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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.

preparing children for Lent

71vtwf4jx0l-e1452271560982I am delighted to have a copy of Laura Alary’s book Make Room: A child’s guide to Lent and Easter for a giveaway, courtesy of Paraclete Press. [Update: This giveaway now is closed.] Last February I borrowed Make Room from a friend, and I posted a review on this blog. For convenience, I have copied that review (with minor changes) in this post.

If your family observes Lent, you will be very glad to see this book, which has beautiful, clear writing and gorgeous illustrations from Ann Boyajian. An excellent addition to a home library or church classroom, Make Room will have children feeling enthusiasm for this very special church season.

With language that is both practical and poetic, Alary’s book satisfies the need families have for literature that inspires excitement about faith. The language is simple, leaving space for parents to expand as a child questions and grows. Yet the writing communicates its messages clearly, providing words for experiences that often are hard to articulate.

Why do we observe Lent? What is the purpose of this season? In Alary’s words,

“During Lent we make time to be with God.
Every day we talk with God in different ways.
Sometimes we pray with words.
Sometimes we sing or listen to music.
Sometimes we get out paints and crayons and create many-colored prayers.
Colors are like a different language we can all speak
Even when we have no words.
God understands.”

I highly recommend Make Room for the young people in your life. Whatever books you choose for your family, may this season bring blessings of peace and prayers into your home.

[Update: the giveaway described below closed on 2/24/17.]

How can you win a copy? Click on the rafflecopter giveaway below. You will be asked to comment on this post sharing something that you plan to do during Lent this year. Entries will be accepted until February 24.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

One winner will be selected via Rafflecopter and notified by email. The book will be sent from the publisher, so in order to receive your prize you will need to provide an address. Addresses will be used one time only, for mailing of prize, and never shared or used for solicitations.

Disclaimer: The book is provided by Paraclete Press in exchange for my offering this review and giveaway. I have received no fee.

Ash Wednesday approaches

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 1 this year. Do you have special intentions for prayer time during Lent? Will you make an extra effort to serve others? Will you engage in corporate practices, such as attending religious services?

city-of-god2Before Ash Wednesday arrives, I highly recommend finding a copy of City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles. Author Sara Miles is the director of the food pantry and director of ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. With this book Sara Miles takes us through her reflections on the meanings of Ash Wednesday, the richness of community, the call to share blessings and sorrows. She reminds us that the call to love one another spills out into the streets, into the shop on the corner, into hospital hallways. We are called on this day to face our mortality together, and to show mercy to one another.

For the church Ash Wednesday offers a particular opportunity to practice repentance. As Sara Miles writes, “Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: the whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be his own.” I reviewed this excellent book here on my blog, and I invite you to please check out the review.

Your comments about favorite Lenten practices are welcome. Peace be upon you as you walk your path.