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“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.

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In a world full of broken relationships, religion must lead us toward healing. Religion can help to decrease pain and to bridge the divisions created by fear. Jesus of Nazareth is one of the principal guides we have for this healing process. Whether you view Jesus as a prophet, a gifted rabbi, or the one messiah, his teachings on love could bring about a positive revolution in our homes, in our communities, in our nations.

Author Jim Forest brings readers into a deeper understanding of the central teachings of Jesus in his latest book, Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the hardest commandment. This is one of the most inspiring, practical, and urgently needed books that I have read.

In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly teaches that love of God is inseparable from love of neighbor. We are called to break bread with one another, and to see each person we encounter as one of God’s precious creations. Jim Forest highlights the Gospel message and elaborates with historical examples of people who bravely lived the teachings of Jesus, setting aside fear and acting out of love.

Followers of Jesus should always remember that even while dying, Jesus prayed for forgiveness of his persecutors. For me, one of the most personally helpful sections of this book included reflections on the need to pray for our “enemies,” those who cause us anger, fear, or hurt. As Forest writes, “Even the smallest act of caring that prayer involves is a major step toward love, an act of participating in God’s love for that person.” Prayer for others can be where we start loving them, because prayer can change our own hearts.

I highly recommend Loving Our Enemies for individual reading, as well as for book discussion groups in religious communities.

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

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The October reading group selection, Made for Goodness, provided just the encouragement I needed this month. Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu invite us to “let go of the illusion of our own omniscience, let go of the accomplishment tally, and live a surrendered life.” I highly recommend this book, full of reminders and helpful insights on living with God-consciousness. Both authors are priests in the Anglican tradition, but this book is suitable for readers of all faith traditions.

If we are designed for and attracted to goodness, why do people often do so many things that are counter to goodness?  The authors write that we “need to rediscover our true nature, and act accordingly.” In reading the news, or reflecting on the deep needs and challenges of our world, I find it easy to become overwhelmed. When I see so much evidence of people not pursuing goodness, doubt sneaks in.

The authors reassure that “when we choose goodness we can be certain that, in the fullness of time, the end will be right.” They come to this conviction not because of blind optimism, but through a deeply-rooted faith that has sustained through times of great tragedy, including many incidents of pain and violence in apartheid South Africa.  This book does not present a naive theology, but a liberating view of God’s love for each of us and what that requires in response.

The authors distinguish between “goodness” and “being good.” Goodness is God-given, “our home.” When we lose our way and fall into sinful behavior, we need to rediscover this goodness. When we feel angry at another, we need to recall that God has put goodness within that person, too. In contrast, “being good” might look something like a to-do list. It consists of those requirements we make up for ourselves in order to measure up to a standard that we impose upon ourselves. (I should eat more vegetables, exercise, clean house more thoroughly, etc.) Why do we feel this need to be good? Who are we trying to please? As the authors write, “God does not love us because we are good. God loves us because God loves us.”

This book includes a couple of helpful practices for use in one’s quiet/prayer time, such as the examination of conscience and simple breath practices for centering. There is a reader’s guide at the end for the benefit of discussion groups. Religious communities, secular reading groups, and individuals could all find this book beneficial.

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I invite all readers to join us for the October reading group. Once a month, a friend and I choose a book on spirituality or religious studies. We then get together to discuss our responses to the reading, as well as how the book connects to our spiritual journeys. At the beginning of each month I will post the new selection. Later in the month I will share my review and reflections, and invite other readers to share comments.

In October we will be reading Made for Goodness: Why this makes all the difference by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. Archbishop Tutu is well-known as a vigorous opponent of apartheid in South Africa, a leader for reconciliation in that country, and a tireless worker for peace and social justice. His co-author and daughter, Mpho Tutu, also is an Anglican minister and a social justice activist, and the founder of The Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage. In this book, the authors describe their source of strength and optimism, and their firm belief that God has made people for goodness, despite all the darkness in the world, and we need to heed this calling. Join me and be inspired!

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