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the advent of hope

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photo from Simon Community NI

My feelings about the church season of Advent continue to startle me in their intensity. I am powerfully drawn to the light and fervent hope of Advent, which this year begins on Sunday, December 3. During the time when I was leaving the church as a teen, I remember fighting the power of religious songs until I decided, ‘I can love these songs, even if I am not yet sure what I think about the church.’ Even when I settled in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), where meetinghouses typically do not have the adornments or follow the outward church calendar with which I was raised, my heart was drawn toward Advent. Eventually, thankfully, a bright trail of universalism helped me accept that I can love this season of hope and observe to whatever degree I am led.

The setting aside time, the turning toward the light, the sense of expectancy and renewal all nourish me. Perhaps living in the northeastern United States, with ancestors from Ireland, Scotland, and England, I have the longing to turn from darkness toward light in the marrow of my bones. Yet I also know the darkness and the quiet have their own lessons to teach.

Since keeping this blog I have had the privilege of reviewing many books about the Advent season. To help you prepare for this season, I will share links to some volumes I have reviewed in the past. Inspiring writings are abundant and diverse in approach:

contemplative creativity: pray through the arts with an Advent coloring calendar and collection of carols

be with the youth in your life: reading together throughout Advent can bring a special closeness and a chance to witness bright hope

reconnect with nature: remember we are a small part of a larger creation

bring light into your home: experience the tradition of an Advent wreath

explore silence: amidst the outward busyness in our culture, turn to the quiet

What books have brightened the light of Advent for you? What will you do this year to carve out quiet amidst the busyness, to find the light and hope behind the rushing? Whatever your own reason might be for turning toward this season, whether tradition or quiet longing, I hope you will find what your heart needs in the upcoming weeks.

 

Disclaimer: No fee was received for any review included in this post.

 

 

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Francis of Assisi

The church especially remembers the life and message of Francis of Assisi with his feast day on October 4. For a previous year’s feast I reviewed Francis of Assisi in His Own Words, an excellent collection from Paraclete Press. May this review inspire a trip to your local bookstore, and quiet time with the words of Francis.

In honor of Francis teaching love toward all creatures, churches in many communities celebrate a blessing of the animals on this day. It is an opportunity to recognize the special place companion animals have in our lives. I experienced with this special observance at a community fair, a tender and beautiful experience, when a minister gave a vocal blessing and laying of hands to my German Shepherd. May we remember always to extend kindness and mercy to all living creatures, and may this feast day be an occasion to affirm commitment to caring for God’s creation.

When thinking of Francis of Assisi, the song “Make me an instrument of your peace” begins playing in my mind. From childhood, this was my favorite song at church. While this prayer for peace captures the spirit of Francis’ teachings, it was not his composition. According to the Franciscan Archive, this prayer first appeared on a prayer card during the first world war. This prayer continues to offer comfort and inspiration to many. It is my heartfelt prayer for all of us today.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Déan gléas chun síochána díom, a Thiarna.
Señor, hazme un instrumento de tu paz.

cultivating hope with song

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Photo credit: Jim McGuire

I have been listening to the music of Carrie Newcomer, finding her lyrics to be uplifting and a soothing balm. Over the years several friends have mentioned her music to me, and I have seen her lyrics quoted in essays and sermons. One song from her latest recording is “Help in Hard Times”:

I invite your comments with a favorite uplifting song or artist. What music restores your hope on hard days? What song brings sunshine into your home or soothes your spirit?

a song for the heart

I have been loving this beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” performed by Sarah Yaseen with the band Kashash. May it be a blessing on your day. Peace be upon each of you.

 

If you have a favorite uplifting song, I invite you to share in the comments.

Mary of Nazareth

In the U.S. where I live, the second Sunday of May is celebrated as mother’s day. As a girl it became linked in my mind with church celebrations of Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus. I was raised Catholic, and while that no longer is my religion, the songs we sang to celebrate Mary powerfully shaped me and my early ideas about faith. I had a deep admiration for Mary’s courage and her sense of purpose. With Mary on my mind, I have been re-reading a couple of books.

978-1-62698-004-4To understand Mary in her cultural context and to explore the impact of her faith on her way of life, I recommend In Quest of the Jewish Mary by Mary Christine Athans. This book does a beautiful job of presenting historical details and guiding readers to imagine a figure of tremendous faith. The story opens with the personal journey of the author, who writes from a Catholic perspective that is full of respect for other faith traditions. This volume will be of interest to readers of any background who enjoy interfaith journeys. I wrote a complete review of Athans’ interesting book when it was published by Orbis Books in 2013.

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For a discussion of scholarly studies on the role of Mary in Islam, I recommend Mary the Blessed Virgin of Islam by Aliah Schleifer, former professor at the American University in Cairo. I have met many non-Muslims who are unaware of the importance of Mary in Islam. In Islam Jesus is considered a prophet, and his mother is honored for her deep faith and model of pious living. Her story is told in Chapter 19 of the Qur’an, entitled Maryam.

Do you have a favorite title about Mary? I invite you to share in the comments below.

 

Disclaimer: The books mentioned here are from my personal library. No fee was received for this review.

a literary Lent + giveaway

6636I have encountered a book lover’s delight for Lent. My favorite new book for the season is Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide. When I read the book description, I expect I was bouncing up and down with glee, for I am above all a reader. Nearly any book I pick up could become an opportunity to for prayer, for encounter with God and God’s creation.

I was pleased to note the inclusion of two of my favorite contemporary writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Benjamín Alire Sáenz. The mingling of works from across continents and centuries makes for an exceedingly rich reading experience. From Fyodor Dostoevsky to Emily Bronte, Derrick Austin to William Butler Yeats, there are thought-provoking, gorgeous writings in these pages. In addition to encountering favorite authors, I also met several new poets. Sarah Arthur has done an excellent job on this compilation.

Along with poetry and excerpts of prose, each day’s selection offers a suggestion of scripture readings from the Bible. Readers can use the daily offerings as they wish, and will discover plentiful opportunities for lectio divina and reflective reading. There are seven weeks of readings, a list of volumes consulted for possible further reading, brief biographies of contributors, and a detailed index of authors and sources. (This last is critical for me to give such an enthusiastic review.)

A tremendous resource for reflection, Between Midnight and Dawn is the third volume of literary compilations from Sarah Arthur that journey through the church year. Through the Paraclete Press website you also can order an ebook or pdf.

I would like send a reader a paperback copy of Between Midnight and Dawn, courtesy of Paraclete Press. Simply click on the rafflecopter link. You will be asked to comment on this post. I invite you to mention a time when you found unexpected inspiration, whether in literature, art, nature or in another person. Due to shipping, this giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enjoy the lovely book trailer:

I wish each of you a blessed Lent and Eastertide.

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

praying the Psalms in Lent

7732With Lent quickly approaching, and many people anticipating a season of deepened prayer, a book of fresh reflections on the Psalms is welcome. nourishment. Author Martin Shannon CJ, an Episcopal priest who lives with the Community of Jesus, offers brief reflections to accompany prayers in his Lenten guide According to Your Mercy: Praying with the Psalms from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

Jews and Christians have long used the Psalter as their daily prayer book. Fr. Shannon notes in his introduction that Athanasius of Alexandria has written of the Psalms, “I believe that the whole of human existence, both the dispositions of the soul and the movements of thought, have been measured out and encompassed in those very words of the Psalter.” These prayers are rich and invite personal encounter with the ancient words. Each reflection includes wisdom from church fathers, and at the end of the book there are ten helpful pages that answer the question, “Who are the church fathers quoted in this book?”

Paraclete Press posted an interesting author talk with Fr. Shannon on their facebook page (2/24/17). The video is about 15 minutes long and shares some of Fr. Shannon’s insights on the book of Psalms. You can view a sample from According to Your Mercy (as a pdf file) on the Paraclete Press website. The book also is available as a daily e-book subscription, which can be an excellent reminder to take time daily, even amidst the busyness of life.

It is an undeniable truth that I am drawn to books about the Psalms. Since I often turn to the Psalms for inspiration, I greatly enjoy seeing what other writers have to say about this inexhaustibly rich collection of prayers. Readers will return to this book for spiritual encouragement year after year.

 

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