Posts Tagged ‘gospels’

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.


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Sometimes the best way we can work for peace is to be a witness to another person’s journey. With Jesus was a Migrant, readers have an opportunity to bear witness, as author Deirdre Cornell gives comfort to the grieving and celebrates with the joyful. Deirdre Cornell has been accompanying migrant workers for many years, and I highly recommend her timely book.

By sharing stories of individuals with whom she has caring relationships, Deirdre Cornell provides open windows through which readers can glimpse the struggles of immigrants who have come to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America. These tender stories are rich faith narratives, and Deirdre Cornell draws wisdom from complementary stories in the Bible. From Abraham, who left his father’s land, to the infant Jesus carried by his parents to safety in Egypt, the Bible holds many migration stories.Perhaps most importantly, she highlights the biblical calls to welcome the stranger and to love one another.

In the U.S., the overwhelming majority of people are here because they or their ancestors migrated from elsewhere. Sharing her own family experience, Deirdre Cornell emphasizes the importance of remembering where we came from and why we left our homelands. These root stories can help develop empathy in those who have been in the U.S. for many generations. We also benefit from travel abroad, where we ourselves have the experience of being strangers and newcomers.

Why do people come to the U.S.? What are their lives like once they arrive? By compassionately sharing stories we might not otherwise hear, Deirdre Cornell awakens hearts with a fresh perspective. After reading Jesus was a Migrant, one cannot see immigration as just another issue that needs tackling. Rather, it is a topic that involves the precious lives of fellow human beings in need.

As people of faith, how should we respond to immigrants in our communities? What should we require of government policy makers? With a humanitarian crisis presently underway at the southern border, these questions become matters of life and death.

Matt 25 35With Jesus was a Migrant, Orbis Books once again gives readers a heart-challenging read that radiates with truth, written with a compassionate eye. I encourage you to read Jesus was a Migrant, perhaps with a book club or Sunday school class where you can share a lively discussion. I pray that your heart will be touched, and you might be inspired to act on behalf of migrants who are struggling to create a peaceful future.

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

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Advent, which begins this year on December 2, offers an ideal time to carve out space for prayerful reflection within the busyness of daily life. One interesting resource for the season is Exploring Advent with Luke: Four questions for spiritual growth by Timothy Clayton.

The narrative brings together biblical texts and personal experiences from Clayton’s life, helping the reader to notice the relevance of the gospels for contemporary life. With a chapter for each week of Advent, Clayton examines the challenges faced by Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. Inspired by their responses to God’s work in their lives, Clayton highlights a relevant question for self-examination.

The close study of scripture invites the reader to engage with the emotional life of the characters. Can we have deep trust like Mary, and sense where God may be moving in our lives? The experience of Elizabeth, who wondered why God chose to bless her, reminds us that we, too, have a role to play as part of God’s creation. “Elizabeth is amazed—humbly, wonderfully astounded to find herself as a strand in the great story whose Weaver is in the heavens.”

I appreciated that this book includes reflection questions for the days after December 25, since in the church Christmas continues through the feast of the Epiphany. Stories of Anna and Simeon remind us of the role of Jesus in the story God has been weaving since the time of the earliest prophets.

Along with the author, I hope you will move into the new year “with courage and in joy,” and enjoy many blessings during the Advent season and beyond.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received for this review.

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This year the first Sunday of Advent falls on December 2. For Christians, the Advent season is meant to be a time to cultivate a longing for God, and an opening of hearts to make room for God’s work among us and through us.

In his ministry, author Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C., serves among the most vulnerable members of his community. When he writes that “we ache for an Advent of prophetic change so that life can be different for us all, here and now,” his sincere ache comes from awareness of the challenges faced by our society’s marginalized people.

In The Unsheltered Heart: An at-home Advent retreat, Raab invites the reader to walk the path that Jesus walked, showing unconditional love to all. When we try to love in this way, our hearts sometimes will feel broken. There will be vulnerable people we cannot heal. The challenge is not to put up barriers—to continually pray for the heart to be open, unsheltered.

Raab creates a compelling vision of God dwelling in our hearts and enabling love to pour forth into our lives. Advent can be described as “the coming,” or a season of waiting, but we don’t always clarify for what (or for Whom) we are waiting. Is it for Christmas day and opening presents? That’s not the focus of the season—at least, spiritually speaking, it shouldn’t be. God already is immanent in the world. Yet, in this special season, space is made to express our longing for awareness of God’s loving presence, for reassurance and hope.

Each week of the retreat opens with reading and reflecting upon the Sunday gospel text. The revised common lectionary has a three-year cycle of scripture readings. This Advent the readings come from cycle C, emphasizing the gospel of Luke, as in the text of this booklet.

Silent prayer and reflection provides the foundation for the retreat. For those who would like to experience the retreat with a small group, Ave Maria Press provides a downloadable supplement. The booklet contains reflection questions as well as writing prompts, with space for responding in the booklet. (Some readers might choose to have a notebook for writing their responses.) The questions are nourishing and challenging, at times taking up the call of the prophets to care for the marginalized among us. Each days’ retreat concludes with an invitation to offer a brief supplication. Responding to the booklet’s text, a openhearted  reader could have a transformative experience.

During this special season, may you find time to turn inward, to listen for God’s voice of compassion, and to offer sincere prayers of love.

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

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“We have the witness of scripture, but we also strain our ears to listen for similar stories within our communities. Where is God breaking in now?”

As the Advent season approaches, I look forward to spending time with Enuma Okoro‘s beautifully written book, Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent. Okoro invites readers to dwell in trust of God, opening to unexpected possibilities. She first draws us into the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, exploring the sorrow and longing they experienced before the joy of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. They lived faithfully, with longings and hopes in their hearts; eventually, their prayers were answered. What would it be like to receive a vision from God, a surprising and life-giving word? How must that have felt for Elizabeth and Zechariah? How would it feel for you?

Advent, which begins this year on December 2, provides a special season to think about God coming into our lives. However, God also is already present. Even as we wait faithfully, practicing introspection and preparing our hearts to receive God, we are called to support one another. Waiting can be “a time to  dwell in holy friendship,” cultivating trust together, as Mary and Elizabeth did in the scriptures.

Like our ancestors in faith, we, too, are called to accept God’s invitations. Advent can be a time  to nurture “space for holy listening,” and to open to God’s vision for our lives in the year to come.

This powerful and thought-provoking book ends with a brief guide for small groups, as well as Advent wreath candle-lighting meditations. I highly recommend Okoro’s book for individuals, congregations, or study groups.

May we believe in God’s endless, often surprising possibilities for our lives.

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

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As we enter the new year, and I reflect on what I wish for the world in 2012, prophetic words from the Magnificat play through my mind: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” I am hoping that more people will work for a world where the lowly are lifted up, rather than trampled down; where the hungry are fed; where compassion and mercy win out over vengeance. These wishes are part of the vision described so beautifully in The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald B. Kraybill. These wishes are part of the vision embodied by Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the gospels.

Kraybill describes the kingdom of God as central to the ministry of Jesus, and reminds readers that Jesus saw the kingdom—the place and time when justice and love would reign—not as an ethereal heaven, but as an earthly place that we can create now. How could we possibly do this? By heeding the teachings to love one another, to love our enemies, to not make idols out of wealth.

The gospel teachings are contextualized, with detailed descriptions of what life was like in first century Palestine for Jews living under Roman occupation. The teachings of Jesus challenged the prevailing social order in ancient Palestine, and continue to do so today. As Kraybill writes, “His revolution was upside-down, It touted acts of compassion, not daggers. Love was the new Torah, the standard of his upside-down kingdom.”

In contrast to worldly values, kingdom values are “rooted in the deep love and abiding grace of God” and they “seed new ways of thinking and living.” By aligning ourselves with these values, we can help to create a world where there is compassion for the needy and love even for so-called enemies. While the details of life in the 21st century differ greatly from that of the 1st, the principles remain the same.

I hope that The Upside-Down Kingdom can reach an even wider audience with the recent publication of an updated edition. (Originally published in 1978, the book was revised in 1990, 2003, and 2011.) The vision of Christianity that Kraybill writes about remains powerful and compelling. Written from an Anabaptist perspective, this book provides compelling material for all individuals interested in social justice.

I highly recommend this book, for personal reading or a study group selection. May we grow in knowledge and in love in this new year.

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