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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.

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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.

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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.

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7855Advent approaches: the season of expectant waiting, the season of heartfelt longing, the season of seeking for light in dark places. My practice in this season is a willful turning away from consumerism and reaching inward, even while I turn toward loved ones in celebrations. I want to reconnect with a sense that the hope and light we await has already come into our midst. A welcome companion this season is the beautiful book All Creation Waits: The Advent mystery of new beginnings (Paraclete Press). While the reader journeys through winter with nature’s wild creatures, encouragement abounds. For each animal knows inwardly that each winter births a new beginning.

In this lovely book, the daily meditations of Gayle Boss are accompanied by original woodcuts from artist David G. Klein. Readers will find refreshment and a renewed sense of wonder. Describing the reasons for establishing the liturgical season of Advent, Gayle Boss writes about the sense of primal fear that accompanies the increasing darkness of winter in the northern hemisphere. The church fathers advised fasting, almsgiving, and prayer–very different from our modern shopping extravaganzas. The spirit of quiet, however, can attune us to nature’s rhythm, bringing a sense of calm and peace.

As a lover of the natural world, Gayle Boss developed an admiration for the varied responses to the onset of winter. She writes, “The practice of Advent has always been about helping us grasp the mystery of a new beginning out of what looks like death. Other-than-human creatures–sprung, like us, from the Source of Life–manifest this mystery without question or doubt.” Connecting with the mystery will renew our hope.

The author resides in Michigan, and the animals featured are those of the northern woodlands, with a number commonly appearing in urban areas. They are diverse in size and habit, including deer, skunk, chipmunk, frog, and honey bee. One of my favorites is the humble chickadee, whose existence requires a tremendous amount of food to generate enough warmth. She compares the birds to a flock of St. Francises: “Like the saint wed to Lady Poverty, every winter day the question of their existence is open: Will there be enough of what they need to take them through the dark night, into tomorrow? Beyond reason, like the saint, they act as if the question is truly an opening, a freedom, a joy.” The woodcuts are gorgeous, bringing quiet life to each animal.

Truly we can learn much from watching wildlife and attuning to the wholeness of creation. Readers will benefit from the thoughtful, humble, and loving meditations of Gayle Boss, and animal lover would treasure this volume for Advents to come.

May this Advent season deepen your sense of wonder, your hopefulness for our world, and your love for all God’s creation. Peace be upon you.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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