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.



Going on Retreat: What am I Reading?

Away on retreat

Away on retreat

The summer is definitely in full swing here in Seattle and Tom and I are getting ready to head out of town for a retreat. I am browsing through my stacks of books both read and unread to see what I want to take with me. It is a daunting task – so many good books come across my desk each week. How do I or any of us decide?

1. First I like to take a spiritual devotional. At present I am using the New Zealand Book of Prayer. It’s morning and evening prayer are great ways to start and end my retreat days. I might also use the pray-as-you-go.org devotional put out by Jesuit Media Initiatives.

2. I always take a book that scratches where I itch from a spiritual perspective. This time I have three – two by Jan Johnson whose work on spiritual direction and lectio divina is always both practical and insightful. Savoring God’s Word and When the Soul Listens are both books I have used in the past that I love to return to when I need some spiritual discernment. Margaret Guenther’s Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction is my third choice. Not hard to tell that I am wanting to revisit my contemplative practices and renew my ability to listen to God on this retreat.

3. I like to take something that addresses my ministry focus. This time Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of the Possible by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon.

4. I also take my bible, my journal, and my spiritual retreat log which is a compilation of all the notes from past retreats. I love to look back over these and sense the thread of God’s direction in my life. I love to savour the scriptures that have spoken to me in the past and ask what God may want to say through them or through other scriptures on this retreat.

Now obviously this is more than anyone can read in two days. But I like to have a good selection because even though I head off on retreat with a sense of the direction God is taking me, the details are not obvious until I spend undistracted retreat time in God’s presence. In the first few hours of retreat I might skim though all the books I have with me anticipating that God will grab my attention through something I read. Then I know which of the books I need to bury myself in for the next couple of days. I love to see how God develops this sometimes taking me down unexpected pathways.

Look back with gratitude, look forward with anticipation has become a mantra for my times away that stirs me to expect new things from God at every step.

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.

A Hidden Wholeness – A Great Read by Parker Palmer

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer

A couple of days ago I mentioned how a story in Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness changed my perspective of the seasons. This book has been very helpful in other ways too.

As many of you know, here at Mustard Seed Associates we have adapted the Quaker discernment process as the way to run our meetings. Palmer’s book is the most helpful I have read in recent years in relation to this. It is a book written for schools and businesses on the creation of circles of trust. It brings together many of Palmer’s popular themes which I will summarize here is some simple quotes.

  • the shape of an integrated life: Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life
  • the meaning of community: Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather it means never losing the awareness that we are connect to each other….we need solitude and community simultaneously; what we learn in one mode can check and balance what we learn in the other. 
  • teaching an learning for transformation: When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved; you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honoured. 
  • not violent social change: imagine the heart broken open into new capacity…into greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope…. broken open to a largeness that holds the possibility of a better future for us all.

I think this is a must read book for any follower of Christ seeking to develop healthy community minded ways of interacting with their colleagues, friends and even families (which I think should be all of us). A Hidden Wholeness  is I think my best read of 2012.

Pre-Advent Specials

‘Tis the Season for special buys – or so goes the marketing madness of our day. MSA books and resources directly help support staff and the development of more resources. We don’t make a big deal about marketing because we want to maintain a bit of a counter-cultural environment. From time to time, however, we do want to make available special deals you will enjoy, like these resources for the Advent season.

Pre-Advent Special

    • Special #1
      Get Christine’s newest book, Return to our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray, along with favorites, Waiting For the Light: An Advent Devotional and Light For the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers for Living Into God’s World, all for only $30!

advent DVD-sm

    • Special #2
      Advent reflection video DVD set (2007-2001)plus 2012 – “Alleluia, the Christ Child Comes” only $40!

download advent series

  • Special #3
    Download version of the Advent DVD set, including 2012 – “Alleluia, the Christ Child Comes” only $35!

Return to Our Senses – What Is It All About?

Return to Our Senses - front cover

Return to Our Senses – front cover

I have jut ordered the first copies of Return to Our Sensesand should have them in hand by the middle of November. So I have decided that it is time to give you all a sneak preview. In fact a lot of sneak previews. In the next couple of weeks I will post excerpts from each of the chapters to give you a sense of what the book is about.

As many of you know this book was the culmination of a journey that began several years ago when I started asking people What makes you feel close to God? Over the last few years I have asked this question of hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds and faith traditions. They tell me about playing with kids, turning the compost pile, washing the dishes and walking in the local park. Even taking a shower gets a mention.Two things have surprised me. First, people rarely mention church or Bible study. Second, most people come closest to God in tangible everyday activities yet rarely identify these as spiritual practices or forms of prayer.

These observations started me on a journey to rediscover the nature and purpose of prayer. Starting with Madame Guyon’s assertion that prayer is an exercise in love, I started to discover prayer not as an activity I engage in but a relationship I enter into. My journey has opened windows into the loving nature of God far beyond my imaginings. It has exposed me to prayer traditions I never knew existed. It has encouraged me to create my own new and fresh expressions of prayer. It has invited me to reimagine the very concept of prayer. And it has also brought me together with a growing number of people who like me search for a more vital prayer life.

Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray.was written for those who hunger, like I did, for a deeper, more life encompassing relationship with God, a relationship that really does invite us to pray without ceasing. Some of the practices I share have existed for centuries and only require us to tap into the rich knowledge and practices of ancient followers of Christ to access them. Others will be newly created, springing fresh from our imaginations and creativity, specially designed for intimacy with God in our present culture.

For example, I have long been a collector of rocks. As a child I loved to gather specimens when my family went on long road treks over the summer holidays. And in Australia there are some wonderful rocks to collect – sapphire chips, small pieces of opal, agates, and even flecks of gold.  But in the last few years it is not these semi precious stones that have caught my attention. Now like the Israelites of old, who often built cairns of rocks into memorials, I gather rocks that mark significant events or remind me of significant characteristics of God. I give them names as memorials to remind me of these special moments with God.

I have a beautiful green serpentine marble like rock I picked up on the island Iona off the west coast of Scotland. I found it on the beach where the Celtic saint Columba is supposed to have come ashore after being expelled from Ireland. I call it my rock of faithfulness. When I hold it in my hand I am reminded of all the faithful people, like Columba who have gone before me, embraced by God’s love, sharing the faith and building the kingdom of God.

My friend Kim uses rocks as a totally different form of spiritual practice. She calls it skipping stones into a new creation. When her husband lost his job recently, she walked down to the local beach with a handful of stones from their driveway. She tossed them into the ocean, “letting go” of the possibilities and hopes that the job had offered. As she prayerfully threw each stone, she released her sadness, disappointments and hurts reminding herself that as the stones will be polished by the movement of the waves and tides, so is her life being polished by the all encompassing love of God. As she did this she felt liberated, and walked away singing.

It is my growing conviction that it is not in church or in our “prayer closets” that most of our praying is done.  Church is more a place that is meant to help us interpret and act on the presence of God in our lives and in our world. Breathing, drinking a glass of water, picking up a stone, taking a photo can all become acts of prayer, thin spaces that awaken us to the loving presence of God. Our God is a God of endless creativity and imagination, a creativity that has been passed on to all of us who are made in God’s image. This creativity is meant to be poured out in the ways we pray, worship and practice our faith. Each moment is, I believe, pregnant with new possibilities, new concrete expressions of prayer waiting to be born.

So where do you feel closest to God? What are the creative ways that God might stir your imagination through this experience of closeness, into new expressions of prayer?

Return to Our Senses is available through Mustard Seed Associates at a pre-publication discounted price of $15. 

Table of Contents: 

Waking Up To the Love of God – the Beginning of Prayer

Learning to Breathe

Blessing the water

Creating a Sacred Space

Practicing the Presence of Love

Contemplating Love – The Foundations of Prayer

Learning to Listen

Seeing with New Eyes

Stepping Out in Fresh Ways

Walking with Our Fingers

Facebook, Blogging and Go Anywhere Prayers

The Gathering of Memories

Love Overflowing – Prayer without Ceasing

Living into the Lord’s Prayer

Living Into the Life of Jesus

Living Into the Banquet Feast of God

Living into the New World of God

Dead Sea: A Novel by Lynne Baab.

dead sea: A Novel by Lynne Baab

dead sea: A Novel by Lynne Baab

I don’t often post reviews of fiction books, in spite of the fact that I read 3-4 of them a week. However last week my friend Lynne Baab sent me a copy of Dead Sea: A Novelwhich is now available as an e-book on Amazon. I loved it. It not only brought back memories of my own time in Israel twenty years ago but also satisfied my desire for some good detective work. Her descriptions of a trip into Petra Jordan where I have not been, made me want to pack my bags and get on the plane.

This is not a complex novel of intrigue and thrill, but it is a delightful read for a quiet afternoon of relaxation and refreshment. I highly recommend it both to those who love the Middle East, and to those who enjoy a good detective story. 

Lord Give Me A word

Desert-Mothers-and-Fathers-by Christine Valters Paintner

Desert-Mothers-and-Fathers-by Christine Valters Paintner

This morning I have been reading Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom SayingsAnnotated by Christine Valters Paintner. It is a delightful book that quotes from the writings of these wise desert dwellers who chose to renounce the world in order to deliberately and individually follow God’s call. Their writings were first recorded in the fourth century and contain much spiritual advice that is still applicable today.

One characteristic of the desert fathers and mothers was their desire for a “word”. They were not asking for a command or a solution but for a communication that could be received as a stimulus to growth into a fuller life. The word would be pondered on for days or even for years. I love this story that Christine shares from Benedicta Ward Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. xxii.

A monk once came to Basil of Caesarea and said, Speak a word, Father” and Basil replied, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and the monk went away at once. Twenty hears later he cam back and said, Father, I have struggled to keep your word now speak another word to me” and he said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” and the monk returned in obedience to his cell to keep that also.

It is so easy for us to read the word of God and not really absorb it into our being. Or else we want to dissect it and work out what the author or the translator really wanted to say. To dwell in the word the way that the desert dwellers did we need to release our thinking minds and enter into a space where we can hold the word in our hearts, turning it over and over, pondering it but not trying to pull it apart.

This morning as I prayed the word that came to me is God is love”. It is a phrase that I have pondered many times in the past. It has brought me healing as I imagined the love of God seeping into my broken soul. It has brought me encouragement as I pondered the love of God flowing out through me to touch the hearts and lives of the refugees and marginalized people I have worked with. And it has drawn me into greater intimacy with God as I have imagined the wonder of God’s love abiding in the depth of my heart.

The knowledge I have in my head of a loving God will never transform me unless I allow it to seep deep into my being so that it becomes the air I breath, the food I eat and the ater I drink. God can only respond in a loving way. If we allow that thought to guide us always it will transform the world. It will have us always on tiptoe looking for the loving things that God is doing. It will have us rising up in righteous anger against the unloving and hateful things that are done in the name of God. And it will have us always seeking to be loving towards God’s entire human family.

What is the word that God has lodged in your heart and wants you to ponder on? I pray that you will take time today to enter into that word in a way that allows it to speak to you.

Joy Together – An Interview with Lynne Baab

Joy together

Joy together

My friend Lynne Baab has just published a new book Joy Together:Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation.  I love her books on Fasting and Sabbath and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of this one. It has already received a great review from Publishers Weekly. and so I wanted to give a heads up to all of you who are looking for congregational resources. The following interview by Jana Reiss was first published on her blog here.

As you wrote your new book, why did you think it was important to emphasize communal spiritual practices?

So many excellent books stress individual spiritual practices. Some of them talk about communal practices a bit, but practical illustrations are few and far between. It’s time for a book that gives practical examples of the ways Christian can engage in spiritual practices (also called spiritual disciplines) in families, small groups and congregations.

What’s the relationship between communal and individual practices?

They flow back and forth. For example, I learned about several forms of contemplative prayer – centering prayer, examen, lectio divina – in group settings. After engaging in those prayer forms with others for a while, I found myself praying that way on my own more often. To illustrate a flow in the opposite direction, I learned breath prayer from a book, and did it on my own for more than a decade before I started teaching it to groups. The last two times I’ve been worship leader at church, I’ve led the whole congregation in breath prayer. For me, thankfulness is another interesting example. My husband and I started praying thankfulness prayers together. Then I began to notice the way my personal prayers shifted more in the direction of thankfulness. Even later, I began to encourage groups to pray thankfulness prayers more often.

What do you think are some of the strengths of your book?

It’s hard to be objective at this point, when only my wonderful editor, Jana, and a few other people (mostly the people who wrote endorsements) have read the book. I asked one friend to read the book in pdf form, before the release date, in order to have a review ready to post on amazon.com. He liked the many stories that illustrate the ways groups can engage in spiritual practices. He also liked the fact that I bring my own life into the book, my own successes and struggles with spiritual practices. One idea that intrigued him came from a section in the chapter on fasting that covers Eastern Orthodox congregations, where fasting is entirely communal, as is feasting together at the end of their many fasts.

What specific practices did you cover?

I have individual chapters on six spiritual practices: fasting, thankfulness, contemplative prayer, contemplative approaches to the Bible, hospitality and Sabbath.  I’ve written books on fasting and the Sabbath, but I decided to conduct more interviews for this book. With respect to the Sabbath, one interviewee said he believes keeping the Sabbath is one of the most challenging spiritual practices in our time. That surprised me, and I tried to address some of those difficulties in the chapter and make suggestions about how congregations can support Sabbath observance. Another chapter that surprised me as I wrote it was the one on thankfulness. My husband and I have been practicing thankfulness in our prayers together for almost 20 years, which has been transforming in the ways I mentioned above but in other ways as well. Writing the chapter was pure joy, because I long for others to grow in thankfulness and the good fruits that come from it.

Have you heard the growing concerns about spiritual practices?

William Willimon and others have spoken out about their concerns about spiritual practices. Willimon believes practices can become a way for us to attempt to take control of our relationship with God. He stresses that Jesus breaks in at unexpected times. Amen to that! I believe spiritual practices open up space and time for Jesus to do exactly that. The stories I’ve heard from people who engage in various spiritual practices certainly reinforces my perception. When we teach about spiritual practices, we need to emphasize that practices create space for God. They don’t in any way make God do something in our lives.

Willimon is also concerned that when we engage in spiritual practices, we may fall into thinking we are earning our salvation. That’s why it’s so important to teach about spiritual practices against a backdrop of God’s grace. Spiritual practices are a way to enjoy Jesus’ presence with us and spend time with the God who already loves us.

What do you think is the greatest contribution of spiritual practices in our time?

Spiritual practices nurture a posture of receptivity. In that posture, we are open to receive from God. We might receive guidance for ministry, or a sense of being loved way down deep, or relief of anxiety for the things on our mind. Or something totally unexpected. So much of life today requires us to take action and act like we’re in control. When we engage in spiritual practices, we relinquish control to God and open ourselves for God to meet us and surprise us.

My Top 10 Urban Farming Books

urban farm magazine

urban farm magazine

Last week I posted a list of websites and other resources on community and urban farming. In one of the comments I promised a list of urban farming books. So here it is and to be honest I borrowed a lot from the list at crunchychicken.com a site which I highly recommend to you as well. I have not read all the books (too busy gardening) but am putting some of them on my Christmas list so that I can go dig into them over the winter months.

1. The Urban Farm Handbook, by Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols: the authors share their own food journeys along with those of local producers and consumers who are changing the food systems in the Pacific Northwest. A great book whether you live in the Northwest or not.

2. All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. I loved the original version and still find it to be an extremely useful book for planning my garden though I am not quite as obsessional with the grid as he is.


3. The Essential Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter:

4. Urban Homesteading, by Rachel Kaplan: Expert urban homesteader Sundari Elizabeth Kraft shares her hands-on knowledge of: growing organic foods and preserving them; composting; raising small livestock and chickens; generating electricity and biofuels; and other ways to cut costs and live green.

5. Your Farm in the City, by Lisa Taylor: This book is put out by my local Seattle Tilth. Their Seattle Tilth Northwest Garden Guide has been one of my favourite resources for years and I am looking forward to reading this one too.

6. The complete book of Edible Landscaping. by Rosalind Creasy. This was the first book that I bought on urban farming in the days when few people were talking about it. I still think it is one of the best resources available.

7. The Urban Homestead, by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen: According to Crunchychicken.com this book covers more than you can possibly imagine and will inspire you to try new things. I have not read it yet but have added it to my wish list.

8. Urban Farm Magazine, This is my favourite magazine on urban farming. (along with YES and Mother Earth).

9. Mother Earth News Magazine. This is another favourite which was the source for the no knead bread recipes I posted recently.

10. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading, by Sundari Elizabeth Kraft: This book covers the basics as well as everything from composting to clean energy. Again I have not read this but it has jumped to the top of my wish list because of its broad base of information.

Would love to hear about your favourite books and resources too.