A New Bible, A New Voice, A New Compass

A couple of weeks ago I received a new bible from the publishers Thomas Nelson. It is the Compass Study Bible which uses The Voice translation. This is a translation I was not familiar with and I am thoroughly enjoying its contemporary language and “contextual equivalence” translation – which means it seeks to convey the original language accurately while rendering the literary structures and character of a text in readable and meaningful contemporary language.

The Compass edition provides interesting In-text notes that include cultural, historical, theological and devotional thoughts as well as introductions to each book and topical guides to each day of the year. However the bias of some of the comments did concern me a little.  like this note on 1 Corinthians 10 :In the midst of radical economic and technological advances, some within the church are embracing new or contemporary practices and regarding them as somehow superior to ancient and historic practices. Maybe I am a little sensitive here as I love to experiment and encourage others to try new practices, that may be more contextually appropriate for their lifestyles and for our contemporary culture. I don’t regard these as superior to ancient practices but do think this type of expression is important.

The format in The Compass is an engaging narrative approach which took me a while to get used to after so many years of reading in the usual text format but I am now thoroughly enjoying the change and plan to use this new bible for the next couple of years. I think it would provide a great introduction for young Christians or for those who find the usual bible format a little overwhelming.

I appreciate the “God’s Promises guide at the beginning of the book, and the 40 day retreat with Jesus (a little like lectio divina for 40 days) but was disappointed with the reading plan for every day of the year. All it does is go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in day sized bites. I suppose I have been spoiled by the richness of the daily lectionary readings which give Old and New Testament readings each day in keeping with the liturgical season. I have learned so much about the relationship between the Old and New Testament stories in this way, gaining fresh insights about what Jesus meant as I read the OT scriptures he was quoting.

This bible is currently only available through Walmart which also disappoints me, but I still think it is worth a look for anyone who wants to try a new contemporary translation or a new approach to bible study.

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The Holy Ordinary by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and a newly released memoir, Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis, from which this post it excerpted.

Figleaf2

Fig_leaf

Bee_and_Strawberries

Clover_and_bee
It’s a perfect Sunday afternoon: quiet, and I’m alone. Only I’m not alone—there are two babies doing the rumba on my bladder. I sit on the sofa, my journal open on my lap, and stare out the window. I feel restless, like I ought to be doing something, but my body won’t let me. I just got winded climbing the stairs from the basement—and that was after I’d napped for an hour.

So I got out my journal, thinking that I would write, but I’m so tired I can’t even think what to say to the page. My life feels bereft of things to write about, other than the babies and how tired they’re making me and how sad I feel that my novel is lying in the basement collecting dust. And honestly? I’m tired of writing about that day after day after day.

Last week, when I met with my spiritual director, she asked me where God’s been meeting me lately. I told her, “I feel like jotting down the grace notes is helpful, like it’s a good, important discipline for me. It helps me to not be so anxious, which is huge, but—”

I shrugged “—I wonder if it’s really enough? I mean, a lot of the time, these things I’m writing down don’t feel like grace. They feel like they could happen to anyone, you know? Which doesn’t mean it’s not grace. I know it is. But—” I shrugged again “—it just doesn’t feel like it, so I don’t feel particularly grateful for them. And I certainly don’t feel joyful, the way all those verses say you should: rejoice in the Lord always and all that. I mostly just feel tired.”

I paused for a moment. I wanted to say, “And I feel angry that because of these babies, I’m not able to write as much as I’d like.” I wanted to say, “I feel like this whole year of trying to find an agent for my novel was wasted.” But after my conversation with Laura on Holy Saturday, when she so flippantly dismissed my need to write, I hadn’t wanted to talk about that with anyone.

“And I feel—” I searched for a safer word than angry “—disappointed. And discouraged. I’m having a hard time letting go of my writing dreams, you know? And I feel like it shouldn’t be this hard, like I should just buck up and deal.”

Margie’s voice was gentle when she spoke. “Kimberlee,” she said, “you’re pregnant. With twins. Of course you’re tired. And it’s always hard to give up a dream. Don’t be too hard on yourself.” She looked out the window a second. “And you know, N.T. Wright often translates the word rejoice as celebrate. Celebrate in the Lord always. Maybe that distinction will help you.”

I gave her my best I’m-tracking-with-you look, but really, I wasn’t tracking. She waited for me to say something, so I had to say, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand what the difference is.”

“Oh, I don’t know that there’s much of a difference in what the words mean. I just think that joy sounds to our postmodern ears like an emotion, something you feel, whereas celebration is something you do. And since you can’t change how or what you feel—it’s not like you can force yourself to feel joy—it might be better to focus on what you do, on how you’re actually living, rather than what you’re feeling or not feeling.”

“So,” she continued, “how do you celebrate? How do you recognize the holiness in the ordinary?” She smiled. “Or maybe just how do you see God in the midst of your tiredness and disappointment?”

As I sit here on the sofa and stare out the window at the spirea, I ponder Margie’s questions. A bee buzzes around the tip of a spirea branch and lights on the top leaf. I know this is just a season, and a relatively short one—but I’m still frustrated by my lack of energy. I’m frustrated that given this blessed hour of silence and aloneness, all I can do is sit on the sofa and stare at a bee on a leaf.

I want to cry. It’s so frustrating to feel so stuck, so exhausted, so mentally enervated. But really, crying is too much effort. So I watch the bee. It buzzes down to a lower leaf. At least, I assume it’s buzzing. I can’t actually hear it.

Come tomorrow, I’ll have eleven weeks till I’m full-term. And eleven weeks after that to get my sea legs on this crazy voyage of parenting twins. And eleven more weeks after that before I’m able to get enough sleep to think clearly and have energy for anything other than feeding and changing these babies and loving on Jack and Jane. That’s 33 weeks—the better part of a year. It feels like an eternity from this side, but it’s not.

The bee flies away, disappearing among the fig leaves.

Still, it’s hard to be patient, to look ahead and see that it’ll be many months before I have energy and brain cells to write the way I’m used to writing. But I can keep railing against it, or I can practice patience and take good notes and pay attention and not be in a hurry. And even in this agony of waiting, I can attend to the present moment and live in it, grateful for its gifts of bees and spirea branches.

From somewhere in the fig tree, I hear a bird. I pick up my jounal and write down the bee and the birdsong. I don’t know what they mean, but they’re graces, little gifts of beauty, and I’m taking notes.

This post is an edited excerpt from Kimberlee’s new memoir,
Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis

Holy Is the Day by Carolyn Weber – A Book Review

almost didn’t open Carolyn Weber’s new book Holy is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present. When my copy arrived from InterVarsity Press it almost went on the I don’t think so pile. Fortunately it didn’t. And in fact I am posting this a couple of hours later than I intended because I could not put the book down. This is a delightful and in many ways challenging book.

I thought this was just the story of a young mum grappling with the unexpected gift of twins, but it isn’t. She writes as a woman emotionally and physically drained by a career in academia, writing a first book and raising three young children. She is the epitome of a person – male or female –  who wanted to “do it all” then learned the need to take time to put it down, to live in the moment and discover the wonder of God’s grace.

Each day is holy when we trace various ways of understanding the ‘present’ in relation to god’s grace in our lives, for when we are really with God we are reminded that he is with us always,” writes Carolyn. “Through looking at the everyday questions of our lives – ranging from kitchen to the crucible, the classroom to the emergency room, whether we are faced with professional upheaval or personal reflection – how do we se God’s handiwork in our lives?”

This book includes some profound hidden gems that kept me reading even when I should have turned to other things:

Giving God your all rarely has to do with actual money. Looking at the parable of the poor widow who gave her last coins to the offering I considered what it is to give God everything, to truly give him significant pieces of yourself until you have given him your all. To give so much that all that is left is to be with him. I think of how the world measures the depth of our giving by what we hand over, but Jesus measures it by what we hold on to (44)

Challenging words that I take time to ponder and hopefully respond to in my own still moments of prayer and surrender.

Trauma prepares us for resurrection (60)

So often we question heartache, pain and suffering, running away from trauma or even denying it. Yet physical trauma often uncovers hidden emotional trauma, events from our past that we have buried and thought dead. Now they emerge in God’s resurrection light. Such a profound and inspiring thought.

I love the poignant stories Carolyn shares and the ways in which she invites us to share the joy and despair of her life. This is a wonderful book for anyone who truly wants to learn how to live more consistently in the presence of God.

 

Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks.

Business secrets

Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks by August Turak was the second book that I read last week. To be honest this book frustrated me a little because of Turak’s underlying assumption that capitalism is the only possible business model that works and I felt that at times he justified what and how the monks do things to fit that model.

In spite of that I found the book very helpful. It is well worth the read for any Christian business person really wanting to put God and God’s purposes at the centre of their lives. Hopefully it will also encourage us to ask the seldom asked question: what should a Christian business look like?

The business model that the Trappist monks use confounds all our usual business principles. Turak quotes USA Today as saying: “The monks break every rule in Business 101 except attention to quality.”  They only work 4 hours a day. They do no marketing. They are not profit driven and they don’t feel they need to make more product this year than last.

They are people passionately committed to their mission of selfless service to God and others who happen to have a business. Business success for the monks is merely the by-product of living a life of service and selflessness. (7).

He goes on to say that he feels part of the reason for their success is that they tap into the hunger within all of us for transformation from selfishness to selflessness, believing that it is this longing that produces passionate commitment to a business, transcending profit making as motive. He points out that though many businesses start with this passion they don’t finish with it. The key to 1500 years of success:

they not only incorporate personal transformation into their missions but institutionalize this process through methodologies such as… the Rule of St Benedict. (13)

A colleague of Turak’s commented that the monks have the advantage of free labour. Turak’s response:

The most important issue is why monasteries get this level of commitment from people and our secular organizations do not?

This I think is one of the most important questions Turak asks, especially for people of faith seeking to establish a business. Transforming people from selfishness to selflessness, calling them to something beyond themselves and their own success, putting faith in the process and in the One who has designed it, these are all important lessons that come out of this type of approach. It is not the drive to be successful, to make a lot of money or to be well known that should motivate us. Or in other words:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else and live righteously and God will give you everything you need. (Matt 6:33 NLT).

 

Journey to the Common Good by Walter Brueggemann

Journey to the Common Good

I have long been a fan of Walter Brueggemann and Journey to the Common Good has not disappointed me. This book constitutes his Laing Lectures at Regent College from a couple of years ago.

Brueggemann talks about the Exodus story as a journey from a culture of anxiety to a practice of neighbourliness drawing parallels with our own cultures and the challenges we face.

The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good,” the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny – haves and have nots, the rich and the poor. We face a croisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments and offers human solidarity. (p1)

Brueggemann presents a very different view of the Joseph story than the one we usually hold to. He points out that Joseph solidified Pharaoh’s power and enslaved the people, manipulating the economy to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few. The situation deteriorates and God intervenes.

The practice of  exploitation, fear and suffering produces a decisive moment in human history. This dramatic turn away from aggressive centralized power and a food monopoly features a fresh divine resolve for an alternative possibility.

This divine alternative comes into being through Moses’ dream of a people no longer exploited or suffering but living in the abundance of shared generosity which is the centre of YHWH’s dream. Brueggeman very helpfully contrasts this to Pharaoh’s dream, a nightmarish dream of scarcity which precipitated the crisis encouraging Abraham and others like him to seek the security of food in Egypt even if it meant slavery.

The bread of the wilderness, the bread that God gives us to eat, is a very different sort of bread. It is the bread of YHWH’s generosity,

a gift of abundance that breaks the deathly pattern of anxiety, fear, greed and anger, a miracle that always surprises because it is beyond our capacity of expectation.

Brueggemann points out that is this bread that fills the Israelites as they stand at Mt Sinai to receive God’s commands, commands that voice God’s dream of a neighbourhood and God’s intention for a society grounded in the common good.

The exploitative system of Pharaoh believed that it always needed more and was always entitled to more – more bricks, more control, more territory, more oil – until it had everything. But of course one cannot order a neighbourhood that way, because such practices and such assumptions generate only fear and competition that make the common good impossible Such greed is prohibited by YHWh’s kingdom of generosity. (25)

This is a challenging and thought provoking book that reminded me of how easily I seek my own good over the common good and how frequently I need to be challenged afresh with the values and principles of God’s new society. Our God is a generous God – not to me as an individual for the accumulation of personal wealth, but to us as a society of God’s people. This type of generosity must be shared, it must seek the common good and it must work for the welfare of all.

Journey to the Common Good, is a must read for all of us who seek to ground our lives in the shared values of God’s abundance and generosity rather than in the acquisitive values of our culture.

Return to Our Senses – Englewood Featured Review

Return to Our Senses - front cover

Return to Our Senses – front cover

I am delighted to be able to share with you the review that Austen Sandifer just wrote for Englewood Review of Books on Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray. I am delighted with the response this book continues to receive and the interest it has raised. If the book has impacted you I would love to hear from you too.

It was with the thought of bridging the rhetoric of mindfulness and prayer that I picked up Christine Sine’s new book, Return to Our Senses: Re-Imagining How We Pray. I expected it to be about engaging our senses in full awareness of the omnipresence of God in creation and in our daily moments. I was not disappointed; this volume is filled with prayer techniques that focus on honing such mindfulness and wonder. Indeed, many of the methods that Sine suggests are ways to increase awareness of our spiritual journeys and the presence of God through the visceral experiences of our bodies. In a book that is accessible to a wide audience, Sine clearly explains and mixes traditional contemplative prayer methods, like Ignatius of Loyola’s Awareness Examen, with Christian mindfulness techniques, like breathing as a practice of engaging both breath and spirit (the Hebrew word ruah and Greek pneuma are single words indicating both meanings), with love and generative aspects of God consciously made part of every breath-cycle. Read the entire review.

 

 

Sophia Rising – Is Yoga An Acceptable Spiritual Practice?

Sophia Rising by Monette Chilson

Sophia Rising by Monette Chilson

Is yoga an acceptable Christian spiritual practice? That is one of the questions that will arise for many of us as we read Monette Chilson’s new book Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga. 

I love the way that Monette weaves her own faith journey through her exploration of yoga. Her choice of Sophia as the name of God she uses throughout the book will immediately send many outside their comfort zone. However she explains:

Most of us will pay lip service to the fact that God transcends gender, but our experience – because of the stigma associated with the feminine divine in Western religions – does not include prayers, images or words that let us express this truth. Whether the aversion to referring to God in feminine terms stems from patriarchal roots, a desire by early Christians to separate themselves from Goddess worhsip or to differentiate themselves from gnostic communities, the result has been a severing of the sacred feminine that has silenced voices that would pray to God our mother. Sophia embodies those missing pieces, giving us the prayers, images and words we need to complete our limited human perspective on who God is- and who God wants to be in our lives (13)

In the second chapter of Sophia Rising, dubbed The Heart of Yoga, Monette describe one of her  favorite applications of pratyahara, the Benedictine practice of mindful eating. For those of us who love to garden, cook and eat it is a wonderful invitation.

“If you want to experience taste in a sacred context, try slowly and silently eating a bowl of soup on a cold night. Not only will you savor the taste of the soup as it moves over your tongue, but the warmth of it will move through your body, extending the experience beyond that of a meal where we eat and move on to another bite, another thought, another activity before the food is even down our throats.

While soup is soothing and a great way to ease into mindful eating, you can expand your experience into a seasonal rhythm. Soup is perfect for a winter practice. A salad full of the first greens of spring can usher in the warming winds of the season, awakening our taste buds to the delicate treats ahead. Juicy strawberries and peaches, dripping from our chins, call us to the informality of summer, while crunching into a crisp apple is the perfect way to transition our taste buds to back to the routine that fall brings with it. Who would have thought that yoga could be so delicious?!”

As Monette explains, it is an interesting paradox that in narrowing our focus, we expand our awareness. By restricting our intake of stimuli, we actually increase our consciousness of God’s presence in any given moment through acts as simple and mundane as eating.

Sophia Rising disturbed, enriched and challenged me. It’s provocative and well researched content stretched my views of spiritual practices and Christian faith in a healthy and inspiring way. I do not currently practice yoga but this book definitely tempted me to begin. And for the many of my Christian friends who do practice yoga and yet have never been sure how to integrate the practice with their faith, this is a must read book.