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city-of-god2As Ash Wednesday approaches (it will fall on February 10th this year), I am re-reading City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles, and I expect this will become a pre-Lent tradition for me. Somehow, Sara Miles wrote the words that were on my heart and helped me to better understand why I love Ash Wednesday so very much. Even in years when I had decided adamantly that I was done with church, I felt drawn to attend Ash Wednesday services. In the past few years, when church has become important to me, the litany of confession has brought me happy tears. Why? What happens in this observance?

Ash Wednesday is about repentance. Not about  guilt, or about saying sorry, but about changing. “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.” It is about changing in a way that brings us closer to other human beings, and closer to God, and leaving behind—fasting from—that which separates us from others and from God. This kind of change affirms that life is short and the time to love is now. This, for me, is powerful and energizing.

We spend a lot of time and effort trying to get things figured out (or, at least, trying to appear that we have everything figured out). And then on Ash Wednesday there is this slap of truth: ashes to ashes. Some people might think receiving ashes, hearing “you are dust and to dust you shall return” is a morbid ritual. Yet my experience has been that it is absolutely liberating. We are mortal. Somehow the ceremonial acknowledgement of this reality is refreshing. Where I live, in the U.S., so much of the culture is focused on a false sense of immortality: buy this and everything will be fine; you will be happy and you’ll live forever! (Not in those exact words, perhaps, but that really is the gist of all marketing.)

And it’s not true. Our time is limited and precious and, too often, we squander it. Ash Wednesday is a precious gift of reminder. In the words of Will Hocker, friend of Sara Miles and chaplain at San Francisco General Hospital, Ash Wednesday is a chance “to bow down in public and say, I’m not in charge; I’m not going to live forever.” We are not in charge of life and death, and that is ok. The truth can be scary, but the truth also can be a blessing. It can be freeing to lay down the burden of impossible control.

Throughout City of God, as Sara Miles walks her neighborhood and shares ashes, readers can see the importance of community, of gathering, of collective acts that demonstrate we all are sharing this journey. We must support one another with any small mercy we can offer.

Last year I posted a review of City of God, which highlights some other elements of this energizing, reflective book.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, based on my own copy of the book. No fee was received.

71vtwf4jx0l-e1452271560982The new book from Laura Alary, Make Room: A child’s guide to Lent and Easter, 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.

Disclaimer: This review is freely give, based on a loaned copy of the book. No fee was received.

All Shall Be Well

978-1-62698-139-3This year Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the season of Lent, falls on February 10. In this period leading up to Easter many Christians observe a season of reflection, repentance, and renewal. While specific customs vary widely among denominations, all people can benefit from taking time for prayer.

For daily spiritual reading during Lent I intend to draw nourishment from All Shall Be Well: Readings for Lent and Easter. A powerful collection of writings from poets, activists, and religious sisters and brothers, this volume from Orbis Books includes voices who speak for peace, caring for the needy, and uplifting the weak.

I do not want to give a litany of the authors, but the table of contents, with writers both classic (Howard Thurman) and contemporary (Mary Lou Kownacki), had me quite excited. In particular I enjoyed the words of Julia Alvarez, Dorothy Day, Virgil Elizondo, and Daniel Berrigan. The selections are numbered but not dated, since the dates for Lent vary; this thoughtful format will make the book easier to use year after year.

All Shall Be Well will make an inspiring and uplifting companion. I encourage you to find a copy, and may you have a blessed, prayer-filled Lent.

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

on the solstice

The Shortest Day

poem by Susan Cooper

Copyright Susan Cooper 1974

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us — listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!

christmas-window-candles-10

This poem was written for The Christmas Revels held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The text was posted on Susan Cooper (Official Fan Page) on facebook (24 Nov 2015). Please note that sharing is only for noncommercial use, and permissions questions should be directed to susancooper@thelostland.com.

Time to Get Ready

time-to-get-ready-an-advent-christmas-reader-to-wake-your-soul-17Advent might be my favorite time of year. This is a precious opportunity to cultivate a sense of wonder and hopefulness, to reflect on the message of Christmas and to consider its implications on our lives. For reading and spiritual refreshment this Advent season, I will be reading Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas reader to wake your soul. Author Mark A. Villano invites readers to “wake up and see how God is moving in your life.”

In Time to Get Ready, Villano has brought together personal reflections passages from scripture, and inspirational writings from the first week of Advent through the feast of the Epiphany. Throughout the book he offers encouragement to read, listen, and pray. We are invited to retrain ourselves to wait with patience, while also acting out of faith by serving others.

This is a richly written volume that surely will bring inspiration to your Advent and Christmas. I highly recommend Time to Get Ready, for personal reflection, retreat days, and group study.

A special note: As of this writing (November 30) the Advent and Christmas books at Paraclete Press are on sale for 45% off the list price until tomorrow, December 1. On their website you also can see a trailer for Time to Get Ready and read an excerpt.

 

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

Advent is here

stained glass by William Morris, designed by Edward Burne-Jones (1874)


Today, the first Sunday of Advent, we sang one of my favorite church songs: “Canticle of the Turning” by Rory Cooney, Gary Daigle, and Theresa Donohoo. The words are rooted in the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise where she prophesies the coming of God’s peace and justice (Luke 1:46-55). He has filled the hungry with good things, Mary says, and this song echoes her declaration that “the hungry poor shall weep no more, for the world is about to turn.”

This song never fails to stir my heart, bringing tears to my eyes even as it renews my hope that yes, with God’s help we can use our hands to create a world of justice and peace. May you find inspiration, light, and hope this Advent season.

Morning Homilies by Pope Francis

Pope's HomiliesImagine being invited to join Pope Francis at his home in St. Martha’s guest house at the Vatican. In the morning you would have the opportunity to be inspired by his homily, grounding your day in a foundation of faith. With Morning Homilies, Orbis Books gives readers a glimpse of the vision of Pope Francis, shared over the course of the first five months of his papacy. The homilies originally appeared in L’Osservatore Romano and are translated from Italian into English by Dinah Livingstone. These brief readings open a window to receive the teachings of Pope Francis, and provide an excellent resource for meditation and reflection.

Pope Francis has inspired many, both inside and outside the Catholic tradition, with his visible commitment to living the message of the Gospel. He does not merely preach, but sets a public example in alignment with his words. Within these pages readers will encounter themes that Pope Francis has raised on many occasions: the call for the church to serve the marginalized; the need for being a people of hospitality and forgiveness; the importance of humility and courage. The words of Pope Francis often deliver a necessary challenge, as he calls the church away from hypocrisy and idolatry and toward the teachings of Jesus.

A second volume, Morning Homilies II, includes the homilies presented from September 2013 to January 2014. With this additional publication readers can continue to benefit from the Pope’s intimate morning lessons, following along from home throughout the liturgical year.

Readers will be glad to have these volumes on hand, to turn to the Pope’s inspiring words whenever uplift or encouragement is needed.

Disclaimer: A review copy of Morning Homilies was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.

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