Review: Where the Eye Alights

Where the Eye Alights, Marilyn McEntyre. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2021.

Summary: A collection of forty Lenten meditations drawn from words or phrases from scripture and poetry, inviting us to pause and attend.

“Lent is a time of permission. Many of us find it hard to give ourselves permission to pause, to sit still, to reflect or to meditate or pray in the midst of daily occupations–most of them very likely worthy in themselves–that fill our waking minds and propel us out of bed and on to the next thing. We need the explicit invitation the liturgical year provides to change pace, to curtail our busyness a bit, to make our times with self and God a little more spacious, a little more leisurely, and see what comes. The reflections I offer here come from a very simple practice of daily meditation on whatever has come to mind in the quiet of early morning.”

Marilyn McEntyre, p. v.

These opening words, in McEntyre’s Preface to the forty meditations in this book, gave me permission to pause and sit with her as she reflected upon the things on which her eyes alighted. For McEntyre, who loves words and their careful use, it is words and phrases upon which her eyes alight and which she invites us to join her in considering. Most come from scripture, some from poetry. Her reflections sometimes help us see the strange in the familiar. Isn’t it strange, for example that Isaiah 30:15 pairs “repentance and rest”? For most of us, repentance does not seem very restful. McEntyre observes:

“And repentance, to return to Isaiah, allows you to rest. I think of the many times I’ve heard–and said–some version of ‘I’m wrestling with…” “I’m struggling with…” “I’m working on…” changing a habit, coming to terms with self defeating patterns, releasing resentments or guilt or old confusions. Repentance allows us to rest in forgiveness, regroup, and rather than wrestling, float for a while, upheld while we learn to swim in the current, or walk unburdened, or do a dance of deliverance, day by day releasing the past and entering fully, with an open heart, into the present where an open heart is waiting to receive us.”

Marilyn McEntyre, p. 11.

Another reflection draws upon a Christian Wiman poem title “Every Riven Thing.” She reflects on the rivenness of our lives amid our own griefs and fraught politics: “We live among–and are–what is riven, cracked, and split, having to revise our understanding of ‘healing’ and ‘wholeness’ as we age into inevitable learning that those words don’t mean a fairy-tale ending, or closure, or even a denouement at the end of the last act.”

Thus she draws us into the reflections of Lent when we remember we are dust (another reflection). We consider what it means to be a people prepared, the loving listening of obedience, and the moments of epiphany that come as each of us wait and watch. She invites us to consider prayer as a place and in the movements of prayer open ourselves to the Spirit’s coming upon us. The reading for Good Friday guides us through the Stations of the Cross, providing guided prayers for each station and may be used at any time one prays the stations.

Each of the reflections are two to four pages long. Since the Sundays of Lent are not included in the forty days of Lent, there are no reflections for Sundays (although I’m sure some of us would use Sunday as a makeup day!). A marginal note indicates the week and day of each reflection. An attached ribbon is included in the book for marking one’s place.

I’ve come to love the combination of elegant attention to words and perceptive attention to life I find in each of McEntyre’s books. I recognize this review comes after Lent. While most appropriate for Lent, this book may be used for devotional reading at any time, or taken for reflection if you are accustomed to take personal retreats. If nothing else, if you purchase it now, you will not have to cast about wondering what you might read next year. Just keep it some place “where the eye alights.”

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Way of Julian of Norwich

The Way of Julian Norwich: A Prayer Journey Through Lent, Sheila Upjohn. London: SPCK, 2020.

Summary: Six meditations on the writings of Julian of Norwich that redirect our focus from sin and judgement to the greatness of God’s love revealed in Christ’s incarnation and death.

Julian of Norwich chose a life of prayer and seclusion in a cell attached to St. Julian’s church in Norwich. At thirty, she nearly died, and during the time of her illness, experienced a series of “showings” of the Passion of Christ that were recorded in Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman.

Sheila Upjohn first read Revelations of Divine Love fifty years ago and is a founding member of Friends of Julian of Norwich. Out of her lifetime of reflecting on Julian, she offers this book consisting of an introduction to the life of Julian of Norwich and six meditations drawing upon the material from Revelations of Divine Love. This makes for an ideal guide to reflection during the six weeks of Lent for individuals or groups.

One of the themes running through these reflections is — surprise–Divine love. The first reflection is titled “Our Prayer Makes God Glad and Happy.” This drawn from Julian herself who wrote:

“Our prayer makes God glad and happy. He wants it and waits for it so that, by his grace, he can make us as like him in condition as we are by creation. This is his blessed will. . . He is avid for our prayers continually.”

Julian of Norwich, Chapter 41 as cited in Upjohn, p. 6.

In the second reflection on the “Huge, High Wholeness of God” Upjohn shows us Julian’s adoration of the Trinity and concept of God as both Father and Mother to us. Then in the third, and perhaps to me, most striking reflection, she explores the idea of sin as “behovely.” Using the example of the exposure of David’s sin by Nathan and his repentance and casting of himself upon the mercy of God, Julian argues that sin is behovely, or behooves us, in that “it cleanses us and makes us know ourselves and ask forgiveness.” For Julian, the fear of God’s anger is in us and drives us to God who we find is not angry but good.

In the fourth reflection, Julian explains how this all could be so. Not only in Adam did we all fall, she also explains how the Son fell with us, becoming a servant, bearing our sin that we might be blameless. Julian’s vision of divine love does not obliterate an understanding of evil and temptation, which Upjohn explores in the fifth reflection on the temptation of Christ. The sixth and final reflection brings us to Good Friday and the different ways we see the cross, either in horror tinged by our own guilt or the wonder that through the cross, we belong to God:

“Then our good Lord Jesus Christ said: ‘Are you well paid by the way I suffered for you? I said: ‘Yes, Lord, I thank you. Yes, good Lord, blessed be your name.’ Then said Jesus our kind Lord: ‘If you are well paid, I am well paid, too. It is a joy, a happiness, an endless delight that ever I suffered my Passion for your sake. If I could have suffered more, I would have suffered more.’ For the Father is fully pleased with all the deeds that Jesus has done to win our salvation. Through this we are his, not just because he bought us — but also by the gracious gift of the Father. We are his joy, his reward, his glory and his crown by the generous gift of his Father.”

Julian of Norwich, (Chapter 22) as cited in Upjohn, p. 78.

Upjohn not only introduces us to Julian, but to the God of divine love, moving our focus from ourselves, our fear, our guilt and our shame to the unfailing mercy of God, revealed in his son. The work is tastefully illustrated with artwork and photographs. Each reflection concludes with questions for discussion and directs the reader to stations of the cross and Julian’s reflections. The fourteen stations are included in the after matter as well as Margery Kempe’s account of her visit to Julian.

This is a wonderful compilation to familiarize one with Julian’s work that may be used at any time of the year as well as one in the ‘Prayer Journey Through Lent’ series published by SPCK. My suggestion would be to obtain a copy now to read and then use with several others during Lent next year. The combination of Julian’s writings and Upjohn’s thoughtful meditations offers rich material for reflection and prayer at Lent or throughout the year.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: To The Cross

To The Cross

To The Cross, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: Transcripts of five expository messages on gospel passages pertaining to the passion and death of Christ.

In the season of Lent, one of the things I try to do along with some kind of fast is to read some kind of reflection on the death and resurrection of Christ. This collection of five messages drawn from five passages representing all four of the canonical gospels met this goal perfectly and brought fresh light to familiar passages. In this case, the table of contents is helpful for seeing the ground Wright covers:

Preface
1. The Last Supper: Matthew 26:17-30
2. Peter’s Denial: Matthew 26:69-75
3. Insults and Paradise: Luke 23:26-43
4. From Darkness to Light: Mark 15:33-39
5. It Is Finished: John 19:28-37
Appendix: Preparing to Proclaim
Acknowledgments
Notes

There were some fresh insights. Wright argues persuasively that Judas was probably seated in one of the two seats of honor, allowing John, in the other, to overhear the conversation Jesus has with him. It signifies the great love Jesus had for Judas, and the hope that even at this hour, Judas might be turned from betrayal

Wright summarizes Luke 23:26-43 in terms of “Four scenes full of scripture,” “Three last temptations full of irony,” and “Two last sayings full of hope” (“Father, forgive them” and “today you will be with me in paradise.”). One sees here the strong heritage of biblical exposition at All Souls, Langham Place, where Wright preached these messages. This was the parish long served by John R. W. Stott, and Wright carries on this tradition in messages like these, as well as his work with the Langham Partnership dedicated to carrying on the work of John Stott in training ministers in biblical preaching.

A message that connected with me and may for many is his study of Peter’s denial in Matthew 26:69-75. He helps us both see ourselves in Peter, and find hope. Here are a couple excerpts:

There, on the one hand, is Jesus—in danger of losing his life, and yet he stands firm under threats before the highest authorities in the land. And there, on the other hand, is Peter—in danger of probably not very much except embarrassment and possibly a bit of a beating, but he gives way in front of nothing more than a couple of servant girls.

There, on the one hand, is Jesus—put on oath to speak the truth about himself, and he does so. And there, on the other hand, is Peter—calling down oaths in order to deny the truth about himself and Jesus.

. . .

How do we respond, not only to what this story tells us about Peter, but also to what it tells us for ourselves? Why has Matthew reported it? Why have all the Gospels reported this story? I think it tells us three things, at the least: failure is a fact, failure is foreseen, and failure is forgiven.

There was one other insight that I had not thought about that Wright draws from the words of John 19:30, in the last message of this collection:

“John makes one last observation about the inner consciousness of Jesus: ‘With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’ That is quite deliberate language. John means that Jesus did not just expire. He did not just lose consciousness. He did not even just lose his life. Jesus gave up his life. This was his moment, it was his active choice, and he was conscious of making that choice, finishing the task he had come to do.”

You might have noted in the table of contents that there is an Appendix on “Preparing to Proclaim.” In this section, Wright takes us into his study and shares both some general practices he uses in study and preparation of messages, and how he developed the outline and content of each particular message in this collection. Having prepared many messages, I enjoyed looking over the shoulder of another for what I could learn. Even if you do not preach, this will help you know something of the practices of any pastor who tries to carefully exposit scripture.

This is a great collection for personal reflection, group study, or for those who might give messages on some of these same texts. These messages take me from the last supper to the foot of the cross, and leave me in wonder and praise, saying, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!”

_____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.