthew 18 sheds light on commonly overlooked advice given by Jesus that would benefit church communities immensely.

An exciting discussion of Paul’s letters leads to the powerful observation, “True atonement and holiness place us on the journey to make real the reconciling love of God in our lives and to heal our broken communities across the globe.” Our journey toward God is not meant to be a solo journey, but a journey undertaken in community, and for the benefit of others.

With its clear and compelling message, Reconcile is ideal for church Sunday school classes, which could take one of the nine chapters each week for in-depth discussion. The resource section provides tools to help carry the message into community, including prayers, suggestions for further reading, and experiential activities.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided for review purposes. No fee was received.

“All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?”

excerpt from “Blessing the Dust” by Jan Richardson
© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

This Lent, what quiet, hidden corner of your heart will you open to God? Where will you invite God’s healing, to bring you toward new life, toward wholeness? Wherever your path may lead this season, my prayer is that you will be surrounded by love on your journey.

Searching for Lenten books at my library, I found a beautiful collection of readings from Paraclete Press, God for Us: Rediscovering the meaning of Lent and Easter. The season of Lent can be a nourishing time of deep reflection, prayer, and repentance. Traditionally it is a time to prepare the heart for the coming feast of Easter. As Greg Pennoyer writes, Lent “clears the lens so that we can see what we routinely miss within our circumstances.” This holy season is “a revelation of God’s desire to use all of our life for our wholeness and our healing.”

Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe, God for Us features writings from Beth Bevis, Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Ronald Rolheiser, James Calvin Schaap, Luci Shaw, and Lauren F. Winner. The selections are accompanied by reproductions of artwork ranging from 14th-century icons to 20th century paintings. Works from Chagall, van Gogh, Rossetti, and dozens of other masters are represented. The beauty and range of the artwork provides many opportunities for contemplation and visual nourishment.

As a book reviewer and passionate reader of spirituality texts, I have seen many devotionals that do not delve deeply enough. In this volume, I have discovered insightful writing and beautiful prayers that will nourish me in future Lents. Not only are there readings for each day of Lent, but also brief essays on the history of special feasts observed during the season, such as Palm Sunday.

I highly recommend God for Us, and it would make a beautiful and inspiring gift. For anyone interested in deepening their experience of God in the Christian tradition, this book is not to be missed

The book also is available as an email subscription, beginning on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, February 17) and ending on Easter Sunday, April 5.

*Through today, Monday, February 16, all Lent devotionals at Paraclete Press are discounted 30%. I share this sale announcement only as a helpful tip; I do not receive any direct benefit from your purchase.*

Disclaimer: My review is based on a copy from the local public library. No fee was received for this review.

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