All Creation Waits: Book Review

“Every single creature is full of God. …
Every creature is a word of God.”
Meister Eckhart

For those who love Prayers from the Ark; for those who connect deeply to God through the delight and observation of nature; for those lamenting the commercialization of Christmas that drowns the quiet stirrings to Advent; for those wondering how to teach the children in their lives (or how to practice themselves) the patience of waiting; for those seeking a spiritual supplement to the daily-piece-of-chocolate Advent calendar: you’ll absolutely want to check out All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings (written by Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein).

A gorgeous book of engraving prints and gleaned wisdom from North American wildlife, All Creation Waits pays attention to creatures’ instinctive & radical practices for waiting through winter. The muskrat maintains a shelter in the middle of its pond where it can rest from the work of scouring the frigid waters for vegetation. The honey bees shiver together inside their hive, and their trembling muscles generate heat for survival. The red fox chases shadows across snow, studying the long shadows of its prey as cast by the low sun’s light in order to successfully hunt.

For every day of Advent, another animal: the lake trout, the raccoon, the turkey, the garter snake. Gayle Boss’s study of each animal is refreshingly free from overt theological proverbs or “Jesus is the Reason” lessons. (After all, Jesus doesn’t arrive until Christmas.) There is no pretense that waiting is easy as All Creation Waits immerses the reader in each animal’s winter habits: the stark choices that must be made for the sake of survival, the reality of hovering near death until life returns with the warmth of spring, the drastic shift in nourishment options that require each creature to make do with less.

What is it we need to survive in seasons when life’s harvest fades and hope dims?

What choices do we make when the spirit’s nourishment is sparse and the frigid storms of evil pound against us?

When death draws close, do we lose all wonder and capitulate to fear?

What does it take for us to hold on fiercely to joy and imagination through stark days?

These days may feel like an end, a fading of sunlight into a long season of scarcity and injustice, but even in the deepest night of winter, God’s work is just beginning. All of creation waits with trust in the return of Life and the restoration of Peace. All Creation Waits offers the exquisite Advent reminder that we can wait too.

Prayers from the Ark: Book Review

In one of her books (I love them all and don’t remember which one), Madeleine L’Engle reflected on the challenges of convincing publishers that A Wrinkle in Time was a children’s novel. It was too complex, too scientific, too fantastical, too emotionally heavy, too emotionally fragile. Adults — publishers — thought it would be difficult for children. What they meant was that it was difficult for themselves. Children had the imagination for A Wrinkle in Time. Adults did not.

Prayers from the Ark is described as a children’s book of prayers. I wonder if some adults might find the prayers too fantastical, too poetically complex, too emotionally provocative for children, which suggests to me that Prayers from the Ark is precisely the kind of book that adults should read too — to challenge our imaginations, to provoke our wonder, to surprise our hearts, to unsettled our spiritual settledness.

Written by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold during World War II and translated by Rumer Godden for English publication in 1962, with illustrations by Jean Primrose, Prayers from the Ark gives devotional voice to a congregation of animals, each in their own unique style & perspective:

The tortoise prays,
“A little patience,
O God,
I am coming.”
Aren’t we all working our way toward God, slowly, slowly?

The giraffe confesses,
“I feed on exalted things
and I rather like
to see myself so close to Your heaven.
Humility!”
Shouldn’t we all confess such a diet?

The donkey pleads,
“Give me great courage and gentleness.
One day let somebody understand me–
that I may no longer want to weep.”
And my heart breaks: for me, for the donkey, for all of us.

I wonder where Prayers from the Ark has been all my life: such a gem of inspiration, such an exploration of emotion, such a simple invitation to prayerful honesty. I feel blessed to have a copy now, passed along to me by way of several familiar & treasured hands. It’s the kind of book (along with its companion The Creatures’ Choir from the same talented trio) that doesn’t live on my bookshelves but on my bedstand, where I can read it often to comfort & inspire my spirit.

Give Prayers from the Ark to the children in your life, yes — their imaginations will delight in the animals’ voices — but give it too to the adults in your life whose spirits might be running a little dry, whose imagination for the goodness of God might be struggling these days, and/or whose love of creation informs their love of God.

My Soul Waits: Book Review

Browsing the bookstore of Chartres Cathedral recently, a book stood out to me for its elegantly simple cover and its smooth pages. I found myself completely unsurprised to notice the publisher: Mount Tabor Books, an imprint of Paraclete Press (Paraclete published my first three books), representing Paraclete’s standard of beautiful and compelling books.

That stunning refinement of Paraclete’s books continues with My Soul Waits: Praying with the Psalms through Advent, Christmas & Epiphany by Martin Shannon, CJ, a new release that is perfect to being this Advent. (If you’re worried about getting it before the season begins on Sunday, consider a quick purchase of the Kindle version — although truly, I always recommend hard copies for books. Something about the tactical interaction with text.) In whatever format, My Soul Waits is a simple but beautiful and measured reflection on daily psalms: helping us meditate on the purpose of each psalm, lifting up wisdom from ancient Church Fathers, and offering honest prayers for 21st century faith.

It’s Shannon’s original prayers especially that resonate with my spirit. The prayers long for Home; they confess Hope; they celebrate What Has Been Done; they meditate on What Will Be. With each prayer, my heart wants to dance, to shout, to weep, to whisper, and Shannon ties them beautifully & subtly to the daily psalm readings. Each day’s meditation indicates that a reader should begin with the psalm; personally, I find myself not only beginning with the psalm but repeating it again at the end of the meditation in order to trace the threads between Scripture, the excerpts of Church Fathers, and Shannon’s prayers.

A note: I am increasingly in a faith space in which male-gendered & master/lord language for God is dissonant to my spirit, so that language stands out to me in My Soul Waits … although ultimately it doesn’t interfere with the book’s overall impact of walking gently & pastorally with the reader in this holy season of waiting. Listening deeply for the soul’s essential stories that reverberate across the centuries, Martin Shannon accompanies us through the longing of Advent to the revelation of Epiphany.

My Soul Waits is a balm to the restless spirit — speaking myself as one who is impatient with waiting. It is a patient companion through six weeks of triumph and trembling, turmoil and tenderness. Reading Shannon, my heart believes again that it can wait with hope for Christ’s fulfillment. With every amen, I am renewed.

Womanist Midrash: Book Review

Cyber Monday: Buy Womanist Midrash for yourself.

Christmas list: Buy Womanist Midrash for your pastor.

Year-end sales: Buy Womanist Midrash for your local library.

New Year’s resolution: Study Womanist Midrash. Take your time with the story & study of biblical women. Excavate your assumptions, your childhood Sunday School lessons, and even (or most of all) your seminary studies. Preach about women, named and unnamed. Write about women, empowered and forsaken. Tell the truth about women, enslaved and sexualized, erased and marginalized, ancient and modern. Claim imagination: its place in scripture and its indispensability in faith.

The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney’s Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne is a stunning and invigorating work. Gafney’s academic depth, breadth of imagination, and contextual integrity to both language & culture make Womanist Midrash an authoritative resource for biblical scholars, pastors & preachers, and lovers of Scripture alike. This book is one to earmark, underline, highlight, and reference thoroughly and regularly — not because the sacred texts & Gafney’s hermeneutic are easy on one’s spirit, but because the womanist lens on Scripture is a holy force that will change & bless all those who wrestle with it.

I am, for example, struck anew and mesmerized by Gafney’s examination of Rachel (Jacob’s second wife): her role & responsibility as a shepherd — how have I overlooked that detail in such a familiar story?; her loyalty to her family’s gods over Jacob’s gods — is this why she died, not because of difficulty bearing Benjamin but because her gods were taken away?; the text’s lack of attention to whether Rachel had affection for Jacob — despite our romanticization of Jacob’s affection for Rachel. Why & how have I come to accept the story of a disempowered Rachel, without say over her faith or her marriage or her sex life or her reproductive choices, when in fact she staked her claim on as many of those choices as she was able? Would I not (do I?) affirm the same authority of choice for women today?

Sometimes biblical texts & stories are so familiar that we neglect the details, or we neglect to realize how many of the details we’ve assumed into the stories. And sometimes biblical texts & stories & people — women, especially — are so unfamiliar that we don’t realize we’ve overlooked them, like how many women are unnamed but essential & present when a phrase such as “Israelites” or “people of Israel” is used in Scripture, or how many non-Jewish women & children are killed or enslaved every time the Israelites invade a new region of the Promised Land.

Womanist Midrash is a gift of remembering what is too often forgotten, of claiming & centralizing those who are too often degraded, of holding fast & fierce onto that which is hard for the sake of life and Life. It is a must-read for those who wrestle with Scripture.