Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review The Mystery of the Cross

I usually read books that I see referenced in a book review that look particularly interesting or very often I will read a book based on a recommendation from a friend. However, when I saw the cover of this book I said to myself, "wow, now THIS BOOK looks interesting." And boy was I right! I honestly bought this book because of its gorgeous cover art. Well, that's not totally true, I did flip through some chapters and read the description on the back. But I am glad that I bought it because this book will be a handy reference for sermons, teaching, and catechesis in the parish. I already told many of my friends, "you have to read this book."

The Mystery of the Cross is by Judith Couchman, a journalist and author of over 40 books on spirituality, prayer, vocation, and women's spirituality. Judith is also an art historian and teaches at a college, she wears many hats so to speak. I wanted to learn more about Judith so I went to her website. Not only is Judith a scholar of art and writer but she also leads writing workshops too! I downloaded some of her essays which are in PDF format for future reading.

The Mystery of the Cross includes 40 short reflective chapters on various aspects of the cross. Each chapter begins with a verse from scripture, a drawing or a photograph of an image of a different type of cross, and then her reflections. The book is peppered with personal anecdotes and stories of her own life too. The Mystery of the Cross includes historical information about how the cross has been portrayed throughout history, art history and how the cross is depicted in various Eastern and Western Christian art forms, as well as theological reflections on the use of the cross in liturgy, worship, and personal devotion. The book also includes some primary source material from early Christianity.

Judith has a very fine writing style. As I was reading I felt that the author was well versed in her field of expertise and wanted to share this information with her readership. Her tone is not preaching or apologetic, but informative.

As I said earlier this book will be read again and again. I am grateful for Judith's work in bringing her knowledge of theology and art history together in this fine volume.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rest and Relaxation

Summer is coming soon and many of us are planning our summer vacations, fun in the sun or some time in the mountains perhpas? Where will you be going this summer? We're headed for a week at the beach in South Carolina later this summer and off to my in-laws probably.

Vacations however can be just as crazy and zany as our "everyday life." Packing, finding hotels and food, keeping the kids occupied, it can be STRESSFUL. Maybe you need a retreat, some time for rest and meditation. You don't have to go for long, even a day retreat can be helpful.

Make sure to take a Bible, a journal, and maybe a good book too.

Feel free to leave comments about retreats that you have taken or plan to take, lets share!!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review The Sabbath World by Judith Shulevitz

Do you find yourself exhausted all the time? Tired of your Monday morning commute to work? Tired of soccer practices, food shopping, and housework? Well, maybe you need a vacation or maybe you just need to take a Sabbath rest once in a while.

If you are overworked and need some direction you need to read The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz. I came across a review of this book in the New York Times Book Review and knew this book was a MUST READ.

Judith is literary critic and author. Her work as appeared in the New York Times and Slate magazine.

In The Sabbath World, Judith tackles the big topic of Sabbath and what Sabbath means for today. She takes up this topic not just from its religious roots in the Hebrew Bible and later in the New Testament, but also what Sabbath means today in our ever changing world of communication, work, and globalization. According to the Old Testament there are many rules and regulations about how to honor the Sabbath. Judith questions these rules so that people today can incarnate the beauty of Sabbath rest for today. How can people honor the Sabbath in a way that is akin to how we live in our hectic and crazy world. Let's face it most people cannot rush home at 5:05pm because the sun is setting and you have to prepare the Sabbath meal. What about family's where one parent has to work on the weekend?We have to remember that the Sabbath and many of the ancient Jewish and Christian religious practices originated in an agrarian culture where people lived according to the rising and the setting of the sun and the seasons of the year.

She also includes quite a lot of information about how Christians in the past have either disregarded the Sabbath altogether or other Christian groups who followed the Sabbath.

I loved every page of The Sabbath World. Judith has a wonderful easy to read writing style and draws from her own personal stories and anecdotes about her Jewish heritage and what the Sabbath means to her.

I will certainly read and re-read this book in the years to come. The Sabbath World complements the work of the late Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel whose book The Sabbath I read at least once per year. The cover too is very appealing, it reminds me of the approaching evening in the middle of the summer, a time for rest and relaxation after a hard days work.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: God is Not One by Stephen Prothero

Anyone taking the long walk of faith should read Stephen Prothero's new book, God is Not One: Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter (Harper One, 2010). Prothero teaches World Religion at Boston University and is the best selling author of the book Religious Literacy.

Prothero's main thesis is that contrary to public opinion, people do not believe the same thing! I have come across this very same affirmation many times in Church gatherings and in my courses in Christian Spirituality, people often will say, "well, after all, don't we all believe in the same God?"

Prothero takes a look at the top eight religious belief systems in the world and shows us how they are similar but also, more importantly where they divirge as far as practices, matters of faith, and formation of community.

The eight religions included in the book are:

Yoruba Religion

This book includes, history, highlights major religious figures in each religious belief system, and offers some insights into matters of worship and community. I found this book very enlightening. Prothero has an easy to read conversational style which you often don't find in theological or religious themed books. This book was refreshing because aside from Islam and Judaism I knew very little about Daoism or Yoruba religions. So for me this book offered insight into how many people view the world, sin, salvation, death, the afterlife, and so forth.

God is Not One will stimulate, provoke, and delight at the same time. I do not teach World Religions, but if I did, I certainly would use God is Not One in the classroom, it is that good!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Book Resurrection of Ministry

Happy Tax Day everyone there is still 1.5 hours left to get those taxes done, well at least 1.5 hours EST!! Mine were done last month so I"m okay I guess.

I am so excited about a new book by Rev. Dr. Andrew Purves. Andrew was on my doctoral committee and is a longtime pastor, professor, and teacher of the faith. If you are a pastor or lay leader make sure to read his work, you will not be disappointed. He is firmly rooted in Scripture and takes his vocation seriously.

He has a new book out called Resurrection of Ministry and I look forward to reading it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Book by Michael Plekon

I wanted to share the good news about my friend and colleague Father Michael Plekon. He recently translated and edited a book called Toward the Endless Day, a biography of the late Orthodox theologian, scholar, and writer Elizabeth Behr-Sigel. The book is published by The University of Notre Dame Press and is now available to order.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Empty Tomb

Every time I read the four resurrection accounts I get chills down my spine. The problem is that when you read and study the Bible so much it is very easy to get "too familiar" with them, meaning that they loose their literary power, their ability to amaze the reader. I mean, yes I know that the disciples came to the tomb on the first Easter Sunday and rather than find a body they encountered an empty tomb. My gut reaction is "yea, we heard that before." Year after year, century after century these resurrection accounts have been told and retold and we say "okay, so what?" This is quite normal, been there, done that so to speak. Yet these early accounts of the Risen Lord are really amazing if you think about it. When you bury a body they should still be there after one, two, three, even four or five days. Yet not with Jesus, he was not there, he was raised from the dead! The story of the risen Lord is the core preaching and teaching of the early Church and is the foundation of our faith in Christ. On Easter Sunday Christians from around the world will proclaim the good news of the resurrection. Hopefully this will be a reminder that God fulfills his promises, that life is not just headed towards some dead end or a vast black hole, but we are created for eternal life with God, and Christ, and all the saints for ever and ever. This all starts on Easter Sunday.

May you all have a blessed, peaceful, and joyous Easter holiday.

The picture above is of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, one of the two contested "tombs" where Jesus was said to have been laid. The other "tomb" is in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which as far back as the fourth century was said to be the actual place where Jesus was laid.