Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: The Blessing of Waters

Every year I fondly remember our parish priest coming to bless our house. It was usually a Saturday mid morning or early afternoon and mom would serve brunch. She spent Friday evening and Saturday morning cleaning the house, preparing the food, and setting the dining room table with her fine lace tablecloth and special dinnerware. She always set out a small icon, candle, and bowl of water for him to use as he would walk around singing the Epiphany troparion, "When Thou O Lord was baptized in the Jordan...." After the home blessing we all gathered in the dining room to eat. He always dressed in his black suit and collar and looked very important. After all, as a ten year old, most adults look pretty important.

I'll never forget those Epiphany blessings, not so much because of the food that mom served but that Fr. Paul took time out of his schedule to come visit and bless our house with holy water that he blessed in Church. The sacramental act of blessing homes is highly symbolic, reminding us that our home, the place where we eat, sleep, and live is a little Church.

Those of us in the Eastern Church should be particularly thankful to Dr. Nicholas Denysenko, assistant professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University in LA and an ordained deacon in the OCA for sharing his well documented and researched book with us. The book, The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition (UK: Ashgate, 2012) is a thorough analysis of the various rites, rituals, and development of the water blessing at Epiphany. This short review cannot do this book service since Denysenko dives deep into the historical manuscripts comparing the various liturgical rites from around the Eastern Christian world. Suffice it to say his last chapter titled, "Pastoral Considerations" was for me, worth reading this book.

Denysenko is both a deacon as well as a liturgical scholar and in the end of this study he provides pastors and lay leaders with some well thought out considerations for Epiphany, drawing on the Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglican traditions. I found this chapter to be insightful as we consider the numerous scriptural passages, rich hymnography, and other traditional customs associated with this feast.

The only drawback of this book is that most clergy and lay leaders may get bogged down with all the historical details and charts as Denysenko compares the various rites and rituals for Epiphany. It is not a drawback for the scholar but most readers I assume might not be interested in this material. The other drawback is the high price of the book which at last check was around $100.00. Of course one cannot blame the author for these issues, I just mention them as a warning.

However, for those of us who are regularly involved in preaching, teaching, and catechetical ministry this book is well worth reading, or at least a quick read, taking special note of the last chapter.

For more information about The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany click here 

For a recent interview with Dr. Denysenko click here

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: Making Peace with the Land

This week I made fresh tomato soup from tomatoes harvested from our summer garden. We ate the soup with fresh bread baked in my oven, the flour was from a local farm in NC. This morning my daughter slathered her toast with homemade strawberry jelly made by yours truly. I could go on in this fashion but I think you get the idea.

There is nothing better than to mix up a batch of whole wheat flour that was harvested about an hour from your house from a local farmer who really cares about the land. Or picking strawberries in May, almost 4 gallons of them, from a local farm and making strawberry jelly that will last us until Easter time. Or making homemade vegetable soup made from fresh vegetables harvested from your backyard.

When I saw Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba's book Making Peace with the Land: God's Call to Reconcile with Creation (IVP Press, 2012) I just knew I had to read it. Bashnson and Wirzba are professors of theology, Bahnson at Wake Forest and Wirzba at Duke but they are both tied to the land. They have a fine writing style and this book read more like a series of interlinked personal stories/memoir mixed with theology and ecology with a bit of social justice issues mixed in.

There are so many themes and variations on themes that I cannot touch upon all of them in this short review. Needless to say, one main theme that is woven from chapter to chapter is that as Christians we have focused so much on spiritually, so much on Scripture, so much on our Tradition we have forgotten that we are living on this planet, created by God and sustained by him. In many ways Christianity is still infected with a gnostic spirituality, one that separates the material and the spiritual, the hear from the head, or in this case the human from the land. We have polluted our rivers, clear cut our woods, wrecked our ecosystems, and even more destructive behaviors. But what do we read in the first book of the Old Testament, that God created the world and the mantra that is repeated again and again is "and he saw that it was good." Well, if you ask me we have forgotten that basic teaching.

Bahnson and Wirzba weave their story by drawing from personal anecdotes from their own lives, about reconciling the human with the ground. They talk about common community gardens where everyone comes and helps out to grow and harvest the vegetables or communities coming together for the common good. This book of course also includes plenty of Scriptural examples of reconciliation as well.

If you like gardening, theology, and ecology, then go out and read Making Peace with the Land!

For more information about the book click here 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Book Review Devotion

Once in a while a writer just grabs me and doesn't let me go. Dani Shapiro is one such writer. Her latest memoir called Devotion: A Memoir is a moving story about a woman's sense of loss, the loss of her father when she was still only a teenager, the loss of her mother's emotional support and love, and then the loss of her childhood faith.

Shapiro was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish family with all the rites, rituals, feasts and fasts of Judaism. However, along the way, like many people, she wandered away from that faith. Much of Devotion spoke to me as I grew up with Jewish friends and neighbors. We ate at Jewish delis and I attended several Jewish Passover dinners.

Devotion is a riveting story about one woman coming to terms with her mother who, according to Shapiro was very cold, narcissistic, and mean even to the end of her life. A low point in the book was when Shapiro's psychoanalyst said to her that in twenty years of seeing patients that, "there is no hope for you and your mother." Talking about a punch in the stomach!

We hear about Bar Mitzvah's and Bat Mitzvah's about being Jewish in a mostly Gentile waspish Connecticut, about being raised on hearing and saying prayers in Hebrew only to have found a Reform Jewish synagogue with prayers in English. On and on, story after story, of how one deals with a childhood faith which seems to have been left aside.

Reading this book through the eyes of a pastor I stopped along the way and kept thinking of all the people, in my parish, and in my life who have similar stories to Shapiro. Whether they were raised as Roman Catholics, Methodists, Lutheran, or any other faith system people have hard times dealing with that. Some folks are wounded in very deep ways. Others rebel from their faith of origin.

I recommend Shapiro's book to clergy. Her story is one that is so common today yet which is not often discussed. How we come to grips with our faith as we grow and mature as adults.

For more information about Devotion: A Memoir click here 

For more information about Dani Shapiro click here 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book Review Coming Soon

I am looking forward to reading and reviewing Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba's new book called Making Peace With the Land: God's Call to Reconcile With Creation (IVP Press, 2012).

Just look around and you will quickly notice how we have treated our earthly home: clear cutting trees for new subdivisions, polluted our streams and rivers, and poisoned the earth with chemicals. I am more aware of this now as I live in a mostly rural area with a small farm behind our house.

Making Peace With the Land is a conversation between ecology, creation, and theology and I look forward to what Bahnson and Wirzba have to say.

For more information about the book click here