For The Someday Book

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Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, by Dorothy C. Bass as part of the Practices of Faith Series. Jossey-Bass, 2000, 142 pp.

This was exactly the right book at exactly the right time. I have owned it since 2004 (according to the inscription from my mother). At that time, we had both been doing a lot of reading about the practice of keeping Sabbath, and sharing our favorite books. For some reason, I never got around to reading this one until now. As I began my sabbatical, I desperately needed a resource to help me slow down and be present to this time. Far more than a guidebook to Sabbath-keeping, Dorothy Bass devotes much of this book to simply exploring and explaining how to receive time as a gift, rather than spending our lives judiciously spending, managing or using it.

In the spirit of the book, I did not allow myself to consume it in one day, but divided it up and read it over the course of four days. I wanted to be able to spend time reflecting on each section, instead of just assimilating information. Although it could be read in one sitting or one day, I recommend against it. The book deserves a slow reading.

In sum, Bass attempts to reposition our relationship with time from use to gift.

What we really need is time of a different quality. We need the kind of time that is measured in a yearly round of feasts and fasts, in a life span that begins when a newborn is placed in her parents’ arms, and a day that ends and begins anew as a line of darkness creeps across the edge of the earth. (3)

She then goes on to explore Christian practices that help us cultivate this different kind of time. She examines practices to welcome the day (like morning and evening prayer), to mark the week (keeping a Sabbath day in ways familiar and new), and to follow the rhythm of the Christian year, which enables us to keep company with God’s actions in the past and God’s promises for the future.

I have already written about how this book has impacted my sabbatical journey by helping me to let go of my to-do lists for the remainder of sabbatical. There is another practice Bass suggests that I have already incorporated into my daily life. As we contemplate each day as a gift, she tells the story of a mother who asks her children every night, “Where did you see God today?” That is everything I wish to reclaim in my spiritual life, everything I wish to learn and see in this sabbatical time—the ability to see God in every day, and take time to name it and give thanks for it. Yet it took Bass’ book to give me the right question to ask, and a framework for asking it. Starting three days ago, I began a new journal. Every night, I ask myself the question: “Where did you see God today?” and write it down in a little notebook by my bedside. It is already starting to attune me more deeply to the God-moments of each day, and the practice of writing them down gives me a chance to reflect on them. I can keep prayerfully meditating on God’s presence in the day as I drift off to sleep.

The challenge will come when I complete sabbatical and return to “regular life.” But this practice is one I hope to hold on to, and I hope it will hold me in a spirit of holy time, receiving the working days as easily as the resting ones.

If you struggle to find God in the everyday, if you feel like your life is living you rather than you living your life, if the time is moving too quickly or just seems too full, read this book, and read it slowly. And try out a practice or two to appreciate the gift of time and receive the day.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, Inc., 2007, 759 pp.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series over the years. I saw the first movie, then picked up Book 2 one night when I was stranded at Midway airport. I have looked forward to the release of each book and movie since then. I went to see the new movie on opening day (not at midnight, but a nice, empty 1:30 p.m. Friday afternoon showing). Before I did, I stopped to reread the book version. As always, the book is much richer. In particular for Book 7, I thought the movie just felt way too fast, so that the audience barely had time to absorb everything that was happening. When you are reading the book, you have the choice to pause and reread that you do not have in a film.

I think what is most compelling about the series is the way Rowling takes classic mythical themes and dresses them up in fresh and creative ways. The Harry Potter series combines all these familiar plotlines and tropes: unloved orphan who discovers he is special, good vs. evil, coming of age, quest, tragic hero with loyal friends, a war story, a sports story, an underdog story, perceived evildoers who turn out to be good, sacrifice of an innocent and many more. These are stories that have been told for thousands of years, because they speak to the human heart in powerful ways. Rowling dresses them up in wizarding robes and creates a compelling new world and new characters to live out those stories. We are captivated and delighted once again.

One of the things that particularly captivated me about the last book was the way it worked like a classic war story. Book 7 (and the movie) both work like all war stories—battle scenes punctuated by waiting scenes and conversations between war buddies about what it all means and why they are doing it. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry and his friends are in the middle of a war against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Some of the battles take place directly with Harry, Ron and Hermione, but there are battles happening on a wide array of fronts. Death is an ever-present reality. In the course of Book 7, characters are dying all the time. From the opening battle on, someone that we have known and loved for all or part of the series dies. But because there is a war going on, there is not time to mourn each loss. Like soldiers at the front, the remaining characters bury the dead, pause for a moment, and return to the front. I am impressed by Rowling’s ability to capture that grinding presence of death and its threat, instead of tipping into sentimentality.

The other part of Book 7 that captivates me is the story of the sacrifice of the innocent. There is an implication from the end of Book 6 (if not before) that the death of Voldemort will also be the death of Harry. Harry the innocent must die, so that Voldemort the evil can be vanquished.  (Warning: potential spoilers ahead, although all details are deliberately vague.) This plays out to completion in the book, but the recent movie is only Part I and does not get this far. You can pick up on some of this even in the trailer below.

This sacrifice of the innocent is another classic story in human history, but it is also at the heart of many versions of the Christian story. In some theologies of the atonement, Jesus was sent by God to be a perfect innocent, so that he could be sacrificed on the cross and his innocent blood could pay the price for our guilt and sin. In order for us to be saved, an innocent life must be lost. (I do not share this theology myself. I would say that Christ’s life and death were the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us, that Jesus was an example of faithfully following God even unto death, and that the resurrection is proof of God’s ultimate victory of life over death.) While it’s not as blatant as the death of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there is clearly a parallel to the Christian story of willingness to follow the faith unto death, sacrifice of an innocent, and resurrection.

For all the hoopla about some Christians who object to the Harry Potter stories for inspiring our youth to dark magic and devil worship, the story in the end is not far from the Christian story. There is certainly a case to be made that one could read the Jesus story parallel to Harry Potter and use one to interpret the other. While I have not read it, I suspect that The Gospel According to Harry Potter by Connie Neal does exactly that.

Harry Potter is captivating because it takes familiar myths that speak deeply to the human heart, and offers new plot twists, characters and settings to entertain and inspire us. I, for one, am looking forward to the final installment of the movie!


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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