Saturday, December 29, 2012

Following the Path of Celtic Prayer

This blog began in mid-June 2012 as a way for me to continue reviewing religious books, as I had been doing for years and in various publications.
Now on nearly the last day of 2012, I want to tell you a little about Calvin Miller’s the path of CELTIC PRAYER, first published in 2007 but as of November 2012 available in paperback and well worth reading and thinking about (
Miller is entranced by Celtic lore and the depth of Celtic spirituality and he shares what he has learned from their history and practice. His goal for this book is seen in the subtitle: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy. He wants readers to see and know that, whether of praise or confession or whatever our prayers may be about, each day they bring us closer to God, and as with the Celts, "our hunger for Christ keeps us talking with God."
As Miller says, "For Celts, to know God was to talk to him as he is. When they sang or prayed or hunted or played, they did so in the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Consistent adoration of the Trinity "filled their theologies, and the oneness of the Three permeated their art," and in fact, all they did and said and prayed. It’s amazing to see it in their words and their art, but it seems so right when we do see it.
In six chapters, Miller shares six ways of praying, calling them: Trinity Prayer, Scripture Prayer; Long, Wandering Prayer; Nature Prayer; Lorica Prayer (referring to the breastplate of protection described by Paul in Ephesians 6); and Confessional Prayer. He claims that "the Celtic embers of spirituality are catching fire all around us," as "the Celtic way stirs anew." Sounds to me like the right book to start the new year of 2013.
And a companion volume could be Miller’s Celtic Devotions, A Guide to Morning and Evening Prayer, also from InterVarsity Press. In this one, he offers 30 days of morning and evening prayer based on Psalm 119. He calls readers to be as pilgrims on a pilgrimage, making a journey "into the eternal presence of God." Each day includes a quote from the psalm as well as meditations and poems from Miller’s pen, and quotes from Celtic prayers and poems, especially from the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of early and traditional "Gaelic songs."
I count these two books a treasure, and maybe you will, too.

—Lois Sibley

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Christmas Adventure

The Lost Christmas Gift tells of an amazing adventure shared by a father and son in the wintery snow and cold of the Colorado mountains. Author Andrew Beckham tells us the story, combining imagination and truth-telling with maps, and skis, an old-fashioned sleigh, and beautiful trees. There is a mysterious man in the background, seen in antique photos and drawings on vellum. He leaves kindling wood and lumps of coal where they will find them. It is an intriguing mix of text and art that seems magical as one turns the pages. Who is this man and what is he doing here in the woods? It’s a bit scary as father and son finally realize they are lost in the dark, the cold, and the snowstorm.
It is a true story. The father and son were separated shortly after this adventure together, as the father, who was a mapmaker, had to go off to the war in Europe. The father wrote down their story in a handmade book that he made and sent back to his son from France, as a reminder of the fun time and the love they shared with one another. The book never came, or at least, not for 70 years. It was lost in the mail and when it finally came, it was old and worn. The boy was surprised to receive it and pleased that his father had sent him the story of their now long ago, overnight adventure in the snow. He wanted the story to be told to others so he sat down with his friend, Beckham, and showing him the special book, he told the story again.
Beckham, an artist and a skier himself, heard the story as an opportunity to tell it through the medium of unusual and different art works. He thought about how to present it in a book that both children and their parents would enjoy. And he wanted to include the mysterious man, who appears in the woods, who leaves skis, and firewood and lumps of coal, and who guides the father and son back to the path so they may find their way back home. Could he be St. Nicholas? Who knows?
Published by the Princeton Architectural Press (, this is what I call a "coffee table book," at 10 ½ by 12 ½". It’s a beautiful rendition of the story, sure to become a favorite.  

—Lois Sibley

Friday, November 30, 2012

Candles, Because the King is Coming!

This is not a book review. It is adapted from an article I wrote for The Bible Newsletter in December, 1982. I hope you find it helpful as we celebrate Advent again.
"It’s my turn to light the candles," said David.
"No, It’s my turn," Anne argued.
"No," insisted Mary. "You did it last night. It’s my turn."
"When’s my turn?" wailed Martha.
"You’re after me," said John, looking disdainfully down at his sister, "cause you’re the youngest."
"All right," said Mother, moderating since Dad was out of town. "It’s Mary’s turn. And John may put the candles out when we’re finished."
They all settled down in their places again as Mary took the matches from Mother and carefully lit the Advent candles, her small hands trembling with responsibility, while the other children watched, each one ready to take over the job, if necessary.
We always have candles at supper, but during Advent the after-dinner lighting of the candles in the Advent wreath in the middle of our dining room table is a special treat.
The children sit quietly in the candlelight while Mother, Dad, or one of the older children (we take turns) reads the verses that tell of the coming of Christ. There may be a comment or question on the Scripture just read. Perhaps we will sing a favorite hymn or Christmas carol. We finish with a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his great provision for all of our needs, especially for our Savior Jesus Christ.
Advent was established many years ago as a preparation for Christmas, just as Lent is a preparation for Easter. Four Sundays before Christmas, Advent begins. Its spirit is one of longing and expectation, recalling the centuries during which the faithful waited for the birth of the promised Messiah.
Some Advent wreaths are made to hold four candles, some five, the fifth being lit on Christmas Day. Some people use three purple candles and one pink, the three purple signifying the liturgical color of penitence, and the one pink, the "joyful" candle used on the third Sunday because Advent is half over. (Soon he is coming!) Sometimes all white candles are used. We often decorate our Advent wreath with cuttings of yew or pine or spruce, adding to its beauty. These sprigs can be changed for fresh cuttings as they dry out.
During the first week of Advent, each evening after dinner, one candle is lit just before the family devotional time together. At the beginning of each week, another candle is lit. On Christmas Day, the candles may be very short, so white candles for the next twelve days of Christmas and Epiphany may replace the used ones.
Books for meditation and prayers for each day of Advent are available. Or, you might like to use the following list of readings, which were printed in The Banner some years ago. We have used these readings during many Advent seasons and found them helpful in drawing our hearts and minds away from the harried commercialism of the season, and toward the coming of the King.
First Week
Sun   The Savior would be seed of a woman, Gen 3:1-15; Gal 4:4,5

Mon   Promised seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Gen 12:1-3; Matt 1:1,2; Gen
              17:15-22; Luke 3:34; Gen 28:10-15

Tues   Would come from the root of Jesse, Isa 11:1-10; Rom 15:1-13

Wed    Would be heir to David’s throne, Ps 89:1-4; 19-29; Luke 1:32, 33

Thurs  Christ’s birth and kingdom foretold, Isa 9:6, 7; Phil 2:5-11

Fri      To be born of a virgin, Isa 7:14; Matt 1:22, 23
           To be born in Bethlehem, Mic 5:2; Matt 2:1-6

Sat      A light unto the Gentiles, Isa 9:1, 2; Matt 4:12-17; Isa 60:1-3; Luke 2:25-32
Second Week
Sun    Christ to be a servant, Isa 42:1-4; Matt 12:9-21

Mon   Christ the shepherd, Isa 40:9-11; John 10:1-11

Tues   Marks of Christ’s ministry, Isa 61:1, 2; Luke 4:16-21

Wed   Christ to be a prophet, Deut 18:18, 19; Matt 21:10, 11; Acts 3:19-23

Thurs Triumphal entry foretold, Zech 9:9; Isa 62: 10, 11; Matt 21:1-9

Fri     Christ would be rejected, a Man of Sorrows, Isa 53:1-6; Luke 17:25; Matt 8:17

Sat     Christ the atoning Lamb, the Sin-Bearer, Isa 53:7-12; John 1:29; Heb 9:28
Third Week
Sun    Christ would conquer death and hell, Ps 16:7-10; Matt 16:21; Isa 25:8;
              Acts 2:22-27

Mon   Would ascend and intercede for his people, Ps 110:1-4; Ps 68:18; Acts 2:32-36

Tues   Christ will come again as Judge, Dan 7:13, 14; Matt 25:31-46

Wed   Christ, the King of Glory, Ps 24; Rev 5:11-14

Thurs We seek mercy and pardon, Ps 25

Fri     A forerunner promised; another Elijah, Mal 4:5, 6; Matt 11:7-15;
            Mal 3:1; Luke 3:1-6

Sat    John’s message of repentance, Isa 40:1-8; Matt 3:1-12; John 1:19-23

Fourth Week
Sun    The angel appears to Zacharias, Luke 1:15-25

Mon   Birth of John the Baptist; song of Zacharias, Luke 1:57-80

Tues   The annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel, Luke 1:39-56

Wed   Mary visits Elizabeth; her "Magnificat," Luke 1:39-56

Thurs The angel appears to Joseph, Matt 1:18-25

Fri     The birth of Jesus Christ, Luke 2:1-20

—Lois Sibley

Friday, November 16, 2012

Father of the English Reformation

God Truly Worshipped, Thomas Cranmer and His Writings, ed. by Jonathan Dean and published by Canterbury Press is available in U.S. through WestminsterJohnKnox (
Cranmer was a scholar and teacher at Cambridge, and a Fellow of Jesus College for some years before he was caught up in discussions on ways to help King Henry VIII solve his problem of divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Cranmer mentioned casually to friends that the universities of Europe should be canvassed to see if they had ideas on how to solve the King’s "Great Matter." So Cranmer was sent to Europe to gather ideas and opinions and bring them back.

Cranmer was one of those who believed that the King was the supreme head of both the church and his kingdom, not the Pope. Cranmer held to his belief that this "supremacy was the vital theological foundation upon which the English Reformation" would be based. The supremacy of the King over the church, plus restoring the Scriptures as the central authority in the church became the two main focuses of Cranmer’s career.
After his return from Europe and as a reward for his efforts, Cranmer was given "the living" of a small church in Worcestershire. But, in 1532, after the death of Archbishop Warham of Canterbury, King Henry nominated Cranmer as successor. Once installed, and because of the supremacy factor, Cranmer granted the King the divorce he wanted from Catherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn.
Editor Jonathan Dean, who is Assistant Professor of Religion and a Fellow of the Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action at Aurora University, Aurora, Ill., wrote of Cranmer, "No-one has ever written prayers like him; no-one has ever had a better grasp of the flow and beauty of a good liturgy. No-one has ever eclipsed him in shaping the vocabulary of the English speaking world, save perhaps Shakespeare."
This story of Cranmer’s life and ministry includes quotes from his written words; papers; letters; and excerpts from his book, Defences..., on his eucharistic theology, which was "eloquently expressed" and lives on in his most influential work, The Book of Common Prayer (1549 ff.).
After King Henry VIII died in January 1547, his son, Edward VI, was king for six years. Then Mary, the King’s daughter with Queen Catherine, and a Roman Catholic, came to the throne, turning everything back to the Pope’s rule of the church. During Mary’s reign, Cranmer was imprisoned, tortured, and forced to recant his beliefs. Many others also suffered, and were killed, usually by burning at the stake. Cranmer, after two years of vile treatment, was burned at the stake. He took back his recantation and said that the hand that signed those papers would burn first, and on March 21, 1556, he held his right hand into the fire first, as he had said he would.
—Lois Sibley

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Holiday Gift Book Ideas

Even in these busy days of multi-media opportunities, a gift book is always welcome. Here are some new books on the market that would be good choices for gift-giving.

My First Hymn Book
by Clare Simpson and from Paraclete ( is colorful, full of pictures of children singing and playing together, and it’s just the right size for small hands. It includes words of 11 favorite children’s hymns as well as I Sing a Song of the Saints of God and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.
     Star of Wonder written by Mary Lee Wile and illustrated by Sage Stossel is from Forward Movement Publications ( and tells the story of Jesse, a shepherd boy who sees the star in the night sky while he is watching his father’s sheep. When the wise men come following the star, Jesse leads them to the baby in the manger.
     Click 2 Save
by Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson, from Morehouse/Church Publishing ( claims that "social media have re-mapped the world" and they offer many ideas of how people and especially people in churches can get into new ways of sharing the Good News. If you know folks who love to tell the story, this book will help them learn to do it in various kinds of digital ministry.
     Lent for Everyone, Luke, Year C
by N. T. Wright is from WestminsterJohnKnox ( and continues Wright’s new series on devotional books for Lent. This one could be used by individuals or groups. Includes Wright’s own translation of the Scripture stories with a brief reflection and prayers to guide readers in applying Scripture to their own lives. I liked and reviewed his Lenten book on Year B in the March 2012 issue of Episcopal Journal.
     The Food and Feasts of Jesus
by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh, from Rowman & Littlefield ( would be a great gift for someone who is interested in food, cooking, and how it was done in the villages and towns where Jesus walked. Includes menus and recipes as well as much interesting information on First Century cultures.
     The Path of Celtic Prayer, an Ancient Way to Everyday Joy
by Calvin Miller is now in paperback from IVPress ( Miller is fascinated by Celtic history and he shares what he has learned about their practical ways of prayer.
     The Bible Challenge
, edited by Marek Zabriskie and new from Forward Movement ( offers readers the challenge of reading the Bible in a year. There are more than 100 authors, each of whom was given a segment of three days of the calendar year to provide Scripture, meditations, questions, and prayers. Foreword is by Frank Griswold, our 25th presiding bishop. Give this book to someone who will enjoy the challenge!

—Lois Sibley

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Children love to sing

My First Hymn Book, compiled by Clare Simpson and published by Paraclete Press (
is full of colorful drawings of children singing together. Some are dancing, some play trumpet or guitar or drums. Some are running or jumping or doing cartwheels throughout the book and all seem to be having a wonderful time together.

This 5 ½ x 7" book is the right size for small hands to hold and it includes the words of 11 well-known hymns that children may know and will enjoy singing from their own hymn book. Parents and siblings and friends can help them with the tunes if they aren’t quite sure how it goes.

Among the hymns are "Jesus Loves Me," "All Things Bright and Beautiful," "This is My Father’s World," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and "He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands."

Author Clare Simpson is an editor and music educator at Paraclete Press in Massachusetts. The illustrators are part of Paraclete’s in-house team and their design and artistry complement the words and actions on every page.

If you are starting to look for Christmas gifts or birthday gifts or any gift for a child, this book will quickly become one of their favorites, I’m sure.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, October 12, 2012

Faith, Tradition, and Change

Ten authors, an editor, and countless stories, reports, interviews, charts, photos of churches and bishops—it’s all here in This Far by Faith, Tradition and Change in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, recently published by Penn State University Press.

It begins with a helpful introduction by David Contosta, a history professor who is editor of this volume as well as author of the last chapter. He explains briefly what each author is reporting on: the founding of the colonial church; the Revolutionary War years; and the church’s identity, spirituality, and organization in early Pennslvania. Our story continues with reports of new growth and new challenges in the 1820–40s; the church in the city; the gilded age and progressive eras, up until about 1910; and the church in prosperity, the Depression, and First and Second World Wars. Then we read of the church on wheels; problems of social justice and the counterculture; and lastly, a chapter called A Perfect Storm, bringing the history up to 2010.

The last few chapters are especially interesting because we who read about it now were involved in the pros and cons of some of the issues: civil rights, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the ordination of women, the church and sexuality, divisions and schisms, charts with reports on the ups and downs of membership and money, General Convention meeting in our city in 1997, and the 200th anniversary celebration of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1984.

We remember many of the names, what they stood for, how they helped us, and sometimes stirred us up. First of all, we appreciate and are thankful for Bishop William White, who in 1784 "coaxed the Diocese of Pennsylvania into being," and who, at Christ Church, Philadelphia, "presided over the birth of the national church in 1789."

And in our own day, who can forget Bishop DeWitt, Paul Washington, David Gracie, Bishop Ogilby, Bishops Bartlett, Turner, and Bennison. And so many others over the years, faithful members of the Standing Committee, various committee members, our vestry members, and friends in the pews with us. Thanks be to God for all of them.

There were many challenges and there will continue to be in future. But it’s good to know and remember our "more than two-century history" as we continue on our way....Add a copy of this important book to your collection on church history.

—Lois Sibley

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Thomas in his hand
Imagination on track
All comes together

---Lois Sibley

Photo by Andi; Haiku by Lois.
Andi blogs at awrungsponge with photos, poetry, and reviews of children's books.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thank you, Benedict...

Way back in the fifth century, a monk named Benedict developed guidelines for his monastic community and The Rule of Benedict has been in use ever since. Benedict offered a way of listening to God in a safe, faith-filled community where like-minded believers may learn to practice the disciplines of prayer, healthy relationships, and good works. Over the years, many have followed Benedict’s suggestions.

Here comes Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen A. Macchia, published by InterVarsity Press (, and offering a contemporary approach, adapting St. Benedict’s Rule to our cultural situations today. This material could be used personally or in a group and it includes workbook pages so readers may begin to compose their own rule as they study how to do it.

Macchia suggests that a rule is like a trellis that supports and guides a plant as it grows. A rule could help us as we grow into the plants/people God wants us to be. Most of us probably don’t realize that we have a rule we live by without knowing it as our rule. It consists of what we do each day—our personal schedule. Maybe it is haphazard, thrown together by the circumstances of our lives. But maybe, suggests Macchia, it is time to give up that circumstantial rule and take time to sit down and prayerfully write a new personal rule, one that "more closely matches the heartbeat of God."

His book has three parts and the key words in the titles are: framing, forming, and fulfilling (Your Personal Rule of Life). In the framing section he looks at roles, gifts, desires, vision, and mission. Each chapter includes a guiding principle, a biblical reflection, historical insight, some questions to answer as we think of what might be a part of our rule, some prayer requests, and ideas for group discussion.

Part Two, Forming...includes chapters on time, trust, temple, treasure, and talent and concludes with a chart for readers to fill in as they are "weaving together" their personal rule of life.

Part Three, Fulfilling Your Personal Rule of Life, considers commitment to the Body of Christ and the context of a spiritual community. Macchia offers resources including information on communities who are using a communal rule of life now, a suggested reading list on some in church history who lived in a communal situation, and the examples of four individuals who have recently been crafting their own rule of life. Among the latter are a college student, a young mom, a ministry leader, and a business person. Here are many ideas to consider as we follow Benedict’s way but with our own Rule of Life.

—Lois Sibley

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Four From Morehouse

Probably the most interesting and immediately helpful facts for those who are learning to blog or use other digital media, as I am, will be found in Click 2 Save, the Digital Ministry Bible by Elizabeth Drescher & Keith Anderson. The Glossary in the back is one of the most helpful charts I’ve seen lately. But there is practical and useful info on every page. The authors note that the world is now a very different place than it was before being reshaped by all the new social media around us. What does that mean for you and your church? And how will you and your church involve yourselves in these new opportunities as we continue to "tell the old, old story?" Surely, you will want to! This book will help you begin.  

Cooking for a Healthy Church provides easy and nutritious recipes collected by members of The Episcopal Church Medical Trust. Besides the recipes, they include nutritional guidelines, stories, and prayers. To balance carbohydrates, fats, and protein, each recipe notes the grams and calories in each dish, as well as total calories. They suggest that we should take in 40 percent of our calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein, and 30 percent from fat. Recipes are listed in separate chapters on breakfast, lunch, appetizers, side dishes, dinner, desserts, coffee hour, and potluck. Cinnamon-Baked Squash sounds good, or how about Sweet Potato Soup? Or Blueberry Banana Muffins? Yum...  

 In Family Theology, Finding God in Very Human Relationships, Carol J. Gallagher is bringing together Bible stories with stories of everyday people and their families. She calls it an "invitation to tears and laughter, to storytelling and self-revelation." Gallagher is a priest who has served as a bishop and as a teacher in seminaries. She is also a Native-American woman who loves and lives in her Cherokee tradition alongside her belief in the Triune God. She hopes her book will encourage readers to "wrestle with the Scriptures," and "invite the Creator within."

For some reason, I hadn’t thought of the priesthood as a craft, but Barney Hawkins, priest and seminary professor, calls us to reflect on the craft of priesthood, and the etiquette and ethics that inform that craft. His book is called Episcopal Etiquette & Ethics, Living the Craft of Priesthood in the Episcopal Church. As Hawkins thinks over his years as priest and its ups and downs, he is often quotable. I will try to restrain myself and not quote him but I do hope that every priest and his/her spouse will take time to read this book. You will be glad you did.

—Lois Sibley

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Brother Cadfael Calls Me Away...

Brother Cadfael is tempting me to read again the 20 mysteries by amazing author Ellis Peters. I was caught by a beautiful book called The Benediction of Brother Cadfael. It’s not new but is introductory to Peters’ series on Brother Cadfael and his involvement in mysteries in and around the abbey and the town of Shrewsbury in the twelfth century. It includes the first two books in the series but between them is a wonderful chapter with photos and the history of "Cadfael Country," in Shropshire and along the border with Wales. I was caught, couldn’t resist for awhile. But I will put it aside as a treat for other moments....

The book I really want to review today is The Food and Feasts of Jesus by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh and published by Rowman & Littlefield ( These authors love to cook, though one is a CPA and one is an Episcopal priest. They believe "there is much to be gained by studying the connections between food, culture, and history."

Many of the meals described in the gospels are plain and simple, though some were banquets and feasts. Jesus ate often with his disciples, and sometimes with local authorities or sometimes with the ordinary people of Galilee. Those meals included discussions, even arguments. "Food and feasting were important to Jews, Christians, Romans, Greeks, and everyone else of the first century," write Neel and Pugh. They claim that "in studying food and customs, we may gain historical, cultural, and theological insight."

Food and feasting were times of community in those days, as they are today. Common meals meant community for all who attended. Think of the Eucharist and our weekly attending, listening, sharing, praying, receiving the bread and wine together. Is that community? I think so.

Chapter 2 tells us of first-century ingredients and cooking methods. The authors list foods that were available, including grains and legumes; vegetables; fruits; nuts; meat, poultry, game and fish; milk products; and herbs, spices and condiments. Wines and vinegars were used, as well as honey, "the primary sweetener in the ancient world." Salt was common, and olive oil the fat that was used. Meat was a luxury and a blessing. Diet consisted mostly of whole grains and legumes, and bread was served at every meal probably, with fruits and vegetables in season.

Chapters that follow begin with a few Scripture verses describing one of the meals or feasts common at the time. Each then tells how to plan that kind of meal with a menu and recipes so that readers may try it on their own. Hmmm, just reading it makes me hungry.

Chapter 8 has a supplement offering directions for a first-century Passover feast for those who would like to try that. In the final chapter, Neel and Pugh tell how they spent years making wine, cheese, and breads; how they studied farming and cooking; how they held first-century banquets and Passover feasts for family and friends. Now they encourage readers to join the feast, create their own first-century feast. Invite friends, get neighbors and church groups involved. "Your feast doesn’t have to be fancy." It just needs to be "an offering of generosity and hospitality."

---Lois Sibley

Friday, August 31, 2012

Time to Read a Classic...Again

If I asked you "which book has been published more and read more widely than any other, except for the Bible," would you know the answer? That book is called The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis. A new selection in Paraclete's GIANTS series ( ($29.99), this edition, titled The Complete Imitation of  Christ includes translation and commentary by Fr. John-Julian, OJN, founder of the Order of Julian of Norwich and author of another in the GIANTS series, the one on Julian, of course.

Thomas Kempis (1380–1471), as Fr. John-Julian prefers to call him, was a medieval monk who founded several monasteries in Europe and wrote 31 books, treatises and articles, as well as several biographies.

Fr. John-Julian’s introduction to this 456-page paperback is very informative as he describes how Kempis’s Imitation began and grew. He notes that as early as 1410—1415 pieces and copies of the writings of various monks, began to come together and were shared from one monastery to another. There were many years of controversy over who wrote which part of The Imitation, but by 1441, the first verified autograph manuscript, was signed as "by the hand of Thomas Kempis," a monk of Mount St. Agnes monastery near Zwolle in the Netherlands..

Fr. John-Julian’s translation is based on the first printed edition (1471) and he compared it with the 1441 edition but made few corrections. On each left-hand page of each chapter, he provides interesting comments and biblical references, which I found very helpful to have beside the poetic text on the right-hand page. He gives detailed endnotes on each chapter and a full bibliography, as well as a time line of the medieval church in Europe, from 1260–1471. He also includes a page on how "Notable Readers of The Imitation" responded to it.

The main body of the text is divided into four books, each book having several chapters. I like best the chapters in the fourth book, beginning with "Of Christ Speaking Inwardly to the Faithful Soul." There are imagined speeches and conversations between God and the soul, just as we might imagine today. I can definitely see why so many people like to keep this book by their beds, and often read a few pages before they go to sleep. I think I will try it, too.

Lois Sibley

Monday, July 30, 2012

Popular Culture and Each of Us!

We live in it, work in it, experience it all around us—the culture in which we live and move and have our being, the place where God has placed us! How do we cope with it? How do we critique it? Do we need to critique it?

In his new book, Pop ologetics, Popular Culture in Christian Perspective, (P&R, $19.95, Ted Turnau says, "Yes, we do." For many reasons. We need to help our children understand what is good or bad about the movie they are watching, the video games they are playing, the book they are reading, music they are listening to, whatever.

We need to examine and critique popular culture for our own attitudes about it. We need to look at it from our worldview or basic beliefs, as we consider how to take part in many of the opportunities in our culture. And we need to be ready to talk with our friends and neighbors about those same opportunities and experiences. Popular culture is all around us and it "has the power to influence our beliefs," says Turnau.

Turnau, who has studied popular culture for many years and who teaches cultural and religious studies at two universities in Europe, says he wrote it not for scholars, but for "thoughtful, everyday Christians," who are interested in serious reflection. He notes that his book is "for all who are interested in considering non-Christian popular culture from a Christian perspective"; and for those who would like to be able to discuss and present "intelligent, biblical answers back to worldviews presented in popular culture."

In Part 2, Turnau critiques five different Christian worldviews that have responded to popular culture but perhaps not in the most helpful ways.

In Part 3, he offers what he hopes is a more "balanced approach" with suggestions and how-tos on how to listen, read, or watch elements of popular culture. He says that popular culture "threatens to press us into its God-rejecting mold," and we must resist "by engaging and wrestling with it, we must respond with a Spirit-guided Christian-critical imagination."

Turnau offers ways to practice critiquing popular culture, including five questions we might use in learning to critique some aspects of the popular culture. He suggests conversations with friends and family members as ways to discuss the good and bad in the culture and how we might respond to it. Another way is to host group discussion nights with friends. And, of course, talk with your children, and share opinions with them.

There is a huge amount of material to digest here. If you read this book, you will be thinking about it for a long time. No doubt, it will help you follow St. Peter’s advice to "always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence (NRSV)."

—Lois Sibley

Friday, July 13, 2012

God is near and we need to notice!

book coverSometimes in the midst of our distractions we may wonder: where is God in all of this? Richard Peace, professor at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, in his new book, Noticing God, (IVPress, $15, offers answers as he calls us to notice God’s presence and activity in our lives every day.

Peace says that we may find God in mystical encounters; in the ordinary; in the still, small voice; in the power of community; in the written word; in creation, culture and creativity; and in church. These are his chapter titles and he guides the reader, offering his thinking on how we may discern God’s presence, both in all God has created and in our own corner of the world; and how we may know God’s voice in our lives.

In his chapter on mystical encounters, Peace reminds us of C.S. Lewis’s explanation of a deep longing that no experience in this world can satisfy, and Peace thinks that many of us have felt such a longing. He calls it "brushes with God." And he asks, "If we have such experiences, what did they teach us? What was God telling us? What did God want us to do then?"

Peace also says we need a God of ordinary life and in chapter two he discusses how we may come to know God in daily life. He writes about spiritual disciplines and practices such as the prayer of examen or, as Ignatius called it, "examination of conscience." He also explains Ignatian contemplation and spiritual exercises.

In chapter three, Peace recommends retreats. We must listen to God, and a retreat may be the right place for us to sit quietly and listen to God’s still, small voice.

In the chapter on the power of community, and Peace reminds readers of St. Benedict and his Rule. The first word in the Rule is "Listen...." Benedict taught that the presence of God is everywhere, and two spiritual practices to make us aware of that are the use of the daily offices of prayer and lectio divina. Benedict also taught the importance of hospitality and that Christ is to be met in other people.

On the written word, Peace discusses how the Bible helps us notice God, how it serves as an avenue to God and how we access the written Word in ways that lead to God. In the Bible, we meet Jesus. In this chapter, Peace gives more detail about the process of lectio divina. It is a process of four steps: reading or listening, meditating, praying, and contemplation. Peace says, "the Bible is the primary means by which we encounter the voice of God."

There are two more chapters and more good stuff in this book. Peace offers his Conclusion and A Guide to Personal Reflection and Group Discussion, as well as a good list for further reading, and extensive notes on each chapter.

As Dr. Peace tells us: "God is near. He is not hiding. We don’t know where to look or what to expect. We need to learn to notice." This book helps us do that.

—Lois Sibley

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Give Me a Word...

It's summertime, time to pack for a few days of vacation. What shall I bring to read? When I'm sitting by the water catching some rays, or on the porch of the cabin in the shade, what do I want to think about, learn more about during this quiet time I cherish? What would you choose?

Maybe something about meditation or spiritual direction? Maybe you already have a spiritual
friend, someone with whom you meet once a month and talk and pray through your concerns. It's a great blessing to have a friend like that. I know.

But, if you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction, perhaps you have questions such as: how is it done, how does one find a spiritual director, how much time is involved, how does one open up to a director one hardly knows? And you may have many more questions besides these.

A new book on the market called Abba, give me a word, the path of spiritual direction by L. Roger Owens (Paraclete, $15.99, might be just the one to add to your Nook or Kindle or whatever you use. It is also a real book that will fit easily into your carry-on or suitcase.

Owens thinks of his book as an "introduction to the practice of receiving spiritual direction," and he shares his experiences of "finding the God who has been there all along," while he learns to "live well in the mansion that is God's love."

His director, Larry, reminds him of Mr. Rogers (because he sits down and takes off his shoes before they begin to pray) but Larry always seem to have the appropriate comment or question for Owens to think about and apply to his situation.

After his introduction, Owens' chapter titles are: Longing (for God), Finding, Releasing, Offering (ourselves), Trusting, Attending, and finally, Go Well.

He quotes from the Scriptures, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, St. Benedict, Thomas Merton, Kenneth Leech, Denise Levertov, Margaret Guenther, Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, Julian of Norwich, and others. Even Dr. Seuss gets a word or two in.

I just finished reading this book and found it helpful and interesting, funny and wise.

---Lois Sibley

Friday, June 15, 2012

Remembering Evelyn Underhill, June 15-16

The Practical Mystic (Canterbury Press, Norwich, England, $29.99) is a new book on Evelyn Underhill, her life and her writings. It is edited and introduced by Raymond Chapman, an Anglican priest and Emeritus Professor of English in the University of London. The book is available in the U.S. through Westminster John Knox Press at

Today is the feast day for Underhill as appointed on the church calendar. She died in 1941 on this date. Underhill wrote more than 30 books and many articles and reviews that were hugely popular in the 1920s and 30s in England, but she is most famous for her book Mysticism. She often led retreats for women's groups in the Anglican Church in England and she was the first woman invited to lead retreats for Anglican clergy.

In the United States, the Evelyn Underhill Association (EUA) promotes study and research on Underhill and her writings. You could find their newsletter at http://www.evelynunderhillassociation/.

On June 15--16, 2012, the EUA is sponsoring a special day in honor of Evelyn Underhill, as they do each year at the Washington National Cathedral. For details, search: Evelyn Underhill Quiet Day at Washington National Cathedral.

---Lois Sibley

Monday, June 11, 2012

Who am I and what am I doing?

I have long been reading and reviewing new religious books and it is fun for me. For about 16 years now, I have shared my reviews with readers of Episcopal Life and then Episcopal Journal. Now, I will share them with you on this blog.
Among the books I choose to review will be those on prayer, meditation, aspects of the spiritual life, bios of famous or important Christians, church history.  Also maybe some fiction, mysteries, sometimes books for or about children (I have five!) and sometimes just subjects I think you might like to read about. I hope these reviews will always be informative and helpful to readers, wherever they are on their spiritual journeys.

So get a cup of tea and join me here whenever you can.

Perhaps I should begin with saying I was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) for 32 years. I learned my theology there. Then I read Robert Webber's Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail and I visited a nearby English Gothic church with a beautiful garden. It was on my way to and from the train when I commuted to my job in Center City. I was attracted to the garden, the liturgy with all the good words, the community and it's people, and I became an Episcopalian.

But I should explain that I had been baptized in the Episcopal Church when I was three years old. I remember standing at the font with my younger brother and sister and looking out at a vast audience of adults, all in dark coats and hats for the winter season. My grandmother stood in front of me, about six feet away, and she smiled and wiggled her fingers at me. I did it back to her and, of course, everyone smiled. That's one of my earliest and favorite memories. Then, from about six to ten years old, I attended a different Episcopal church with my other grandmother. Both of my grandmothers had a big influence on me, and I realize that as I try to be a grandmother, too.

Now, at this Gothic church I'm remembering, one day the red doors were open and I went in. They were having their noonday service so I joined them. When we kneeled down for the Confession and as we said it together, I heard my other grandmother's voice beside me, saying it with confident belief, as she always did.

So I did have some early experience with the Episcopal Church, and I give thanks for that and for Webber's encouragement to those of us who were thinking of "crossing over" to a new liturgy and worship experience at that time.

That leads me to my first mini-review on this blog: What Episcopalians Believe (Morehouse, $14) by Samuel Wells, who is dean of Duke University Chapel and teaches Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School.
     Wells reminds us that while we do not have a formal doctrinal statement or confession of faith as some churches do, we do have our two special books: the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer (BCP). In the prayer book, we have the creeds (Apostles' and the Nicene, which I think of as summaries of our doctrine) as well as the liturgy and the prayers. There is also the Thirty-Nine Articles, a doctrinal statement that came out of the Church of England in 1563, was adopted by the Episcopal Church in the United States in 1801 and is a part of the 1979 Prayer Book. He also counts and appreciates the four principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as part of our theological teaching.
     Dean Wells hopes that his book may help Anglicans and Episcopalians understand and appreciate one another wherever they live around the world. His book is well-written and thought-provoking. I recommend it.
Another book I want to mention today is Call On Me, A Prayer Book for Young People (Morehouse, $16). Put together by Jenifer C. Gamber and Sharon Ely Pearson, this pocket or purse-sized book offers suggestions for personal devotions. It also includes different kinds of prayers that will fit the lives of busy young people, prayers that fit into some of their own words and experiences. It would make a great gift!

This is a bit about who I am and what I plan to do on this blog. Of course, there are many other publishers who have good, religious books coming out all the time. I am eager to tell you about them, so stay tuned.