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For those who are beginning their journey into motherhood, Helen Good Brenneman provides tremendous encouragement with Meditations for the New Mother. Each of thirty selections includes reflection on a scripture and a comforting prayer.

Readers receive a reminder that empowers anxious mothers: our God is the same God who gave courage to Mary the mother of Jesus, and who answered the prayer of Hannah the mother of Samuel. Strength and comfort can be drawn from the knowledge that mothers throughout the ages have turned to God, and we can do likewise.

These pages brim with hopefulness and gentle encouragement. Helen Good Brenneman guides readers to notice that the tasks of daily caregiving provide opportunities to turn our hearts toward God, to lean on God, to offer praise. In one prayer we read:
“Dear God, in view of all that is expected of a mother, I would feel most inadequate were not my hand in yours. I thank you for entrusting me with a living soul. Help me to bring out the best that is in my child by teaching that above all things we are to live, move, and have our being in you.”

Some of the meditations would resonate best with mothers who have birthed their children and who are married. However, other titles in the meditations series, forthcoming later this year, will better meet the needs of adoptive parents and single mothers.

Herald Press also has reissued Helen Good Brenneman’s Meditations for the Expectant Mother and Meditations for New Parents by Sara Wenger Shenk (president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) and Gerald Shenk.

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

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may God’s light break into the darkness, bringing healing to all our wounds. As we celebrate the inbreaking of light in the natural world, with winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, I’d like to share a beautiful solstice reflection from Jan Richardson:

a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart….
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

(excerpt from “Blessing for the Longest Night”
© Jan Richardson janrichardson.com)

I am grateful to a friend for sharing Jan Richardson‘s passionate, thoughtful reflections and her creative works of art. May her work be a blessing to all who read it.

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The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

During these past weeks of Advent, I have been taking quiet time, preparing myself inwardly for a new year. I have been reading the Bible passages related to the coming birth of Jesus, and asking God to show me what these stories might mean for my life.  Always, I come back to Mary.

When the angel came with a message from God, Mary responded with deep trust and profound courage. I long to be able to say, “Here I am, God, your servant,” without holding back. I don’t want to respond with I can’t…or what if… My prayer is for willingness to serve and to expect that God’s vision is much greater than ours. Mary had a glimpse of this, and she declares her faith in God’s justice with the magnificat.

In this new year, may God work in all of us so that we might declare, with Mary, “my soul magnifies the Lord.” If we each listen for God’s voice, and help lift up those who have a rockier path than our own, we can be instruments of God’s love. As I feel this longing building in my heart, I have been reflecting on an Advent prayer  written by Priyanka Bagh. May it be a blessing to you, and may you be a blessing to others.

Advent Prayer
By Priyanka Bagh, India

I pray
that our desire and passion
will be to serve God,
to give our best—
the core of our being
and our potential—
to be used by God,
that we may be fully equipped and trained
to work hard and excel as
the finest instruments of God.

My heart yearns
for us to be
what God called us to be—
to reach out and be
a source of blessing to others;
for women to rise up
and make a difference,
supporting one another,
so that we can grow
towards the fulfillment
of the calling
that God has for us. Amen.

prayer © Priyanka Bagh. The author wrote this prayer as a thank you to the women who provide scholarships through Mennonite Women USA. You can read about the work of Mennonite Women USA, including their international Women’s Fund, on their website.

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Reading prayers composed by women who lived long ago can create a sense of connection across time, space, and cultural divides. Differences fall away, replaced by the common desires of women calling upon God. Through the scholarship of Dr. Aliza Lavie, a beautiful prayer resource now is available. Published in 2008, A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book the book includes Hebrew text alongside the English. This book would make an ideal gift. Not only are the prayers uplifting and the commentaries insightful, but the physical book also is beautiful, meant to be treasured and shared with future generations.

This beautiful volume of prayers will be inspirational to women of all faiths, and exciting for readers who appreciate women’s history. There are prayers from several different countries, written from the middle ages to the present. Prayers are included for every stage of life

Hanukkah will take place from Saturday, December 8 to Sunday, December 16 this year. For all who are celebrating, may the holiday be filled with joy.

I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library. No fee was received in exchange 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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As a guide for exploring and reflecting on intercessory prayer, I recommend “Pray for Me”: The power in praying for others by Kenneth H. Carter Jr.

To me, prayer fundamentally is a mysterious experience. There is no way to explain it to someone who does not pray, or who thinks prayer is unnecessary. Prayer is something that has to be experienced. As for intercessory prayer, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams describes intercession simply as “thinking of someone or something in the presence of God.”

Over the years I have heard a wide range of questions about prayer from non-religious people: If God knows everything, why would God need you to pray for someone who is sick?; if God knows best, won’t God either heal or not heal, according to God’s own wishes?; why would God listen to one person’s prayer but not another’s? After reading “Pray for Me,” I feel better equipped to answer these questions—even though some of the answers remain very open-ended, grounded in mystery.

I agree with Carter that prayer is not asking God to fulfill wishes. Rather, prayer offers a path for growing in love for one another, for deepening our compassion, for learning to trust the outcomes to God and trust in God’s grace. If I say I will pray for someone, I am agreeing to enter into their pain or suffering, to stand with them, to cultivate a larger heart. On the spiritual path  we are called to live in community and care for one another. Prayer can help us remember our interconnectedness. Ultimately, prayer is not for God, but a way of reminding ourselves to put God at the center, and to put the needs of others before our own needs.

As I read this helpful book, I kept hearing a lyric from U2’s “One”: We get to carry each other.” It is the short answer to why I gladly will pray for others. May we grow in love for one another, and not lose heart.

 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book gratis from Upper Room Books.

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