Book Review: One Bible, Many Versions
Author: Dave Brunn
Publisher: Inter-Varsity Press ISBN: 9780830827152
Bible translations and various English translated versions fascinate me. Although I am not a translator myself, every aspect of the process interests me, such that I have been studying and reviewing Bible translations for over twenty-five years. Consequently, I am drawn to scholarly works such as Dave Brunn’s One Bible, Many Translations. This is especially true considering that Dave has been personally involved in the work of Bible translation for many years, which I believe uniquely qualifies him to write on the subject.
I really enjoyed this explanation and exploration into the translation process. Rather than deal with technical specifics underlying the translation process, Brunn chooses to use real world examples and real experience to walk the reader through the stages of Bible translation. Each chapter focuses on specific challenges encountered in the process of translation. The earlier chapters and portion of the book address some of the more technical aspects such as form of the message and meaning of the message, translation ideals and practices, and formal (word for word/literal) versus dynamic (thought for thought) equivalence in the translation process. Later chapters deal with some of the challenges such as the doctrine of inspiration and translation as well as other more nuanced issues such as cross-cultural translation. As I mentioned in my opening comments, it is truly fascinating stuff.
The work includes copious charts, tables, diagrams, and other assorted illustrations. While these seemed to get a little tedious for me, I admit that I found myself going back to them multiple occasions to get a better understanding of the idea(s) they represented. In the end, I am thankful that Brunn included the great many examples that he did to illustrate his various points. The book is also well annotated with footnotes and resource credits and it also includes a very useful subject index.
I think academic works of this nature fill a narrow niche, but narrow niche or not, I think the material and the experience shared in this book will be helpful for anyone who is serious about their study and understanding of the Bible. I appreciate the work shared in this book by David Brunn and I am thankful to add it as one of my more valuable resources for understanding Bible translations.
Book Review: The Great Divorce
Author: C. S. Lewis
Publisher: Harper One ISBN: 9780060652921
Every single time I read C. S. Lewis, I am captured by his timeless brilliance. I often wonder what it would have been like to have casual conversation with him. I really enjoy his wit and use of irony in his writing; I think they especially show through in works like The Screwtape Letters and this allegorical piece, The Great Divorce.
I thought the preface was a fitting introduction to the story, but even more, it was thought-provoking material for meditation in itself.
“You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those two into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a river, but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.”— C.S. Lewis; from the preface of the Great Divorce
This story is full of profound imagery, invoking thought with every depiction, every twist, and every turn. Lewis states that his tale is not meant to be a theological treatise, he writes in his preface; “I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy.” Still, there is much to ponder with regard to the Christian journey, fantasy or not.
The basics of the story follow a busload of people journeying from hell or purgatory to the foothills of heaven. The cast of characters is vast and portrays a broad-spectrum of human failings, selfishness, self-righteousness, and much more.
The plotline centers upon the opportunity that each of the persons from the bus has to release themselves from what keeps them in bondage to hell. Each person is confronted with their brokenness or their false identity and given the chance to surrender it for entry to heaven. Each of these encounters can serve as an adventure into our own self-examination. The details surrounding each of these encounters is the brilliance of Lewis; that is all I will say, so no more of the story is spoiled on my account.
I believe this, as most of Lewis’ works, should be on every Christian’s “must read” list. I think it is a great book for personal reading, but could be well served and enjoyed even more when read and discussed within a group.
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away… But if I go, I will send him [Holy Spirit] to you.” Jesus (John 16:7, 32-33)
I don’t like writing about the Dark Night. First of all, I feel very uncomfortable equating my experiences with those who have experienced a true absence of God’s presence and extended season of desolation, especially when it is accompanied by persecution, oppression, and other tragic or “dark” encounters during the course of their Christian journey. I often feel like a novice as I read the journals and memoirs of those great saints who have traveled the road of faith before me. I do not feel qualified to talk at length about some of my experiences and when I do, I feel as though they sometimes seem trivial and fall short of a reputable example for the subject that I might be speaking about.
On the other hand, I process my thoughts better when I write and talk about them. It puts me in a vulnerable spot, but I suppose that is the risk and trade-off for trying to figure out my spiritual journey. The end result is that I might not know what I’m talking about at all, but I’m willing to take the chance for the hopeful promise that I might make a step or two forward in my understanding of who God is, who I am, and who we are together. Sometimes the risk is in proportion to the reward, so I write…and I talk…and I think, out loud.
The past few years I have met seasons of loneliness, times when God felt distant, feelings of being misunderstood, times of discontent, days of melancholy, stretches of spiritual grief, attitudes of apathy, and bouts with depression. There are probably a few other “attitudes” I have encountered, but these are some I have most commonly identified. These times are always troublesome for me. I think it goes without saying that one reason would be the overall discomfort they bring. Another reason is the doubt that invariably comes as part of the package. I do not like to feel bad…ever, and I certainly do not like feeling bad within the context of my own spirituality. Moreover, I have an especially strong distaste for these things when they are accompanied with self-doubt.
What goes on during these seasons of the soul? What is it that makes us feel so lonely and lost? Why is it, try as we might, that we cannot seem to go back to a “healthier” time in our walk with Jesus? I do not think I can speak definitively to all these questions, at least in a way that is sufficient to answer the questions for every person who may ask them, but I feel confident in sharing my own experiences and some of what I’ve learned through the process.
Studying and learning from the great spiritual masters has benefited me greatly; in particular to this writing, the journals from St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila have been most helpful. Also, there have been several contemporary sources that have helped my understanding as well: Dr. Gerald May, Dr. Bruce Demarest, Dr. David Benner, and a few others. So, what is it that I have learned or perhaps better asked, what is that I am learning?
God loves me. I love God. These are two guiding principles for my existence. These principles are challenged by issues in remediation. God wants my love to be perfected and is active in leading me in the ways of perfection. I am damaged goods on the path of restoration. While there are a number of issues that challenge me in my Christian journey, there are a few that manifest themselves as “root” causes for most of those challenges. I believe I could narrow them down to pride, independence, and idolatry.
Pride is a serious challenge. I believe the fact that on any particular day I can wake up and feel as though it has been conquered serves me as evidence that it has not… been conquered at all. Pride is a most subversive agent; it often hides in plain sight. It was pride that served as the seed of humankind’s fall; its root runs deep and its fruit is plenty.
Independence is another great challenge. Not only are we hampered by pride in overcoming independence, but we also face the challenge of the great American culture that teaches individualism and independence as virtues for which everyone is to aspire. Independence is antithetical to the very nature of our communing Triune God who is a community Himself. It was God, who when creating humanity, said that it was not good for man to be alone.
Idolatry might be the greatest challenge of them all. I recall a quote by John Calvin, who said; “The human heart is a factory of idols…Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” I am unsure if idolatry gives birth to pride and independence or if it is the other way around. These issues are so closely interrelated it is difficult to determine where the beginning point is.
How do these character challenges affect the “Dark Night” or a sense of God’s absence? What do they have to do with God’s apparent silence?
I believe the Bible teaches us that God desires each of his children (me and you and every other created soul) to be wholly complete, as He first imagined us. This, I believe, is part of the order in God’s plan of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Therefore, God has enacted a means of being reconciled to Him through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, but that redemptive act is just the threshold—a wonderful and mysterious threshold, but a starting point nonetheless.
As we journey with God on the way of restoration and wholeness, being transformed in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, we encounter the challenges and their myriad manifestations I mentioned earlier. I could write and talk at length about so many of these challenges, but I would like to address the connection of “Dark Night” and absence/silence of God with wholeness and restoration.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
I don’t like the idea that I am an idol factory or idolater. However, if I am honest and objective, I am an idol maker…and will likely be until Christ’s return or my life ends on this side of eternity. Perhaps a bit of clarification is in order. While God allows us to know Him, our knowledge is imperfect, although as we seek God with pure hearts in spirit and in truth, He reveals more and more of himself to us. Still, this revelation and knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. This imperfect and incomplete knowledge of God introduces a problem to us; many of us are not satisfied with incomplete pictures/images. The remedy for this problem of incomplete image is to complete it and I believe this is what many people try to do…complete the image of incomplete knowledge. This is a form of idolatry.
No matter how pure my intent and no matter how mature my spirituality is, I form an image of God in my mind and heart based on what I know of Him. I do not necessarily believe this is blatantly wicked, nor do I believe that in itself is separating from God, but it can and does create strain on our relationship with Him which has potential to lead us away from Him.
How it Works…
As I avail myself to God’s Self revealing through His Word, prayer, interacting with other believers, indwelling guidance from Holy Spirit, and many other means of revelation, I am able to form an understanding of who God is…I form an image of God. Now, some of this image may be true, but being incomplete, the best I can do is to create a “wire-frame” image of God. There are elements missing, dots remain unconnected. I have two choices at this juncture; I can continue my journey with a limited and incomplete God based upon my partial image of Him or I can complete the construction of my wire-frame with my own embellishments. Both of these options are not always done intentionally, but the process of completion often takes place nonetheless even despite our best efforts to prevent it. The end result is a god of our making whom we will often project on to others through teaching, witness, or other lifestyle actions.
God’s best is for us to know Him in Spirit and in Truth. The evidence of Scripture and the reality of the Incarnation teach us that God wants human beings to know Him. I think it stands to reason that God desires our knowledge should be true and not manufactured by us, so as we journey with Him along the way of restoration, He leads us into places of wilderness, Gethsemane gardens, and hills of Golgotha. Each of these places are defining moments for us and can be places of barrenness, loneliness, anxiety, doubt, fear, the sense of God’s absence, and places of extreme silence. It is in these places where the student is tested… the Potter beats, moulds, and shapes… the Metal smith fires, forges, hammers, and sharpens… It is in this place where false images are erased and idols are crushed.
It is important to know this defining place is not a place of punishment, but a process of refinement. It is my experience too that it is not a “one and done” visit. It seems with each visit and increasing awareness of God’s character, there is an eventual follow-up encounter for pride smashing and idol crushing. I think the process will continue until… I also believe this is a natural spiritual order.
What has been my greatest understanding as I’ve encountered these seasons of absence and breaking? Probably among the most important things I’ve come to realize is that God loves me so much that He will not leave me with a false image of Himself as long as my heart is pursuing Him. True knowledge of God is conditional; we have to be pursuing Him with humble heart and pure intent. Otherwise, even what we think we know of Him will be taken away and will lead us to our own destruction (Luke 8:18 NLT).
“God who is everywhere never leaves us…Yet he may be more present to us when he is absent than when he is present.” -Thomas Merton
I am also learning that God never, ever, truly departs or is absent from us—what leaves or betrays us is not God, but our [false] images, concepts, and sensations of God. It is here in God’s “silence” or “absence” where He can usually be found speaking His loudest. Here is the time where it behooves us to exercise our best listening skills, here in the quiet of God. In the times where we feel that God is absent, it is the time and place where we often find even greater intimacy with Him. Do not despair in the moments of desolation and loneliness…for it is here that God’s presence is even more manifest.
Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
In the ancient Palestinian wilderness, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Golgotha’s Hill—God spoke with non-words and was present in His absence. As paradoxical as it may seem, I believe there are times when God is even more present in His absence than He is present in His presence.
God is specially present in the hearts of his people by his Holy Spirit. Indeed the hearts of holy men are truly his temples. In type and foreshadow, they are heaven itself. For God reigns in the hearts of his servants. There is his kingdom.” -Jeremy Taylor
Book Review: Breath of Life
Author: Rabbi Rachel Timoner
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557257048
This is the third book I’ve read of the six that have been published by Paraclete Press in a series on the subject of the Holy Spirit in various faith traditions (see here and here for reviews on other titles I have read). I have intentions of reading and reviewing all of them eventually, but at this juncture, I can report that I am greatly impressed with the series thus far. Each of the three titles I have read are very scholarly, but not difficult to read and respectfully objective with regard to viewpoints outside the particular tradition they are written.
As the subtitle reads, Breath of Life is written from the Jewish perspective. My history and tradition is of the Christian persuasion, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began Breath of Life. What I did find, was not only refreshing, but in many ways revolutionary, even to the point that some of my theology concerning the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) has been changed. Perhaps it might be better stated instead of revolutionary, I rephrase my new awareness as evolutionary.
Why the change?
What was it that brought me new awareness that would change my thinking about the Holy Spirit? I think a general understanding of what is meant by “spirit” from the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) was very influential. Rabbi Timoner shares much in the introduction that helps to shed light on some of the translation issues we encounter; this was enlightening to me. Another influential point was the Rabbi’s writing in Part One – Creation: Breath of Life; specifically the chapters two through four were very poetic and extremely moving to me. My intellect, my emotion, and my spirit were all equally moved as I read and learned things I had not considered before about the movement and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Chapter Two, Spirit In Us, was a very moving essay uniting the creation of humankind with the Spirit of God. I think there was nothing revelatory here for me, but the way that Timoner expressed this “union with God” was especially moving for me and helped establish a foundation from which to build upon for the rest of the book.
“God creates our spirit within us, a spirit that sustains us with vigor and that can turn us toward God in steadfastness. When we pay attention to our spirit within us, we find ourselves yearning to be in God’s presence.” -Rabbi Rachel Timoner; Breath of Life (p. 37)
As I continued to enter into deeper trust with this writing, I realized that I was paying attention to the spirit within me…as I was attentive to this spirit, I noticed God the Spirit speaking wisdom to me through Rabbi Rachel’s words. I was enchanted by the aspects of community and relationship that she highlighted again and again as one of the trademarks of the movement of God’s Spirit.
“Jewish tradition claims that God is speaking to us all the time. According to Midrash, the moment at Sinai has never ended. God’s voice continues to echo through the world, and it is up to us to listen for how we should live.” -Rabbi Rachel Timoner; Breath of Life (p. 65)
Chapter Seven, Finding Purpose through the Spirit, was another very meaningful chapter to me. I think I would summarize it to say that Timoner teaches that we are all imbued with God’s Spirit. How we respond and interact with God’s Spirit determines the destiny we will live into. She closes the chapter with these words; “Our task is to use the measure of ruach we’ve been given to reach for understanding, to look for miracle, to listen for God, to discern beneath the surface of life our portion of God’s purpose. Some people have been given an extra measure of ruach, enabling them to do extraordinary things. All of us have been given enough to be able to understand God’s revelation—to align ourselves with God’s greater purpose, making ourselves instruments to do good.” (p. 93)
This is not a very long book, but it is one that has taken me a long time to read. I have wanted to savor it, not rushing through it, so I could start my next project. I’m glad that I have taken my time; being deliberate and allowing plenty of time for reflection has been rewarded (in my opinion) with a more robust and enriched understanding of how God’s Holy Spirit works in and among humankind. This is certainly a book that I highly recommend for those who are looking to deepen their relationship with God. In fact, I recommend the entire Holy Spirit series from Paraclete Press.
Book Review: Pilgrim Road
Author: Albert Holtz, O.S.B.
Publisher: Morehouse Publishing ISBN: 9780819222510
This was not the typical devotional piece that I am accustomed to; actually, it was for this reason that I purchased it. I think I would best describe Pilgrim Road as the sum of many parts: personal journal, Christian devotional, monastic rule, spiritual discipline, liturgical calendar, and artistic creation. In some ways it almost bordered sensory overload for me, and in other ways it was a very refreshing change of pace.
There is a lot of “movement” in Pilgrim Road…much is happening. Maybe it is my personality type, but I felt as though I really needed to pay attention to keep the “dots connected” through the journey. This is not to say the book was difficult to follow, it was not; I simply did not want to miss anything and there seemed a lot was going on. I should explain what I mean with a little more detail about the premise of the book.
The author, Albert Holtz, is a Benedictine monk and structures this book, Pilgrim Road, around four different journeys. The first journey is Christian Pilgrimage, the second is the Lenten Journey/Experience, the third is the Inward or Spiritual Journey, and the fourth is a Sabbatical Holiday/Trip. Brother Albert describes the convergence of these journeys in the following words:
This book weaves the threads of four journeys into a single spiritual travelogue: Lent’s journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter serves as the spiritual framework, my sabbatical trip provides a geographical locale for each meditation, the medieval pilgrimage provides the unifying theme, and the journey into my inner self with Christ gives the whole enterprise its ultimate meaning. (From the introduction—p.vii)
I should point out that I counted another thread in this tapestry of journeys as Brother Albert weaves in an element of the Rule of Benedict with each meditation. He might be counting as part of his inner Christian journey (he is after all a Benedictine monk), but seems valid to me that is a thread its own—part of the overall tapestry, but a thread its own nonetheless. Credit is due as Brother Albert does a remarkable job of keeping the weave tight in this tapestry of journeys and stories. The unity of the storyline remains almost seamless as he stitches location to location, reflection to insight, and insight to theme; the integrity of continuity remains throughout.
The structure of the daily devotional writings is well done. Each day’s writing is approximately four pages long. The day begins with a new location; for instance Arles, France, Assisi, Italy or another site along the way of the Brother’s pilgrimage. A brief narrative sharing the day’s observation from that locale is followed by a spiritual reflection connecting the day’s events with the inner journey. The reflection is completed with a Scripture reading and an excerpt from the Rule of Benedict.
My overall impression is lacking a bit and this is my fault. My reading list was somewhat heavy during this Lenten season and was the cause of distraction while reading the Pilgrim Road. I intend to go back and read it again with less distraction. I think it deserves more attention from me. This was a different style of devotional reading than I am used to, but I found great enjoyment in it. I think after another more intentional reading, I will have an even deeper appreciation and respect for the artistry of Brother Albert as he shares his journey and his wisdom.
Book Review: Show Me the Way
Author: Henri Nouwen
Publisher: Crossroad Publishing Co. ISBN: 9780824513535
Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings
Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite spiritual writers; I have no less than nine of his works in my personal library, so I was looking forward to spending time with this collection of writings during Lent. I was not disappointed as my expectations were met in abundance.
The book is arranged for daily readings beginning on Ash Wednesday and running through Easter Sunday. The days are arranged in themed weeks; for instance, Week One is titled Only in God and features the topics of hospitality, prayer, forgiveness, and love as the subjects of the meditation. The following weeks have similar themes leading up to Passion Week, Holy Week, and Easter Day.
I particularly enjoyed the structure of this devotional guide. Each day’s reading begins with a Scripture verse followed with a thoughtfully probing devotional from Henri Nouwen and concludes with a prayer. I do not recall any day that exceeded four pages in length, so I feel confident in saying the time commitment for these readings is minimal. This is not to say more time cannot be devoted to them, but for those persons whose schedules are busy, this might be a worthy consideration.
Perhaps another reader might see something different, but I noticed a recurring theme or maybe it was THE theme for the devotional. I think that that theme was attentiveness to God. One particular day seemed to capture this idea very well for me. (Other samples can be found here)
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Through the practice of a spiritual discipline we become attentive to that small voice and willing to respond when we hear it.
Jesus’ life was a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to his voice, always alert for his directions. Jesus was “all ear.” That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.
A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of god to pray in us. (pp. 94-95)
I make no apologies for my bias and favor toward Henri Nouwen, but bias and favor aside, this was one of my favorite devotional books for this season. If you have never experienced the gentle and pastoral writing of Henri Nouwen, I recommend this book for a first experience. I don’t think it necessary to wait for Lent to pick it up for reading. I know that I will be returning to it again regardless of the season, I was and will be inspired by it over and over again… of this, I am sure.
Book Review: Lent and Easter with the Holy Fathers
Compiled by: Peter Celano
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557256928
As much as I wanted to enjoy Lent and Easter with the Holy Fathers, it just did not stand up to the other devotional resources I had collected for this Lenten season. I feel disappointed making this admission as I had higher expectations for this book when I ordered it, but it was not what I expected. In fairness, there were very good excerpts included in this collection of writings, but the consistency of quality was lacking in my [subjective] opinion.
About the Book
The Holy Fathers in this compendium are popes from the past to the present. Some of the writings are from St. Peter, Pope St. Leo the Great, Pope St. Gregory I, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and several others. Again, with such a list of revered papal voices, my expectations were high. The title of this devotional, Lent and Easter with the Holy Fathers, led me to believe that the devotional writings would carry me through the entire season. There are writings arranged for every point of the Lenten calendar beginning with Shrove Tuesday even, but the actual weeks of Lent only include 5-6 short writings. Holy Week provided reflective excerpts that helped spur good meditations throughout the week beginning with Palm Sunday, but with such a deep and rich supply of writing to draw from I just expected more.
The book is just over 100 pages long and is sectioned into six chapters grouped by the points of the season: Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent: Forty Days of Preparation, Holy Week, Easter, and Eastertide.
I do not want to be misunderstood; there are some great meditations in this small devotional and several were very inspiring for me. If this collection were the only devotional book I had in my possession, my impressions may have been different; however, with the luxury of abundance in resources I had, I can definitively say there are better options available.
Book Review: Bread and Wine
Author: Collected Writings
Publisher: Orbis Books ISBN: 9781570755729
I have been fortunate this Lenten season to have a very deep and very broad selection of writings and devotional materials to inspire my meditations. Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter has been one of the very rich pools that I have been dipping into.
There are several things that I like about this collection of readings. First, out of all the devotional reading I have been involved with this season, Bread and Wine is by far the most intellectually stimulating. The second thing that has been very enjoyable to me is the great diversity of authors included in this collection. The diversity is not limited in any way; there are both men and women writers spanning the entire two millennia of the Church and from every tradition of the Christian faith, truly a spiritual cornucopia of devotional writing. Despite these things being a couple of my favorite features of this book, these points also produced the most uncomfortable tension for me.
Some of the writings really pushed my thinking. The level of writing and degree of intelligence of the original author was at the very limit of my ability to comprehend. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but there were days that I left the reading more exasperated and frustrated than inspired. I realize this point is entirely subjective and the experience of other people might be completely different with these same writings to which I refer, but I think it is a point worth mentioning nonetheless. Also worth mentioning is the other side of the diversity point. Some of the ideas presented in these writings are very different from what I have been exposed to; consequently, my thinking and my theology has been challenged. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but there were many days that my doctrinal precepts were drawn into wrestling matches. I believe the point here is that Bread and Wine is not for the passive reader, it is a challenging and engaging read no matter your background and no matter intellectual level.
The format of the book is thematic, following the Lenten movement from Ash Wednesday and into Eastertide. There are approximately two weeks’ worth of writing for each of the movements which follow: Section One – Invitation, Section Two – Temptation, Section Three – Passion, Section Four – Crucifixion, Section Five – Resurrection, and Section Six – New Life.
Bread and Wine also includes a very detailed list of sources and a very brief biographical index of authors found at the end of the book. Personally, I find this an important inclusion and very helpful to me should I desire to dig deeper with my own studies.
Publishers Weekly writes about Bread and Wine saying, “Hardhitting and beautifully written [featuring] Christendom’s most celebrated masters.” I absolutely agree with this assessment. While I might not consider this my favorite reading for this season, I’m sure it will grow on me as one that will become one of my favorites and will likely become a resource I go to repeatedly for inspiration and challenge. There is much to like about this collection of writings, but as I have mentioned, it is not for the faint of heart. Prepare to be challenged and prepare to grow spiritually; that is… if you engage the challenge.
Book Review: Small Surrenders
Author: Emilie Griffin
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557256423
I have involved myself with several devotional materials during this season of Lent and ranking at the top of my list as “most enjoyed” is this work by Emilie Griffin, Small Surrenders. I have enjoyed many writings and books by Emilie over the years and was equally inspired by this Lenten devotional piece. Griffin sets the tone for the overall reflection of this devotion in the first paragraph of the introduction page; she writes:
Lent is a time when we deepen our faith in a journey not of grand gestures but of small surrenders. (p.vii)
The journey begins, as one might expect, with a reflection on Ash Wednesday and continues through Easter Sunday. Griffin interacts with the writings of spiritual masters, both ancient and contemporary, as well as all points in between to help illuminate her reflections. The content is deep, but the material and presentation thereof is not too difficult to grasp regardless of who the reader might be.
The format is straightforward, simply following the successive weeks of Lent. Each writing is a brief 3-5 pages in length and takes almost no time to read. The substance of the writing, on the other hand, can be something that is meditated on throughout the day…or longer. I found my heart and my intellect stirred repeatedly as I navigated my Lent with Emilie Griffin’s Small Surrenders.
It is hard for me to point to a “favorite” section of the book; as I said, I have enjoyed it from start to finish, but I did mark several pages with quotes that follow:
On Silence and Solitude: “Christians believe the voice of God permeates the universe and can be heard if only we slow down and tune into the place where silence reigns. (p.49)
On Willingness to Surrender: “God leads us in the way of salvation if we are willing to listen for the instructions God gives.” (p.63)
On Attentiveness to God: “One of the principal disciplines of the spiritual life is attentiveness: being alert to the simple, often subtle ways that God’s grace enters our lives. Often, we have to set aside our anxious preoccupations in order to see that our days are filled with mercies.” (p.79)
On Reconciliation: “The reconciliation we look for in Lent is not only with God but with others. The Gospel says clearly that, if we want t relationship with God, we should make peace with each other.” (p.140)
As I have pointed out, I am a fan of Emilie Griffin and have several of her books in my personal library. There is a reason for this; she writes with a gentle and tender spirit, drawing from a deep well of spiritual wisdom. Her words are seasoned with humility and genuine concern for others—this attitude shines forth in everything I have read.
Personally, if I have any recommendation about reading this beautiful little devotional book, it would be not to wait until Lent. It is worth reading anytime…again and again. I know I will be dipping into its goodness again.
Lectio Divina: Luke 19:28-44
“…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:44 NRsV)
These tragic words fall at the end of the narrative in Luke’s Gospel describing the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Triumphal Entry, sometimes I wonder if that really is the best description of what takes place in this account, but I’ll save that thought for another time.
These are horrific words coming from the mouth of Jesus. The strange, if not ironic thing about this indictment, is that the people were recognizing something about Jesus, but they failed to recognize THE THING about Jesus. It is apparent in their accolades, greeting, and cheers, they wanted a savior, but they were not interested in a visitation from their God.
As I read this account, the tragedy here was not so much the “wrong want” as much as the big miss. I think it was natural—is natural—to wish to be freed from oppression and injustice. Desire for a leader to push back the Roman was an acceptable want. The heartbreaking reality is in the course of intently searching for a fix for their desires they missed the greatest blessing of all: God was in their midst.
The focus of their search was no longer vertical, with eyes looking to and for God, but horizontal…toward an immediate and felt relief of their most obvious aches and pains. I think, had they been looking for and attentive to God, they may have realized their deeper needs over their felt needs and had both met…instead of having neither met.
Herein lies a broader lesson for me. The people onsite for Jesus’ triumphal entry had no realization of their true identity. They thought they were the people of God; yet, on another occasion Jesus had told most of them they were deceived even calling them sons of the devil (John 8:39-47). They did not know who they were, so they did not know what they needed…consequently, they were not looking for the right remedy for their true need—
And they did not recognize the time of their visitation from God.
I wonder how many times a day this happens to me. God is omnipotent, imminent, and transcendent. His Spirit is everywhere and sustains all things—even in me and sustains me as it did those ancient Jews present on the day of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. How often do I not recognize my own personal visitations from God? Am I present to His grace and nearness, His voice of guidance and comfort, throughout my day? Too often, I might be found looking for an immediate fix for my most present desires; I’m probably looking for the wrong need in the wrong place. The truth is that I rarely understand any of my real needs without first opening myself to God and consequently I do not recognize the time of my visitation of God.
O Gracious and Eternally Present God,
Help me to be attentive and open to You always. I know I am easily distracted and often mistake what my needs are. I know, O God, that you are my sustaining Bread of Life and Eternal Living Water. Help my heart to remain focused upon You, so I might never miss Your visitation. I need You and You alone ever present and always the center of my days. Thank You for Your mercy and thank You for Your grace. All glory and honor to You reigns eternally together, The Father, The Son, and the Blessed Holy Spirit. Amen.