“A Literary Spin
on Lectio Divina”
A review of
At the Still Point:
A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time.
Compiled by Sarah Arthur.
Reviewed by Kimberly M. Roth.
Before I became familiar with the term, I practiced Lectio Divina. Having a name for the practice simply made me feel more connected with the Church and confirmed in my love of words. Several years ago I attended my first silent retreat at a secluded cabin with friends, where I got hung up on Psalm 37 and stayed there for hours. Ever since, I have returned time and again to a tattered post-it note scribbled out that day with a list of words spoken directly to me: wait, trust, dwell, delight, commit, be still, don’t fret, refrain from anger, hope, seek peace. Over the years as those themes have echoed again and again through my daily experiences, I am drawn back to that moment, reminded that God was preparing my heart to endure change and conflict and to release control (also themes my spirit is continuing to engage).
I approach my literary reading in much the same way as my liturgical reading: pen in hand, anxious to highlight words and phrases and images that spark an emotional reaction. I long to take away some souvenir from every story, memoir or fiction I am privy to, to leave with a nugget of knowledge I have gained from the experience of the author or the character.
Sarah Arthur invites us to approach our reading as worship in At the Still Point, to not miss the extraordinary truths that present themselves in ordinary literature. Like the liturgical season of Ordinary Time that this book is meant to accompany, we are encouraged to look for the inbreaking of God to everyday lives and people and stories. Through scripture readings and prayers, poetry and fiction, Arthur guides us through twenty-nine weeks of glimpsing God in the mundane and the magical.
Each chapter of At the Still Point, one for each week of the long liturgical season of Ordinary Time, is designed to be read slowly and thoughtfully. Depending on your personal preference, this may mean dividing the readings up throughout the week, spending careful time sitting with each piece. It could also mean reading through all of the passages and poems in one sitting, reading through again to mark the words and phrases that gripped you, then returning throughout the week to dwell on those things that most stood out. There is no right or wrong way to read this book and, in fact, Arthur invites readers to jump to a chapter with a theme that resonates with their present situation, rather than insisting upon a linear reading.
Those readers who choose to follow the pattern of the chapters will flow through themes from Encountering the Spirit to Quarrels with Heaven, Communion of the Body to Hints and Guesses, and wrapping up with All Shall Be Well. Along the literary journey, there will be passages you gloss over with little more than a cursory reading, thinking of a million better poets and authors whose words would have captured the theme. You may even find yourself wandering to your own bookshelf, reaching for those superior works, and digging for the scenes that were brought to mind. If that happens, At the Still Point has served its purpose – the book has caused you to look for glimpses of the holy in the everyday words and stories that saturate your life. But, take heart, there will be plenty of poems, plenty words and phrases, within the spine of this book that will grip you, and you may even find yourself adding copies of the original works to your wish list, hoping to read the rest of the story.
Kimberly Roth is learning to practice community alongside the people of R Street Community Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. She enjoys porch swings, ice tea & reading in diffused sunlight.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com