Lent begins in 2 weeks! [Lent Daybook explained]

Lent is not intended to be an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. It is meant to be the church’s springtime, a time when, out of the darkness of sin’s winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges.

Put another way, Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy. Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart’s deepest longing: unity with Christ. In him—in his suffering and death, his resurrection and triumph—we find our truest joy.
— Dorothy Sayers, Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6. Have you thought about participating this year?

Why Lent?

No season of the liturgical year has been more formative in my healing journey than Lent. While, my religious background trained me well in the reality of sin, death, and crucifixion, it did not provide much in the way of liturgical or devotional practices for lament, grief, and confession.

In my experience, this dissonance between teaching and practice fostered a sentimental approach to Jesus' life, death and resurrection. I was spiritual stunted in my ability to experience or to walk with others in their suffering. In this , the cross becomes a photoshopped decoration hanging in the background of a Church resistant to the invitations of the Suffering Servant who longs to save us in our suffering, and make us completely new in resurrection.  

Of course, personal and global suffering permeate every day of our lives in one way or another. We live in a broken body on a broken earth, and the Church calendar doesn't intend for us to ignore the entire spectrum of human suffering and joy based on the liturgical season. Instead, the cycle of fasting and feasting, celebration and lament provides practice, piece by piece, to form us wholly as Christians. Through each season, we meditate specific portions of Scripture year after year to learn the whole story of God and His people, and not just the portions with which we are most comfortable.  

When we celebrate the liturgical seasons, we grow not only in our knowledge of Scripture, but we learn also how to embody its life-giving truth. In the wisdom of our Church fathers and mothers - themselves informed by the collective memory of millenia of Jewish feasts and fasts initiated by the Creator - each liturgical season marks itself with daily, physical practices.  

We are not disembodied spirits just gritting our teeth until we are released from these bodies, like an unwanted overcoat, when we die. Nor are we merely defined by the physical matter that just happen to contain a spiritual being for those who care about those things. In the accounts of the Incarnated Christ we read through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, we discover year after year a Christ, God made Man, who is not either body or spirit, but both body and spirit. During Lent, Eastertide and Pentecost, we set up camp for longer periods of time in each essential part of our being: body and spirit.  

Because my calling to Jesus lasts a lifetime, I need to think about growth in repentance over many years, not just one Lenten season. As Eugene Peterson said, we are called to practice ‘a long obedience in the same direction.’ As I practice repentance—the turning of my whole self to God—it’s obvious I will need a lifetime of Lenten seasons to mature into the likeness of Christ.
— Jack King, Anglican Pastor blog

Lent is a 40 day lesson in what it means to be bodies cursed by death and decay. If you've ever received the cross-shaped ash on your forehead, you've heard the pastoral reminder of a very real, and very sad state in which we find ourselves: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

From Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, we follow the account of Christ as he makes His way to the Cross. In Epiphany, we encounter the light of divinity dwelling on Christ, inviting us to join Him as the light of the world. In Lent, we recognize and mourn the curse of sin and death that has separated man from God, even as we are invited to carry our cross and follow Christ on the road of suffering. We grow in humility and gratitude with the Lenten practice of remembering that once we were alienated from God and lived as people with no hope, and we seek mercy for those still living in that state.

There's so much joy to be found in humility. If you haven't ever fully entered into the practice of Lent, would you consider joining me this year? May I encourage you that this doesn't need to be (and probably shouldn't) be complicated.  

So, it needs to be said that Lent is about dying. But it also needs to be said that Lent is about asking God to bring about new life in us. We are a people who have died with the Lord Jesus Christ in the waters of Baptism and have been raised with him to newness of life. This is not a one-time occurence, but beginning there – continues through one’s life. When we fast, it is about desires and impulses dying in us, to make room for new life. When we give something up, it is to make room for something else – something better, something good, something life-giving.
— Fr. Lee Nelson, Anglican Pastor blog
Lenten wreath.jpg

 

Here are a few essential practices for a faithful Lent:

1.  Attend an Ash Wednesday service.  

2. Make a simple commitment to participate in three historical practices of the Church throughout the 40 days of Lent:

  • Fasting

  • Praying

  • Almsgiving

We have followed this pattern in a variety of ways throughout the past nine years we've been practicing Lent. While there’ve been years we've practiced a more severe fast (e.g., all sugar, alcohol, processed foods, and television), perhaps the most beneficial years are the ones we chose one or two things to give up. We've also learned to take up practices in their place. For example, you might choose to give up eating an entire meal (or day of meals), and in place, set aside extended time for prayer or meditation. You might fast from a certain technological device while taking up reading, walking, or letter-writing in its place.

The point is to make space in our lives to give up reliance on one thing in order to grow in dependence on Christ.

3. Choose a daily devotional guide. I’d be honored for you to choose my annual Lent Daybook devotional posts which you can read about in more detail below. We also enjoy a variety of other devotional books which you can read about here.  

4. We light candles, look at art, sing hymns, pray and read Scripture together. We try to do this every day, but we average more like 4 out of 7 days. My best tip for you if your family feels awkward doing this? Turn the lights off! There's nothing like sitting in the dark looking at a few flickering candles to break the ice of awkward family Bible time.

Eastertide.7.JPG

How to enjoy Lent Daybook posts: Look, Listen, Read, Pray, & Do

Each day of Lent (March 6 - April 20) I’ll publish a devotional post. The Lent Daybook posts leading up to Holy Week will include a work of art, song, daily Scripture passages, a short prayer, and a simple activity to help you practice the prayerful days of Lent. During Holy Week, I’ll publish the seventh annual series, Retrieve Lament. Each year, I ask friends to share a "mourning story" from their own life as a way to help us see Christ in the midst of suffering.

Look

Some might call this devotional practice of visual contemplation Visio Divina, or a divine looking. It’s not the actual work of art that is divine, but the Holy Spirit’s invitation to encounter Christ through nonverbal reflection. Throughout the year I collect digital images that I think will enhance the Scriptural themes of Lent. You’ll notice that some of the images evoke traditional scenes of the Passion of Christ, while others seem to have nothing to do with the traditional images of the season. The images rotate through classic and contemporary art of all media. Each week I include an image (usually a photograph) from news headlines of the year. My hope is that the Scripture passages for each day orient the visual art selection and sometimes, honestly, that’s a difficult task.

Listen

Most of the songs I share each day are worship songs and contemporary versions of old classic hymns, but each week I try to mix in a classical instrumental or choral arrangement. Lent is particularly suited to highlight the rich canon of old Spirituals and Gospel songs. Paradoxically, mainstream pop, rock, indie, and country catalogues are chock full of songs the reflect the weariness and anxiety of living in a broken world so you’ll hear some of them, too! I try to select quality recordings and include both a Spotify and YouTube version for your convenience. Since the music is chosen to enhance the visual art, my family chooses to play the music as a backdrop for contemplating the image. You might choose to do each separately. I also include a link to lyrics for each song so you can sing along if you’d like!

If you love seasonal playlists as much as I do, here’s links to all five (5!) of my Lenten playlists. Add any of the lists to your Spotify account by clicking ‘Follow.’

Lent 2019 on Spotify:

Read

Oh my goodness, I love the lectionary. I’ve always been intrigued by the interweaving of Old and New Testaments for the beauty of the literary rhythms as well as the deep satisfaction of experiencing the living, breathing word of God that looks backwards and forwards at the same time. It’s so rich. If you don’t do anything else with the posts I send each day, read the Scripture passages. I include a link for the complete lectionary passages each day and then excerpt the portions that particularly spoke to me as I was preparing the post. I use the English Standard Version most often, but if you click through the link to the Biblegateway page, you can adjust the version to your preference.

From March 6 - April 13, Sunday Scripture readings are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C). Daily Scripture readings are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (Year 1) with only one or two of the daily Psalms.

Starting on Palm Sunday, April 14, we’ll shift away from the lectionary to focus on the litany of last words Jesus spoke from the cross; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament I’ve asked seven friends to share with us from their own life experiences of grief. This is a highlight of the year for me on the blog and 2019 is our seventh year helping each other retrieve a Christlike lament for the brokenness of our lives and world.

Pray

Each week the prayers are formed around the Sunday collect (prayer said by the congregation in Sunday worship). While you could pray directly from the daily Scripture (especially the Psalms) or the hymn lyrics, I include a guided prayer for each day. Once a week, I invite you to a form of intercessory prayer termed “Prayers of the People” from the Book of Common Prayer. This allows us to set aside at least one day to remember each sphere of our world with particular prayer from your context.

Do

The spiritual practice of contemplation, at its best, moves between stillness and thoughtful action. We were made by a Creator to love Him, our neighbors, and ourselves with heart, mind, soul, and strength. I’m delighted to invite you to some simple, daily actions to demonstrate that love outwardly. Some of the activities will feel familiar to the traditional Lenten customs of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, and some will feel new and counterintuitive. It’s all good.

A Lenten Community

When I first started this series, I was compelled to create something I’d been looking for and couldn’t find online. While I own and enjoy several printed beautiful devotional books for Lent and Eastertide, I was intrigued by the idea of a multi-media, shared experience that can be cultivated online. Since then, many new and wonderful resources release each year. It’s tempting to dabble in each one, but I encourage you to find what works best for you and to simply, prayerfully walk through each day with intentional companions. I’m honored to be included in your Lenten journey.

I’ve also known from the beginning that I wanted this to be a free offering. The ability to access a world of beauty for free on the internet literally changed my life. I want to be part of that free stream, and since I’m mostly curating the work of other people I encourage you to click through the source links to purchase their art. If you’re appreciating the posts and would like to support my work on the website, I’ve include a PayPal “tip jar” on the blog page and in the bottom of some of the Lent posts - (paypal.me/TamaraHillMurphy).

Join Us!

Conversation makes a community so please comment here on the blog or social media regularly! Let me know how you’re experiencing God’s invitation through the Lent Daybook posts or any other part of your day. I love to hear from you.

  • Instagram - I’ll be sharing the daily posts as well as occasional Stories at the blog’s Instagram account. If you’re on Instagram, you can follow me there.

  • Facebook - I’ll link the daily posts. In order to make sure you see each post, you'll need to "like" the page and click on the "Following" button and then the "On" option in the drop-down box.

  • Twitter - I’m not very active, but I do cross-link the daily posts for those of you who like to hang out there.

  • Subscribe via Email - I’m looking forward to spending the next coming weeks together. If you’d like to receive the daily posts in your email inbox, subscribe with your email below. (You don’t need to do this if you already receive posts via email.)

A Holy Lent to you and yours. Lord, have mercy on us all.


What are some traditions you keep to help you slow down and pay attention to the presence of God in the days leading up to Holy Week and Easter?  Comment below - I'm listening!

*Please note that, in an effort to be a good steward of time and resources for our family, this post includes affiliate links.  When you purchase any item you click through from these links, you'll pay the same amount, but we'll get a few pennies in our coffers.Thank you!*

Weekend Daybook: listening, resting, reading, and practicing edition

Seven days of collecting what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

(1) photo from this week

on a study and reflection retreat this week and the timing couldn't be more perfect. Also: thank you,  @roseberrytea , for the loan of your Irish Book of Common Prayer. We've been enjoying it for each of the Offices!

on a study and reflection retreat this week and the timing couldn't be more perfect. Also: thank you, @roseberrytea, for the loan of your Irish Book of Common Prayer. We've been enjoying it for each of the Offices!


(2) songs on repeat

  1. Jesus, See the Traveler, Sara & Ruby Groves

  2. The Kingdom Is Yours, Dee Wilson & Brittney Spencer (lyrics and chord chart here)

 

(3) projects I’ve been working on

  1. Spiritual practice stories on Instagram - I fully intended to write a blog series during Epiphany on spiritual practices that have been life-giving for me. It didn’t happen on the blog for a variety of time-related reasons, but I’ve been grateful for the IG platform to share what I’m learning and to hear back from you. Even if you don’t have an Instagram account, I believe you can view what I’ve shared about the practice of silence and noticing without judgement.

  2. Last weekend we facilitated a weekend intensive for those seeking inner healing for relational, emotional, or sexual wounds. I had the privilege not only of caring for a small group of women, but also speaking on the subjects , “How Jesus on the Cross Bears the Sins Committed Against Us (our wounds)” and “Becoming Secure in the Father’s Love”. I’m hoping to share a tiny portion of that teaching in an Instagram story this week. You can read a portion of my own journey toward healing in this post I wrote during Holy Week last year.

  3. I’ve been posting the lectionary readings along with art, music, prayer, and suggested practices each Sunday in Epiphany. I’ve gained a deep affection for this season in the church calendar. I love reflecting on the groundbreaking teaching of Christ as the world first got to hear him represent the Father.


(4) meaningful conversations during Black History month

  1. This account is full of beauty, truth, and goodness. Don’t miss it: Black Coffee With White Friends on IG

  2. Perhaps the most helpful resource yet to help me understand the meaning of “whiteness”: Can “White” People be Saved: Reflections on Missions and Whiteness | Willie Jennings via Fuller Studio. Explore more on the complex intersection of race, politics, and society.

  3. Sad, convicting truth told in love: To All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep by Andre Henry

  4. In 1963, more than a dozen African American girls, including Carol Barner-Seay, Shirley Reese, Diane Bowens, and Verna Hollis, were arrested for protesting segregation in Americus, Georgia. At StoryCorps, they remember being held in a small makeshift jail for nearly two months.


(5) books I’m reading

  1. (Re) reading for Epiphany with Apostles Reads: Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith & Art by Madeleine L’Engle.

  2. I read the devastatingly beautiful The Sparrow five years ago and am finally getting to the sequel: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell.

  3. A big part of my final assignments for my spiritual director certification: The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism by Bernard McGinn.

  4. Brian gave this to me for Christmas 2017 and I lost track of it for over a year! Glad to finally be enjoying Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice by Marilyn McEntyre.

  5. A beautiful book on the essence of my work: Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther


(6) meaningful perspectives on current events

  1. Please don’t miss this one - Gary Haugen, president and founder of International Justice Mission, speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast and demonstrates how to speak truth to power - with the U.S. president sitting two people away - to speak truth with self-differentiated, non-anxious authority. I want to memorize this speech and repeat it to myself daily.

  2. I’m done letting anger separate me from pro-life work. Simcha Fisher steps up to speak on my behalf.

  3. A Debt to Education via Plough - With four kids just finished or trying to finish degrees, this one hit home. Help us, God … “All debt forms us, but it’s important to recognize how student debt shapes our conception of ourselves and our society.”

  4. Related - The Fleecing of Millenials via NYT . (and when, oh when, will someone have the integrity of intelligence to include the economic effect of abortion in this list of things economically screwing the millenial generation?!?)

  5. On the subject of quality of life for all - Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty via American Conservative. “The state is not God, and capital punishment is not infallible.”

  6. While the government argues budgetary earmarking for Immigration Reform, let Christians consider this: How Does the Bible Orient Us Toward Immigration? The recordings at this link include the every plenary session with Dr. Danny Carroll that Brian and I attended with clergy from our diocese this past November. If I were pope for the day, I’d make it required listening for every church in the U.S. right now.


Emmett's Baby Shower1.jpeg

6 years ago

Decorating our house in Austin for our godson Emmett’s baby shower. (Our friends Blake & Krista made this gorgeous book page wreath for the book-themed shower.)


May your weekend include some rest and some fun with friends and family. Peace...

p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

What I Read October - December 2018

With the increased reading for my spiritual direction certification, my time for other types of reading is more limited. Still I managed to get through a few titles to finish up 2018. Hope you enjoy the micro reviews + publisher blurbs! Let me know if you add anything from this list to your book pile!

October work date with Brian at  Book Trader Cafe  in New Haven

October work date with Brian at Book Trader Cafe in New Haven

You can see my 2018 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: Last year I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a poor reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Novels

37. Virgil Wander
By Leif Enger (Grove House, 2018. 352 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is “cruising along at medium altitude” when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals―from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man, to Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a “formidably gifted” (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller."

Micro Review:

After a decade of no new work, I was eager to read anything Leif Enger’s written. I was delighted that it was this book. I’m not sure anything will ever match my love for Enger’s Peace Like A River, but Virgil Wander delivered a cast of characters I enjoyed meeting in a setting I loved. A few times I got caught imagining everyone as if they were the cast of The Majestic (starring Jim Carrey) because there are a couple of uncanny similarities in the plot. By the end of the story, though, I was fully living the kite-flying, beachcombing life on the shore of Lake Superior.


Apostles Reads Selections

38. The Complete Stories (FSG Classics)
By Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First edition, 1971. 576 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“The publication of this extraordinary volume firmly established Flannery O'Connor's monumental contribution to American fiction. There are thirty-one stories here in all, including twelve that do not appear in the only two story collections O'Connor put together in her short lifetime--Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

O'Connor published her first story, "The Geranium," in 1946, while she was working on her master's degree at the University of Iowa. Arranged chronologically, this collection shows that her last story, "Judgement Day"--sent to her publisher shortly before her death―is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of "The Geranium." Taken together, these stories reveal a lively, penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction of the twentieth century. Also included is an introduction by O'Connor's longtime editor and friend, Robert Giroux.

Micro Review:

My loyalty to Ms. O’Connor has faltered a few times in the current revelations of white supremacy stubbornly cloistered in the Church. After assigning our church’s reading group read this title for Ordinary Time, Brian and I started re-reading the stories out loud to each other. The impact of hearing our own voices repeating the “N” word which takes up so much word count in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories felt something like hearing myself shout “Crucify Him!” in the public recitation of the Passion accounts during Holy Week each year. In that light, we found value in placing ourselves in the role of the shameless racism of so many of O’Connor’s characters. After all, “we and our fathers have sinned” and there’s a backwards kind of kindness in the relentless monstrosity of these characters and stories. After reading her work yet again, I still see the brilliance in her refusal to paint even a single sentence with sentimentality and pray for eyes to see within my own self the seeds of self-righteous monstrosity steering the truest so many antagonists written in her stories.

39. A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens, Narrated by Tim Curry (Released, 2010. 3 hours, 31 minutes)

Amazon Audible | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“This version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, masterfully narrated by Tim Curry, was available for a limited time last year, and now it's back. This one-of-a-kind performance puts a unique spin on a treasured classic, and served as the inspiration for the exciting new line of Audible Signature Classics, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Elijah Wood, and Heart of Darkness with Kenneth Branagh. Tim Curry performs this timeless holiday story in a deliciously dark tone, returning it to its Dickensian roots with a vivid imagining of Victorian London and just the right touch of outrageous fun.

A Christmas Carol has constantly been in print since its original publication in 1849, and has been adapted for stage, television, film, and opera. It has often been credited with returning the jovial and festive atmosphere to the holiday season in Britain and North America, following the somber period that emerged during the Industrial Revolution.

The story opens on a bleak and cold Christmas Eve as Ebenezer Scrooge is closing up his office for the day. As the story progresses and Christmas morning approaches, Scrooge encounters the unforgettable characters that make this story a classic: Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and, of course, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.”

Micro Review:

This was the Advent and Christmastide selection for Apostles Reads.

I have a book confession. I have never read a single one of Dickens' novels, including the classic-of-all-Christmas classics, A Christmas Carol. What better time to repent of my reading transgressions than the start of our third year reading together?

Further confession: Even though I've never read the actual book, I own several copies. I also watch several versions of the various film every December (while I'm on a confession roll, Kermit the Frog is my favorite Bob Cractchit!)

Brian and I “read” this title via audiobook on our drive to celebrate Christmas in Texas with our kids. We loved Tim Curry as our narrator! Highly recommend reading, listening, and watching this story as long as we live with Christmases Yet To Come.


Essays & Non-Fiction

40. Writings From The New Yorker, 1927 - 1976
By E. B. White (Harper Perennial; Reissue edition, 2006. 256 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“A delightful, witty, spirited collection of short pieces and essays by the inimitable E. B. White.”

Micro Review: E. B. White is one of my all-time favorites for both Charlotte’s Web and Trumpet of the Swan. I love his voice in his non-fiction as well. This collection of essays covers an unforgettable era in America’s history and while Mr. White often chooses a slight rose-colored hue in his perspective on the world, the overall affect of decades of his column is one of goodness and beauty. 

 

41. The Writing Life
By Ellen Gilchrist (University Press of Mississippi, 2005. 226 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Celebrated author Ellen Gilchrist has played many roles-writer and speaker, wife and lover, mother and grandmother. But she never tackled the role of teacher.

Offered the opportunity to teach creative writing at the University of Arkansas, she took up the challenge and ventured into unknown territory. In the process of teaching more than two hundred students since her first class in 2000, she has found inspiration in their lives and ambitions and in the challenge of conveying to them the lessons she has learned from living and writing.

The Writing Life brings together fifty essays and vignettes centered on the transforming magic of literature and the teaching and writing of it. A portion of the collection discusses the delicate balance between an artistic life and family commitments, especially the daily pressures and frequent compromises faced by a young mother. Gilchrist next focuses on the process of writing itself with essays ranging from "How I Wrote a Book of Short Stories in Three Months" to "Why Is Rewriting so Hard?"

Several essays discuss her appreciation of other writers, from Shakespeare to Larry McMurtry, and the lessons she learned from them. Eudora Welty made an indelible impact on Gilchrist's work. When Gilchrist takes on the task of teaching, her essays reveal an enriched understanding of the role writing plays in any life devoted to the craft. Humorous and insightful, she assesses her own abilities as an instructor and confronts the challenge of inspiring students to attain the discipline and courage to pursue the sullen art. Some of these pieces have been previously published in magazines, but most are unpublished and all appear here in book form for the first time.”

Micro Review: Simple, enjoyable essays on the life of a woman and a writer. I especially appreciated Ms. Gilchrist’s insights to what it means to look back on her life as a someone who was and still is both a mother and a writer.


Poetry

42. Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year
By Malcolm Guite (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2012. 108 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Poetry has always been a central element of Christian spirituality and is increasingly used in worship, in pastoral services and guided meditation. In Sounding the Seasons, Cambridge poet, priest and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite transforms seventy lectionary readings into lucid, inspiring poems, for use in regular worship, seasonal services, meditative reading or on retreat.

Already widely recognised, Malcolm's writing has been acclaimed by Rowan Williams and Luci Shaw, two leading contemporary religious poets. Seven Advent poems from this collection will appear in the next edition of Penguin's (US) Best Spiritual Writing edited by Philip Zaleski, alongside the work of writers such as Seamus Heaney and Annie Dillard.

A section of practical help and advice for using poetry creatively and effectively in worship is also included.

Micro Review: I refer to Malcolm Guite’s sonnets as closely as I do to any other theologian I read and was delighted to introduce his work to our church’s reading group last year. In the collection Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, Guite turns 70 lectionary readings into beautiful, poignant spiritual reflections. We read through this book as a companion to all our reading during 2018, reading several aloud each time we gathered. As a bonus, we grew in our understanding and appreciation for the sonnet as a classic poetic form.


Prayer / Spirituality / Spiritual Direction / Bible Study

43. Go In Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions
By Julia Gatta & Martin L. Smith (Morehouse Publishing, 2012. 144 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Although the sacramental Rite of Reconciliation is included in many Anglican prayer books, nothing has been written expressly Anglicans since the 1980s that focuses on the pastoral skills required for this ministry.  This book combines and passes on the teaching, coaching, skill development, and accumulated pastoral wisdom that has not been widely accessible or well integrated into clergy training.

Realistic transcripts and "verbatims" of sample confessions and counseling sessions involving a wide range of people makes this a unique ministry resource for most seminaries and theological colleges, plus clergy in general-including Lutheran pastors who use the rite of "Individual Confession and Absolution" in the Lutheran Book of Worship.”

Micro Review: I read Go In Peace as part of my spiritual direction certification requirements. It will end up being in the top five of my favorites from the course. While various denominations practice giving and receiving confession in community in a variety of ways, Gatta and Smith provide theological insight and encouragement for all of us to embrace this means of grace for wholeness and intimacy with God, each other, and ourselves. If you care about participating in a healthy church, I recommend this book.

44. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
By Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 1999. 128 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“With wisdom, compassion, and gentle humor, Parker J. Palmer invites us to listen to the inner teacher and follow its leadings toward a sense of meaning and purpose. Telling stories from his own life and the lives of others who have made a difference, he shares insights gained from darkness and depression as well as fulfillment and joy, illuminating a pathway toward vocation for all who seek the true calling of their lives.”

Micro Review: I’d heard so often from people who enjoyed this book and finally read it during my Ordinary Time blog series, Work Stories. I inhaled the brief, but profound book. I need to buy my own copy since I’d borrowed the one I read from the library and couldn’t underline or bookmark anything. Highly recomend.

 

45. The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love (Apprentice Series)
By James Bryan Smith (IVP Books, 2010. 240 pages)

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“In this third book in the Apprentice Series, James Bryan Smith helps us know how to live in relationship with others as apprentices of Jesus. "Apprentices of Jesus are not part-time do-gooders," he writes. "They live in continuous contact with the kingdom of God, and are constantly men and women in whom Christ dwells. They do not sometimes tell the truth, sometimes live sacrificially or sometimes forgive. There are myriad opportunities for us to impact the world in which we live." Yet many times we've gotten it wrong, tending to emphasize personal faith over social justice or vice versa. In these pages Jim Smith shows us how to bring spiritual formation and community engagement together, and then once again offers spiritual practices that root new, true narratives about God and the world in our souls. His insight and humility as a fellow learner with us will lead us to live in authentic ways as a good and beautiful community of Christ-followers, shining the light of the Spirit into every relationship.”

Micro Review: Our small group at church finished this, the third and final title in James Bryan Smith’s Apprentice series. I’m still impressed not only with the author's substantive, but accessible, theological insight, but also with his gracious tone and impeccable recommendations for spiritual practices to make each theological truth about what it means to live in church community root itself deeply in our hearts. Highly recommend - especially for group reading!

46. Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony In A Complex World
By Richard J. Foster (HarperOne, 2005. 272 pages)

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“A revised and updated edition of the manifesto that shows how simplicity is not merely having less stress and more leisure but an essential spiritual discipline for the health of our soul.”

Micro Review: I borrowed this book from my friend Walter (hope he doesn’t mind I’ve had it so long!). During this cultural conversation about minimalism, I recommend reading Foster’s classic word on the subject guide your theology and practices.

 

47. The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self
By M. Robert Mulholland Jr. (IVP Books, 2016. 188 pages)

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“As you journey deeper in the Christian pilgrimage, you come to realize that the Christian life is more than merely replicating particular spiritual disciplines or practices. You begin to understand that at the core of Christian faith is the transformation of your very identity. M. Robert Mulholland Jr. exposes the false selves that you may be tempted to hide behind and helps you to instead discover the true self that comes from being hidden with Christ in God. If the goal of the Christian journey is Christlikeness, then you must reckon with the unhealthy ways that you root your sense of being in things other than God. Along the way, you will discover a growing sense of intimacy and abandonment to God. Not only will you encounter the joy of discovering your own self, you will also find a greater love for others and compassion for the world. The expanded edition includes a study guide for individual reflection or group discussion.”

Micro Review: Of the dozens of titles I’ve been assigned to read for my spiritual direction certification, The Deeper Journey is my favorite by a large margin. Those of you who know us, know that Brian and I have relentlessly pursued freedom and healing to live from our truest selves - that part of us imagined and designed by our Creator God. We’ve learned from many good teachers on the subject, but Mulholland seems to synthesize the essence of the theology of our human identity redeemed by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He writes with depth but not dryness, hope for all but not patronizing of the reader’s experience, and truth but not theological imprecision. Read this book.

48. The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality
By Belden C. Lane (Oxford University Press, 2007. 296 pages)

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“In the tradition of Kathleen Norris, Terry Tempest Williams, and Thomas Merton, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes explores the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.

Interweaving a memoir of his mother's long struggle with Alzheimer's and cancer, meditations on his own wilderness experience, and illuminating commentary on the Christian via negativa--a mystical tradition that seeks God in the silence beyond language--Lane rejects the easy affirmations of pop spirituality for the harsher but more profound truths that wilderness can teach us. "There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokeness we find within." It is this apparent paradox that lies at the heart of this remarkable book: that inhuman landscapes should be the source of spiritual comfort. Lane shows that the very indifference of the wilderness can release us from the demands of the endlessly anxious ego, teach us to ignore the inessential in our own lives, and enable us to transcend the "false self" that is ever-obsessed with managing impressions. Drawing upon the wisdom of St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhardt, Simone Weil, Edward Abbey, and many other Christian and non-Christian writers, Lane also demonstrates how those of us cut off from the wilderness might "make some desert" in our lives.

Written with vivid intelligence, narrative ease, and a gracefulness that is itself a comfort, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes gives us not only a description but a "performance" of an ancient and increasingly relevant spiritual tradition”

Micro Review: In The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, author Belden C. Lane creates a physical setting of desert for the spiritual work that takes place when we seek a holy detachment from all of the distractions created by external circumstances of our everyday life. Lane repeatedly warns against the temptation to romanticize the monastic work done in silence and solitude. Referring to the desert as a “geography of abandonment”, sets the stage as the place “where one confronts one’s inevitable loss of control, the inadequacy of language, the spectre of one’s own demise.” Lane posits that only in the poverty that comes with an exchange of self-determination for a holy indifference can the seeker can find the “naked intent” of prayer. In that prayer, we know our truest desire only as we release it to the control of a God we may or may not be able to see or hear. The end result of this kind of surrender, according to Lane, is the prized fruit of love. I especially enjoyed this book since the author weaves throughout his experience visiting the Monastery of Christ in the Desert which Brian and I visited during our road trip to New Mexico back in our own desert season of 2015.


Christmas Reading

49. A Child’s Christmas In Wales
By Dylan Thomas (48 pages)

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“This nostalgic recollection of Christmas past by celebrated Welsh poet Dylan Thomas evokes the beauty and tradition of the season at every turn: the warmth of a family gathering; the loveliness of a mistletoe-decked home; the predictability of cats by the fire; the mischief and fun of children left to their own devices; and the sheer delight of gifts--be they Useful or Useless. 

Readers will cherish this beautiful hardcover edition of the classic A Child's Christmas in Wales complete with gold-foil stars, a debossed, glossy front picture, and sparkling snowflakes. Once inside, readers are rewarded with stunning, midnight-blue endpapers sprinkled with a flurry of more snowflakes. This book is a must-have gift for the season. 

Brilliantly illustrated by Caldecott medalist Trina Schart Hyman with a combination of more than 40 full-color and sepia-toned images, this beautiful edition of Thomas's beloved classic will enchant readers of all ages, year after year.”

Micro Review: Always and forever a must-read for me at Christmastime. If you visit me during Christmas, I’ll probably force you to listen to me read it out loud. Be warned.

50. The Thirteen Days of Christmas
By Jenny Overton (48 pages)

Amazon | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“This is the heart-warming story of how three of the Kitson children help the wealthy merchant woo their older sister Annaple with a different gift for each of the twelve days of Christmas - with hilarious results! But as the house groans at the seams with partridges, calling birds, swans,maids-a-milking, etc., will Annaple really succumb to the romance of it all, or will she just want the house returned to its normal, tidy state!”

Micro Review: A sweet, if silly, tale of the imagined origins of that now ubiquitous carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Suspend disbelief and enjoy the zealous courtship of the “true love” for a rather distracted, disinterested young woman. The best treat for the reader is the glimpse into 16th-century (?) England Christmas traditions, carols, and village life.


Previews

51. Mandela and the General
By John Carlin, Illustrated by Oriol Malet (Plough Publishing, 2018. 112 pages)

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“Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero and first leader of the new South Africa, is an international symbol of the power of a popular movement to fight structural racism. But that nonviolent struggle for equality and justice very nearly spiraled into an all-out race war that would have only ended in “the peace of graveyards.”

As the first post-apartheid elections approach in 1994, with blacks poised to take power, white South Africans fear reprisal. White nationalist militias claiming 50,000 well-armed former soldiers stand ready to fight to the death to save their white homeland. They need someone who can lead and unite them. That man was former general Constand Viljoen.

Mandela knows that he can’t avert a bloodbath on his own. He will have to count on his arch-enemy. Throughout those historic months, the two men meet in secret. Can they trust each other? Can they keep their followers and radical fringe elements from acts of violence? The mettle of these two men will determine the future of a nation.

The drama of this contest and the history that pivoted on it comes vividly to life in visual form. Veteran British journalist John Carlin teams up with Catalan artist Oriol Malet to create a historically and artistically rich graphic novel with obvious relevance to today’s polarized politics.”

Micro Review: A graphic novel may be the best format for me to dive into this story that I would otherwise know nothing. Yes, I’m generally aware of Mandela’s legacy and the evils of apartheid, but this story fleshes out in a fuller dimension a few of the historical figures and their opposing movements. Take a chance on the illustrated format and read this book. Then pass it along. We need these stories, and I’m so grateful to Plough Publishing for getting them into our hands.


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2018 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Linking up with another good reading resource: Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

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p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

What I Read June - September 2018

I had a great reading summer. Hope you enjoy the micro reviews + publisher blurbs! Let me know if you add anything from this list to your book pile!

We visited Yale's  Text and Textiles exhibit  at the Beinecke Library in July. This piece intrigued me (from an Austin artist!).

We visited Yale's Text and Textiles exhibit at the Beinecke Library in July. This piece intrigued me (from an Austin artist!).

You can see my 2017 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: Last year I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a poor reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Novels

21. Behold the Dreamers: A Novel
By Imbolo Mbue (Random House, 2016. 382 pages)

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"Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice."

Micro Review: Mbue balances plot movement with occasional contemplative reflection at just the right pace for my taste. It also ticked the box of characters I can sympathize with while simultaneously honoring their complexity and choices that are outside of my ability to imagine. I was also drawn to imagining the experience of the very wealthy and the very marginalized as the recession hit Wall Street. Mbue wrote characters who carry both good and horrible qualities - no pure villains, no pure heroes - and all worthy of attention and care. This is a good novel and I highly recommend. (I also loved that the author and I shared the same insight of young immigrant dreamers through the lens of a familiar Old Testament account.)

22. Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 2014. 292 pages)

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" 'Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.' So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another."

Micro Review: I wish I could remember who recommended all my summer novels to me, but I've got it narrowed down to either Byron at Hearts & Minds Booksellers or Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Either way, it was an excellent recommendation. The pace of plot and character reflection was a good fit for my taste, and I enjoyed the 1970s setting. I felt disheartened by repeated decisions the parents made to require their children to operate out of pre-determined roles they had set for them. I know well this temptation and it grieved me to watch it play out to such disastrous results. I was grateful for the small touches of redemption at the close of the story. Lord, help us all.

23. Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel

By Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 2017. 217 pages)

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"From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs. 

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster."

Micro Review: Another excellent story with characters that I cared about. This novel felt more mystery-driven than family-dynamic driven as Ng's previous novel. I enjoyed watching the story unfold and understanding the motivations for the crisis that plays out. There were a few plot twists that surprised me,  as well. A good read!

24. A Fatal Grace: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

By Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2011. 320 pages)

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"Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.
No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death. 

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Quebec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he's dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself."

Micro Review: Still loving this series (even though I inadvertently read out of order). Also: still wishing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation turns this into a televised series with a perfectly-casted Inspector Gamache.)

25. Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2008. 320 pages)

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"In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love. 

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse. 

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires."

Micro Review: Elizabeth Strout’s skill in writing characters and setting kept me reading even through plots emphasizing despair. I’m glad I kept reading because by the end of the episodic novel (sometimes feeling more like a series of short stories, but always including in some part the titular character), I grew to love Olive Kitteridge. As much as she broke my heart, I wanted her to continue embracing life. Throughout the whole book, I kept hearing Thoreau’s (ironically, written from another New England town), “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. The repeated themes of marriage, parenting, family systems, midlife, and community all circle the themes I’ve devoted my life to learning and supporting and I so much wanted to reach into these quietly desperate lives and say “Stop hiding! There’s help!” Signs of good writing even if I left the book kind of like I leave a sad dream.


Memoir

26. An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us
By James Carroll (Mariner Books, 1997. 304 pages)

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"An American Requiem is the story of one man's coming of age. But more than that, it is a coming to terms with the conflicts that disrupted many families, inflicting personal wounds that were also social, political, and religious. Carroll grew up in a Catholic family that seemed blessed. His father had abandoned his own dream of becoming a priest to rise through the ranks of Hoover's FBI and then become one of the most powerful men in the Pentagon, the founder of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Young Jim lived the privileged life of a general's son, dating the daughter of a vice president and meeting the pope, all in the shadow of nuclear war, waiting for the red telephone to ring in his parents' house. He worshiped his father until Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights movement, turmoil in the Catholic Church, and then Vietnam combined to outweigh the bond between father and son. These were issues on which they would never agree. Only after Carroll left the priesthood to become a writer and husband with children of his own did he come to understand fully the struggles his father had faced. In this work of nonfiction, the best-selling novelist draws on the skills he honed with nine much-admired novels to tell the story he was, literally, born to tell. An American Requiem is a benediction on his father's life, his family's struggles, and the legacies of an entire generation."

Micro Review: As much as I try to limit my intake of the memoir genre, when I read a good one I always come back to the truth that it's my favorite. I am captivated not only by a story well told but also by the work a good memoirist does to connect the dots between all the influencers in their context: generations of family members, religious and educational backgrounds, word events and socio-economic factors. I'm fascinated to watch not only the facts of one person's life play out by also by their work in interpreting meaning. James Carroll has a good and hard story. I kept reading sections out loud to Brian. Much of the story felt especially timely, in the light of daily reports of conflict and scandal in both the political and religious spheres. I appreciate the way Carroll made meaning, grieved loss, and sought reconciliation with his ideals and his reality. Two thumbs way up.

27. Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes
By Elizabeth Bard (Back Bay Books, 2016. 384 pages)

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"Ten years ago, New Yorker Elizabeth Bard followed a handsome Frenchman up a spiral staircase to a love nest in the heart of Paris. Now, with a baby on the way, Elizabeth takes another leap of faith with her husband when they move to Provence and open an artisanal ice cream shop. Filled with enticing recipes such as stuffed zucchini flowers, fig tart, and honey-and-thyme ice cream, PICNIC IN PROVENCE is the story of everything that happens after the happily ever after. With wit, humor, and a scoop of wild strawberry sorbet, Bard reminds us that life-in and out of the kitchen-is a rendezvous with the unexpected.

Micro Review: Easy, enjoyable read! As much I liked the author and her community, I really read this book for the vicarious pleasure of food descriptions. Sentences like the introduction to a recipe for Stuffed Tomatoes and Zucchini (ala, Légumes d’Été Farçis in Provence) for example” “This dish instantly transports me back to Jean’s garden - big, bright beefsteak tomatoes and croquet-ball-size round zucchini stuffed and baked to sagging perfection. Lovely for a casual dinner in the garden.” Reading this kind of book is my little voyeuristic vice to compensate for what I don’t actually attain in my own kitchen!

28. Travels with Charley: In Search of America
By John Steinbeck (Penguin Books, 1980. 288 pages)

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"An intimate journey across America, as told by one of its most beloved writers
 
To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light—these were John Steinbeck's goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.

With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and  the unexpected kindness of strangers."

Micro Review: A bit uneven with some chapters reading like a quintessential man-on-a-journey book and then a few places just a bit rambly and somewhat forced. Still, a sweet read and Charley is a dear.


History / Non-Fiction

29. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, 2010. 640 pages)

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"In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
 
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic."

Micro Review: WOW. The work Isabel Wilkerson has done for us to understand not only the epic scale of the unrecognized great immigration in our nation’s history but also the nuance represented in the stories of individual lives is worthy of our collective, national gratitude. This is a history we need to know and understand at every level of our social infrastructure so that we can both honor the good and jettison the evil in our history. Read this book.

30. Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth

By A. O. Scott (Penguin Books, 2017. 304 pages)

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"The New York Times film critic shows why we need criticism now more than ever

Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A.O. Scott shows in Better Living Through Criticism is that we are, in fact, all critics: because critical thinking informs almost every aspect of artistic creation, of civil action, of interpersonal life. With penetrating insight and warm humor, Scott shows that while individual critics--himself included--can make mistakes and find flaws where they shouldn't, criticism as a discipline is one of the noblest, most creative, and urgent activities of modern existence.

Using his own film criticism as a starting point--everything from his infamous dismissal of the international blockbuster The Avengersto his intense affection for Pixar's animated Ratatouille--Scott expands outward, easily guiding readers through the complexities of Rilke and Shelley, the origins of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, the power of Marina Abramovich and 'Ode on a Grecian Urn.' Drawing on the long tradition of criticism from Aristotle to Susan Sontag, Scott shows that real criticism was and always will be the breath of fresh air that allows true creativity to thrive. "The time for criticism is always now," Scott explains, "because the imperative to think clearly, to insist on the necessary balance of reason and passion, never goes away.""

Micro Review: I’ve seen mixed reviews for this book but for this autodidactic student of the arts, I’m indebted to the work of critics to train me in discernment. I really enjoyed this book.

A favorite quotation:

“The origin of criticism lies in an innocent, heartfelt kind of question, one that is far from simple and that carries enormous risk: Did you feel that? Was it good for you? Tell the truth.” 
― A.O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth


Poetry

31. The Last Shift: Poems

By Philip Levine (Knopf, 2016. 96 pages)

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“The final collection of new poems from one of our finest and most beloved poets. 

The poems in this wonderful collection touch all of the events and places that meant the most to Philip Levine. There are lyrical poems about his family and childhood, the magic of nighttime and the power of dreaming; tough poems about the heavy shift work at Detroit's auto plants, the Nazis, and bosses of all kinds; telling poems about his heroes--jazz players, artists, and working people of every description, even children. Other poems celebrate places and things he loved: the gifts of winter, dawn, a wall in Naples, an English hilltop, Andalusia. And he makes peace with Detroit: "Slow learner that I am, it took me one night/to discover that rain in New York City/is just like rain in Detroit. It gets you wet." It is a peace that comes to full fruition in a moving goodbye to his home town in the final poem in the collection, "The Last Shift."

Micro Review: I wish I could remember where I heard this poet mentioned. His name was new to me, so it’s a bit ironic that I’m starting with his last book of poems, published posthumously after his death in 2015, to explore his work. I might make this a habit. There’s something crystallized in a writer’s words when they know they are reaching the end. There’s an essentialism that makes me take notice and wonder about my own. With much of his life spent working in Detroit factories, Philip Levine is often described as the poet of the working man. This slim collection of poems made the perfect companion to my own recent reflection on the nature of calling in one’s work.

Here’s a few favorite stanzas from “Office Hours” (p. 16):

Midnight on Grand River, and the car barns

are quiet, the last truck left hours ago.

The watchman dreams through his rounds.

If you entered the office now you’d find

all the old upright Smith Coronas sheathed

in their gowns, the pencils tucked in drawers,

the fountain pens dreaming of the epics

they’ll never write, the paper clips

holding together reports on nothing at all.

32. Take, Eat, Remember, and Believe

By Brett Alan Dewing (Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017. 88 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

In this volume of poetry, Dewing explores liturgy, both common and cosmic, domestic and demonic. Words are actions. Nothing is spiritually neutral. How do we reconcile these truths in our lives?

Micro Review: Brett is a friend of mine and he is a fine poet and playwright. I’m a fan of Brett’s balance of liturgical themes, Scriptural phrases, and everyday references. This is a good collection. I recommend reading out loud for full enjoyment of cadence and language.

Here’s a favorite from the collection, “A Mary Heart”:

Your children are of vocal stock

One thing that they can do is talk

And fill their face with laughter lines

That overlap and intertwine

But I was born to stand apart

And ponder these within my heart

To wander in the yard and see

To dream, to get to know a tree

And so amid the word-filled air

You may not have known that I was there

But sight may be a thing we shared

And you indeed may not have cared

That I was somber, staid, and terse

And slow of tongue and filled with verse

You may have known something at least

About a heart that holds its peace

But in the end you had not choice

When sickness took away your voice

And I would sit beside your bed

And not regret the words not said

While all around were laughter peals

While words were whittled, wheels in wheels

But in that raucous holy place

A Martha practiced Mary grace

Within, your deep would call to deep

And you would blink and drift to sleep

And I would note the cherished depth

Of holy secrets that you kept.


Apostles Reads Selections

33. Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good

By Amy L. Sherman (IVP Books, 2011. 271 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Imagine the scenarios:

  • a CEO successfully negotiates a corporate merger, avoiding hundreds of layoffs in the process

  • an artist completes a mosaic for public display at a bank, showcasing neighborhood heroes

  • a contractor creates a work-release program in cooperation with a local prison, growing the business and seeing countless former inmates turn their lives around

  • a high-school principal graduates 20 percent more students than the previous year, and the school's average scores go up by a similar percentage

Now imagine a parade in the streets for each event. That's the vision of Proverbs 11:10, in which the tsaddiqim--the people who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for his purposes--pursue their vocation with an eye to the greater good. Amy Sherman, director of the Center on Faith in Communities and scholar of vocational stewardship, uses the tsaddiqim as a springboard to explore how, through our faith-formed calling, we announce the kingdom of God to our everyday world. But cultural trends toward privatism and materialism threaten to dis-integrate our faith and our work. And the church, in ways large and small, has itself capitulated to those trends, while simultaneously elevating the "special calling" of professional ministry and neglecting the vocational formation of laypeople. In the process, we have, in ways large and small, subverted our kingdom mandate. God is on the move, and he calls each of us, from our various halls of power and privilege, to follow him. Here is your chance, keeping this kingdom calling in view, to steward your faith and work toward righteousness. In so doing, you will bless the world, and as you flourish, the world will celebrate."

Micro Review: We read this in our church’s reading group for the liturgical season of Pentecost. During Pentecost, we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit to equip each one of us to live out the gospel. One key way we get to do this is through our work, and this book helps us explore the intersection of faith and work. It’s a theologically-sound treatise on the goodness of work with inspiring examples of the ways Christians are working for the common good of their communities and workplaces. One glaring omission (as is the case for so much that’s written on the subject of faith and work) is the kingdom work in “blue collar” jobs. We need to continue more robust research and conversation on all forms of labor!

If for nothing else, read this book for the preview passages in which the author skillfully and eloquently integrates her research and premise with Tim Keller’s teaching that the “righteous” (Hebrew tsaddiqim) is the just, the people who follow God’s heart and ways and who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for his purposes. Sherman beautifully calls us to the Scriptural vision of a “rejoiced city” where the two, closely related features of the consummated kingdom: justice and shalom. I love that I am called to work in this kingdom!


Prayer / Spirituality / Spiritual Direction / Bible Study

34. The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence

By Henri Nouwen (Ballantine Books, 2003. 112 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Since it was first published more than twenty years ago, The Way of the Heart has helped millions of men and women cast off the anger and greed that trouble the world–and find love, compassion, and peace in the heart of God.

Inspired by the ancient teachings of St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers, The Way of the Heart clears before us a spiritual path consisting of three stepping-stones: Solitude (learning not to be alone but to be alone with God); Silence (the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive); and Prayer (standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart).

Distinguished theologian Henri Nouwen brilliantly illuminates each of these disciplines. In reflections that are beautifully clear and practical, as uplifting on the fourth reading as on the first, he helps us separate the wheat from the chaff in our spiritual lives–and reconnects us with what truly matters.

Within this one small book lies the most relevant and inspiring challenge that we shall ever face: to surrender the compulsive noise of the world for the way of the heart that leads us to God." 

Here's a favorite quotation:

"In the context of our verbose culture it is significant to hear the Desert Fathers discouraging us from using too many words: 'Abba Macarius was asked 'How should one pray?' The old man said, 'There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one's hand and say, 'Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.' And if the conflict grows fiercer say: 'Lord, help.' He knows very well what we need and shows us his mercy." (p. 80)

35. Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings

By Janet K. Ruffing, R.S.M. (Paulist Press, 2000. 183 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Explores issues that arise in the advanced stages of spiritual direction from both a practical and theoretical perspective.”

Micro Review: I’m behind in reading for my certification work. I found this book uneven in its helpfulness to me, but the parts that were helpful were excellent and uniquely helpful to me particularly on the subject of making space for people’s experiences of God that differ from my own.

 Here's a favorite quotation:

"I find it is helpful (in my personal prayer and as a suggestion for directees) to pray for the desire to forgive or to pray for the desire to let go of the anger. The basic principle is emotional congruence. We uncover and express our honest desires. If we can want to release anger, for instance, we have become open to a possibility in grace that is not yet ours. Eventually, we can choose to release the anger. wE can only pray from our actual feelings, coming to prayer from that honest fundamental desire which leaves us open to an unpredictable outcome. Praying with this kind of emotional congruency gives great freedom. We can pray out of our anger, our weariness, our discouragement, our fear, our loss, our joy, and so on. We express those feelings to their conclusion or until we’re tired of them. When we’re finished, we wait for a response. Gradually, we discover changes in us." (p. 20)

36. The Stories We Live: Finding God’s Calling All around Us

By Kathleen A. Cahalan (Eerdman’s, 2017. 150 pages)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"‘Christian vocation,’ says Kathleen Cahalan, ‘is about connecting our stories with God's story.’ In The Stories We Live Cahalan rejuvenates and transforms vocation from a static concept to a living, dynamic reality.

Incorporating biblical texts, her own experience, and the personal stories of others, Cahalan discusses how each of us is called byGod, to follow, as we are, from grief, for service, in suffering, through others, within God. Readers of this book will discover an exciting new vocabulary of vocation and find a fresh vision for God's calling in their lives.”

Micro Review: A slim but substantive read on the subject of what it means to know our calling in life. The author used individual stories skillfully to illustrate the wide scope this subject requires. I highly recommend.

Here's a favorite quotation:

"The work that you do is inherently good when it aligns with God’s purposes, when your work is a service given for the common good. You may experience a deep resonance between who you are and what you are able to do. Your competence and excellence in your work is a sign of God’s work in you." (p. 73)


Previews

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37. When Spring Comes to the DMZ

By Uk-Bae Lee (Plough Publishing House, 2019. 40 pages)

Coming March 2019

"Korea’s demilitarized zone has become an amazing accidental nature preserve that gives hope for a brighter future for a divided land.

This unique picture book invites young readers into the natural beauty of the DMZ, where salmon, spotted seals, and mountain goats freely follow the seasons and raise their families in this 2.5-mile-wide, 150-mile-long corridor where no human may tread. But the vivid seasonal flora and fauna are framed by ever-present rusty razor wire, warning signs, and locked gates—and regularly interrupted by military exercises that continue decades after a 1953 ceasefire in the Korean War established the DMZ.

Creator Uk-Bae Lee’s lively paintings juxtapose these realities, planting in children the dream of a peaceful world without war and barriers, where separated families meet again and live together happily in harmony with their environment. Lee shows the DMZ through the eyes of a grandfather who returns each year to look out over his beloved former lands, waiting for the day when he can return. In a surprise foldout panorama at the end of the book the grandfather, tired of waiting, dreams of taking his grandson by the hand, flinging back the locked gates, and walking again on the land he loves to find his long-lost friends.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ helps introduce children to the unfinished history of the Korean Peninsula playing out on the nightly news, and may well spark discussions about other walls, from Texas to Gaza.”

Micro Review: My parents and siblings lived and worked in Seoul for several years. I was not able to visit but through their experience have become more aware of the fractured Korean Peninsula. My sister-in-law’s own family has lived in that split, and the memory of it is a painful part of her family’s history. This book, When Spring Comes to the DMZ, is a simple but stunning opportunity to notice the way grace and beauty insist on interjecting even the most pervasive schisms of our world. I recommend this beautifully-told story to all ages.

 


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2017 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

Linking up with another good reading resource: Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

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p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

Weekend Daybook: the catching-up edition

From a little road trip through The Berkshires with my husband this week.

From a little road trip through The Berkshires with my husband this week.

What I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.


(1) new blog series for Ordinary Time - Work Stories

Did you read the post about the new blog series I’ll be posting between now and Advent? I’m excited to get this place up and running again this fall and can’t think of a better way than to invite a whole bunch of friends to tell stories. I hope you’ll chime in with a few of your own!



(2) updates from musician friends

  • Our friend Jason Harrod started a Patreon page and we recommend! (If you’re not familiar with Jason’s music, listen to some tunes at his website.)

  • Our friend Krista’s track, Little Stars, a tribute album (back in April, but, as you know, I’ve been off schedule this year!)


(3) somewhat-random, but extremely interesting links


(4) podcast episodes I enjoyed in the past several months

p.s., Have you heard a new season of Serial is on its way?!?


(5) good musical moments from two very different funeral liturgies

Senator John McCain’s funeral at the National Cathedral:

Aretha Franklin’s funeral at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit:

  • Amazing Grace sung by Jennifer Hudson (maybe the most amazing performance I’ve ever heard of this beloved hymn.)

  • The Lord’s Prayer played on the harmonica by Stevie Wonder (and it’s gorgeous).

(Thanks to Dr, Paul Neeley at Global Christian Worship for the heads up on the last two links.)


(6) blog posts from the archives on the ache of vocational uncertainty

In relation to the new blog series on the subject of vocations, calling, and work:

2015 - Father, forgive them (A guest post by Brian during Holy Week.)

2009 - Heavy Man Stuck (Inspired by an artistic illustration.)

2009 - We are expecting! (Not what it sounds like…)

2008 - How I’m feeling these days (A post in graphic form.)

2008 - Confession (Trying to blame it all on my mother.)

2008 - Anguish (Inspired by a poem this time.)


(7) books on my nightstand in September

I’d love to hear what you’re reading (or hoping to read) this month!


(1) photo from the archives

Wrightsville Beach 2007.jpeg

9 years ago

On Wrightsville Beach, NC with friends, summer of 2009.

Praying for the Carolinas this weekend. Lord, be near!


May your weekend include some good music, friends, reading, and rest. Peace...

p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!