Archives For Worship

 

“Humanizing Prayer

A Review of
Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms in Prayer
.
By Ken Wilson
.

Reviewed by Joshua Neds-Fox.


Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms in Prayer.
Ken Wilson
.
Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

MYSTICALLY WIRED - Ken WilsonKen Wilson’s Mystically Wired: Exploring New Realms in Prayer is either a practical manual for mystic prayer or a mystical manual for practicing prayer, depending on whether you emphasize the ‘Wired’ or the ‘Mystically.’  Wendell Berry might argue that applying language like ‘wired’ to our biology is a bad idea, since equating human beings with electrical systems is, at the very least, dehumanizing, and probably not the best theology. But Wilson is the pastor of the Ann Arbor Vineyard, a community squarely in University of Michigan territory. For strong left-brain thinkers, mystical prayer looks a lot like a neuro/genetic coping mechanism for anxiety and stress.  It could use a bit of demystifying, and Wilson, a good pastor, is willing and able to extend grace to his community and see things through their eyes.  His message to them (and us) is that a receptivity to what we commonly think of as mystical prayer is actually strongly supported by our neurobiology.  He’s humanizing prayer—and by extension, faith—for the scientific set.

Wilson takes the ‘wired’ metaphor seriously: he places prayer in the Trinitarian reality, which he characterizes as a network of love:

“God is a connected and connecting Being. When we are brought into relationship with God through Jesus, we are, as Jesus said, grafted into a vine as branches are—an early network metaphor to describe the kingdom of heaven (John 15:1-17)… Prayer is a powerful way to put us in touch with the reality that we are profoundly connected, that to be alive is to be embedded in a network of connections.” (70, 82)

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“A Renewed Appreciation
of God’s Love for his People

A Review of
Julian of Norwich:
A Contemplative Biography.

By Amy Frykholm
.

Reviewed by Mary Bowling.

Julian of Norwich:
A Contemplative Biography.

Amy Frykholm
.
Paperback: Paraclete Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Julian of Norwich by Amy FrykhomWhy a “contemplative biography” instead of just a biography? Maybe just a biography of Julian of Norwich isn’t enough.  For one thing, so little of the actual person is known that to make a biography based only on the facts we have about Julian’s life would be a very short book indeed.  It would also, if it contained only facts about this woman‘s life, be somewhat of a lie in itself. Julian never intended her writing to be about herself or to point back to her in any way. She didn’t seek fame or recognition — quite the opposite. She spent the last many years of her life secluded in an anchorage essentially dead to the world.

So why then any biography at all, if she was an unknown, and such a recluse as to be dead to the world?  That we know almost nothing about her, is certainly as she wished, but we do know one thing. She received a series of revelations from God which she, despite many limitations, managed to write down in words and which became the first book written in the English language by a woman. It was a notable accomplishment, but not one that she sought.
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“Attentive to the Grace of the Ordinary”

A Review of
Harvesting Fog: Poems
by Luci Shaw.

Reviewed by Jennifer Merri Parker.

Harvesting Fog: Poems.
Luci Shaw.

Paperback: Pinyon Publishing, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Luci Shaw - HARVESTING FOG: POEMSAt a recent literary festival I had the privilege of hearing Luci Shaw read from her lately published collection of poems, Harvesting Fog. Shortly afterward, standing near a table where she was signing copies of her books, I overheard an admirer’s brief exchange with the warm and personable poet, who had just thanked her for attending the reading. “Thank you,” the young woman replied, her voice full of emotion, “for helping us to see.” It was an appropriate expression of gratitude, I thought, towards a writer whose singular giftedness involves prodigious attention to the minute, mundane, and easily overlooked details, and the ability to discover unexpected meaning, even deep spiritual significance, in them all. The effect is awe-inspiring to those of us unused to straddling that fault line where the mundane and the mysterious bump and jostle one another and occasionally overlap.

However, as Shaw herself would probably insist, the poet lives on that line or—at least—goes there habitually. A poet’s work, as she describes it, is to keep “a foot in both the concrete, visible world and the ephemeral, invisible world, translating the experience of a spiritual realm into word pictures in order to bring a whiff of heaven to earth” (3). What Shaw sees from this vantage is what she shares with her readers, the everyday revelations of glory and grace in even the most ordinary moments of human experience.  In Harvesting Fog, she offers a collection of such moments, rendered in beautifully resonant language, articulating the sacredness and significance of life in a world at once beautiful and broken.

I have always welcomed the perennials
but today I celebrate weeds. The arrival of
horse-tails, their primitive vigor thrusting up
under the fence as if the Third Day of Creation
were just yesterday.  In penance, as redemption,
I will begin to touch the earth more lightly,
remembering to walk barefoot in the soft
forest so that I make no bruit or break…
(40, “Gardener’s Remorse”)

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A Brief Review of

Haiku–The Sacred Art:
A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines
.
Margaret D. McGee.
Paperback: Skylight Paths, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Haiku has long been one of my favorite forms of poetry: short and simple enough to be written in one sitting, and yet spare; its brevity offering gentle discipline when I often am tempted to wax verbose.  So, I was delighted to find out about Margaret McGee’s recent book Haiku, the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines, a superb exploration of this poetic form for both beginners and experts alike.  In the book’s introduction, McGee notes that haiku is intended to depict a single image, “a picture in the mind’s eye.”  She describes “the haiku moment” as “a moment when the mind stops and the heart moves.”  Thus, the practice of writing haiku is necessarily a practice of slowing down and of attentiveness, of focusing on a single object and the feelings that it stirs up inside of us.  McGee also emphasizes that haiku is more about the experience than about the final written product.  Drawing on these themes throughout, McGee explores how haiku can become a spiritual, contemplative practice.  Specifically, she focuses on how the experience of haiku captures “the heart of a moment,” how haiku can be a form of prayer, and the ways in which writing and sharing haiku with others can be a rich community-building experience.  The most engaging chapter in the book, however, was McGee’s reflection on combining the practices of haiku and Lectio Divina (a meditative way of reading and reflecting upon scripture; for those unfamiliar, I would highly recommend Tony Jones’s book, Divine Intervention)  Lectio Divina combined with haiku can help us to internalize passages of scripture that we might take them out into the world with us.   “When you carry the words of sacred texts out into the world with you,” she says, “and look with attention, you may see the words reflected back to you in the common events and objects of daily life” (92).  Practices of internalizing scripture have been well-known among monastics (and other faithful ones) for centuries – and especially in the era before the printing press made texts widely available – but McGee’s thought to combine haiku with reflection upon scripture is one that will undoubtedly be kicking around my head for a long while.  One of the book’s final chapters reflects the “presentation” aspect of how haiku are written, specifically how they can be incorporated with pictures or prose.

Haiku, the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines is a rich little book, calling us into practices of attention and reflection that are lost arts in most corners of mainstream American culture.  I have no doubt that, if we would attend seriously to the ideas set forth here, we would be better prepared to hear that “still small voice” that seeks to transform us (and all creation) from the inside out.

 

We  have recently made a slight change to our format and the reviews, excerpts, poems, etc. of our Midweek update will be posted to “pages” on the ERB website, and announced via social media.  If you’re a “first-to-know” sort of person, you can get these updates when they first come out in one of two ways:

Otherwise, in our regular issue each Friday, we will recap the content of our midweek update.  For instance, this week’s update included:


In our continuing effort to fund the publication and free distribution of The Englewood Review, we are going to be collaborating more intentionally with Christian Book Distributors. Primarily, we will be offering you the opportunity to buy bargain books from CBD that we think of are interest. Buying books this way is a win / win / win proposition. You get great books for a great price, CBD gets the sale and we get an excellent referral fee from CBD.

This week’s bargain books on the theme
Poetry (Click to learn more/purchase):

67048: Dietrich Bonhoeffer"s Prison Poems Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Prison Poems

By Edited by Edwin Robertson / Zondervan

$6.99 – Save 53%!!!

From his prison cell where he awaited execution for conspiring to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Bonhoeffer wrote ten powerful poems, charged with the white-hot emotions and disarming candor of a man who lived and ultimately died by the truth.Here, laid bare with moving eloquence, is the soul of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, twentieth-century martyr. And here is a celebration of life, faith, and hope, and of a victory that even the final enemy, death, cannot quench.

14537: Sonnets Sonnets

By William Shakespeare / Penguin Classics

$5.49

The general editors of the new series of forty volumes–the renowned Shakespeareans Stephen Orgel of Stanford University and A. R. Braunmuller of UCLA–have assembled a team of six eminent scholars who have, along with the general editors themselves, prepared new introductions and notes to all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Redesigned in an easy-to-read format that preserves the favorite features of the original, including an essay on the theatrical world of Shakespeare, an introduction to the individual play, and a note on the text used. This is an excellent resource for students, teachers, and theater professionals. 164 pages, softcover from Penguin Books.

225071: Resources for Preaching and Worship-Year A: Quotations, Meditations, Poetry, and Prayers Resources for Preaching and Worship-Year A: Quotations, Meditations, Poetry, and Prayers

By Westminster John Knox Press

$2.99 – Save 90%!!!

This is the third volume published in a three-volume set of lectionary resources, providing preachers and worship leaders of all denominations a host of written material for worship and reflection. Designed to complement the three volumes in WJK’s acclaimed Texts for Preaching, this book weaves together a rich tapestry of quotations, meditations, poems, and prayers. With material from both classic and contemporary spiritual writings, Resources for Preaching and Worship compliments the lectionary readings for Sundays and important festival days in the church’s year. Includes biblical and thematic texts.

 

A Brief Review of

Water, Wind, Earth and Fire:
The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements
.
Christine Valters Paintner.
Paperback:  Sorin Books, 2010.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Angela Adams.

First, a confession. I did not read this book as Christine Valters Paintner intended. In the midst of two extremely difficult and hurried weeks, I read it when I could – flying to a business meeting, sitting in an airport, using the elliptical machine. Paintner had something else entirely in mind: “this book is designed to be an accompaniment and guide for ongoing prayer and times of retreat” (7). Insert audible sigh here. Knowing Paintner’s intent, reading the book in my way I felt, well, like I was eavesdropping on a conversation that I wasn’t meant to hear – at least not yet, not in this way.

I expected Water, Wind, Earth And Fire to include scientific data about the elements and a broad historical survey of the elements in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Frankly, I fully expected a defense for making room for nature and the elements in Christian practices at all. Coming from a conservative background, part of me just assumed Paintner would find a defense of such ideas necessary. And while her introduction includes some of this, Paintner doesn’t waste much time. She quickly establishes praying the elements as a worthwhile Christian practice through Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures,” a quote from Merton declaring the elements to be “our spiritual directors” (2), and her own bold declarations that “Christian tradition tells us that we have received two books of divine revelation: the book of scripture and the book of nature. Creation itself is a sacred text. . .” (2).

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“Seeking that which Seems Beyond All Language

A Review of
The Sublime.
Simon Morley, ed.

Reviewed by
Brent Aldrich.

The Sublime.
Documents of Contemporary Art Series.

Simon Morley, ed.

Paperback: MIT Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

SUBLIME - Simon Morley, ed.Edmund Burke, writing in the 1700s in his essay ‘On the Sublime and Beautiful’ describes several marks of the Sublime, first among them the sense of Terror, followed by Obscurity, Power, Privation, Vastness, Infinity, Difficulty, and Magnificence. It is a state marked by astonishment, specifically with Burke in the landscape or painting and literature about the same; in other words, a way of making the indescribable describable. Although having read this essay and others like it before, the full effect of the terror Burke stresses in the sublime hadn’t taken shape for me until recently, watching over and over the first 30-second video clip of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. This is a frightful image in its murky greenness. And the scope of what this simple video loop suggests is nearly beyond the capacity to describe. It certainly follows several of Burke’s qualifications of the sublime – the terror of the scope, the obscurity and privation of the bottom of the ocean, the suggestion of infinity – but it also raises even more questions in regard to what a particularly contemporary sublime might encompass. Many of these themes are raised in The Sublime, edited by Simon Morley, and the latest installment of the Documents of Contemporary Art series.

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A Review of

432332: God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World God Hides in Plain Sight:
How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World
By Dean Nelson.

Paperback:  Brazos Press, 2009.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Margaret D’Anieri.

In Julian of Norwich’s Showings, Christ shows Julian a hazelnut. Julian asks what it is, and the response she receives is that “It is all that is made.”  Julian then writes, “I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might fall into nothing because of its littleness”, and she goes on to notice three properties of the hazelnut: that God made it, that God loves it, and that God keeps it.

Julian is venerated as a mystic, perhaps the greatest English mystic, and those of us who do not consider ourselves mystics are often made to feel that we can never be really close to God, never truly experience the thin place that connects heaven and earth, profound and profane, quotidian and extraordinary. In God Hides in Plain Sight, Dean Nelson contributes his own “showings”, in which visions of God and experiences of the holy are available to all of us.

Jesus tells us we can see God at work in the little things, like a mustard plant – the equivalent of a weed. People generally expect to see evidence of God in the big stuff – the Gee Whiz events when in reality, according to Jesus, it’s at knee or ankle level, spreading like a weed. Or like yeast in bread. It’s in the everydayness, using everyday elements. Whether we see it is up to us. Instead of looking up, we should be looking around. Or down.

The book is structured along the lines of the seven traditional sacraments, with an eighth chapter on what he calls the new sacrament of service. In each chapter he interprets the sacraments as recurring themes of our lives, with the liturgical expression of the sacraments as only one manifestation. The chapter on communion talks about the sacredness of all tables, not just the altar; the chapter on confession talks about the sacredness inherent in all conversation, not just that which takes place between priest and parishioner. The book is filled with anecdotes – each chapter is mostly a string of stories from Nelson’s life as father and globe-trotting journalist, interspersed with quotes from observers of the life of faith including Anne Lamott, Eugene Peterson, Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Rohr. It’s well written for a general audience, and would work well for a study group.

Nelson’s theme is that as with the hazelnut, God made all of creation, God loves it, and God keeps it – and we need only pay attention. This book helps us to see the holy in our own lives more clearly.

 

A Generative Excess in Reality

A Review of
For the Beauty of the Church:
Casting a Vision for the Arts
.

W. David O. Taylor, editor.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.


For the Beauty of the Church:
Casting a Vision for the Arts
.

W. David O. Taylor, editor.
Paperback: Baker Books, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ChristianBook.com ]


“Beauty is simply reality itself, perceived in a special way that gives it a resplendent value of its own. Everything that is, is beautiful insofar as it is real… The genius of the artist finds its way by the affinity of creative sympathy, or conaturality into the living law that rules the universe. ”

— Thomas Merton, from No Man is an Island

For the Beauty of the ChurchThese lines from Merton’s essay “Conscience, Freedom, and Prayer” have seemed to me to be the most generous description of art as anything I’ve come across: it is expansive and encompassing (“everything…insofar as it is real”) and it binds art to the rest of life, and not just life, but life in its reality, (a “resplendent value of its own”). This broad vision for art (which I will try to expand further) is in contrast to theories of aesthetics, of work, of theology, of ecclesiology, etc., that are marked by limitation and fragmentation. What Merton does so wonderfully is to affirm that none of these can be separated; God is at work reconciling all things, and in our human arts we participate in that work. The reconciliation of all things seems to be the starting place for any vision for ‘the arts’ or for the church.

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts is a new collection of essays edited by W. David O. Taylor, and birthed out of the “Transforming Culture” conference in Austin, bringing together artists and pastors to talk about the church and the arts. The eight essays in this book, from writers such as Andy Crouch, Eugene Peterson, and Jeremy Begbie, traverse often very different perspectives on said topic, from Andy Crouch’s chapter which offers a broad view of culture-making, to what seems to be more of an emphasis on some sort of “arts ministry,” whether it’s directly called that or not. That said, I have a hard time engaging with very many of these essays because of an underlying vision of art, church, worship, and work that is too narrow. I want to be careful because I do appreciate that these conversations are being had, but I hope to stir imaginations beyond ‘ministries’ or ‘outreach;’ beyond the once-a-week ‘worship service;’ and beyond making “Christian” a marketable adjective.

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“For Those Who Have Tried Church
And Found it Wanting”

A Review of
Giving Church Another Chance:
Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices.

by
Todd Hunter.

Reviewed by Jeff Romack.


Giving Church Another Chance:
Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices.

Todd Hunter.

Hardback: IVP Books, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Todd Hunter - GIVING CHURCH ANOTHER CHANCEGiving Church Another Chance is a book, according to author, Todd Hunter, “for everyone who has tried church and found it wanting, but somewhere deep within they still desire a spiritual life in the way of Jesus.”  If his publisher has a solid marketing plan they could do quite well considering the size of the target market.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  Actually, they have their work cut out for them considering the number of recent books in the genre of spiritual practices and/or the genre of ‘they love Jesus but not the church.’  Still, the number of people who have tried church and found it wanting must be enormous and growing larger each week if you believe the word on the street.

Hunter has written for us a book intended to stimulate our thinking toward fresh vision for what he terms the repracticing of traditional forms associated with the church.  A worthy introduction counsels us that repracticing the familiar forms is not an end in itself but best understood as a key move in forming and empowering us for the sake of God’s purposes through us and for the world. So far so good. Hunter’s mindset is missional and his concern that people be brought to faith and discipled is clear.  He, by his own admission, is not emerging, describing the theology of the emerging church as “fuzzy” and the concern for evangelism as limited.  Hunter comes across as a generous evangelical that has landed in the Anglican Mission in the Americas (related to the Anglican Province of Rwanda), at least for this part of his journey, and wants to tell us how it works for him and how it might work, perhaps, for you and me.

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