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"An important discipline in the life of the Spirit is spiritual reading. Through spiritual reading we have some say over what enters into our minds. Each day our society bombards us with a myriad of images and sounds... do we really want our mind to become the garbage can of the world?" (Nouwen, Here and Now, p. 80)

Now that sentiment gets one's attention, doesn't it?! In recent weeks and months, I've found myself enjoying some profound new devotional materials. They aren't necessarily defined as such (i.e. for daily or weekly reading with reflection questions, etc), but they are complimenting each other and my journey so well this season that I wanted to share and recommend!

Henri Nouwen, "Here and Now"

I picked this one up from our office library, which is furnished with hundreds of books either donated or carried down by volunteers over the past few decades. Categorized by chapter, Nouwen's book explores a wide variety of topics. As in many of his works, Nouwen’s central concern is in bringing readers to the present moment –the here and now – trusting God more fully, and delighting in who He is.

The chapters in Nouwen’s book have seemed to come at just the right moments. I first picked this up while home over Christmas, the night before our family celebration of Ted’s 30th birthday (done one month early, so that we could all be together.) A few pages in, Nouwen talks about the special meaning of birthdays, because in them we are given a chance to celebrate a person for who they are- not because of graduation, job promotion or some fine achievement. (I read this aloud before we dug into his chocolate cake the next evening; though I think everyone was just eager to dig into the cake. ;) And then, in early January, I read his exhortation to fight fatalism and lean towards faith. This was on the eve of the 5-year earthquake anniversary in Haiti and a fresh onslaught of negative journalism coverage. His reflection was timely and helpful for the discouragement we can face in our work.

David Winter, "Closer than a Brother"

Closer than a Brother is a re-interpretation of the famous meditation of Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God. Given to us a few years ago by my mother-in-law, I've read it once and Ted and I are now re-reading it together, "book-on-spouse" style as my dad would say :)

Each chapter is a conversation between the author and Laurie, the kitchen cook at the hospital where they both work. It's full of reminders of the overwhelming presence of God in the day-to-day, and some of the "simple truths" about our faith that are profound and yet still so hard to grasp. A common theme in a few books that I am reading right now is summed up in the most recent chapter we read in Winter's book: "All He really wants is me." A helpful, sort of mind-bending truth, isn't it?

"Living the Christian Year, Time to Inhabit the Story of God"

This was given to me by a friend about a year ago, and it has enriched some of the past ''holy seasons'' immeasurably! The starting premise of the Christian Calendar is that each season is holy. I had never heard of Ordinary Time or quite understood the season of Epiphany or even the Twelve Days of Christmas before reading this book. The book begins with a great explanation of the history and meaning behind the Christian calendar, which is typically followed in the more orthodox Christian traditions and not American Protestantism. It then has guided Scripture reading, prayer and mediation points for each week of the year.

Ted and I especially appreciated the readings on Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas. Every night we had a common Scripture to read. It helped ground us in the season, in the midst of the strong pull towards frenzy and increased busyness. (I must say, being in Haiti helped with that in its own way.) The explanations on Christmas traditions were also very enlightening. I loved discovering that the Twelve Days begin on Christmas. So really, the party is just getting started! After 40 days of anticipation, the celebration is not over in one day. It's meant to last over twelve days of intentional celebration and joy.

We aren't picking this up every single night, but what's wonderful is that it's always there and makes it easy to delve into the current season. Now with Lent beginning, I am looking forward to using this more intentionally once again.

We welcome your feedback and other suggestions!


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