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Hail Mary, the Lord Is with You

In the past few years, some of the more curious and adventurous souls in evangelical circles have been increasingly turning their attention to non-traditional means of deepening one's spiritual path. These means include such paths as sacred reading (Lectio Divina), praying the Psalter, and using the Jesus Prayer (the prayer made famous by the Eastern Orthodox classic, The Way of a Pilgrim). There are numerous other examples, ranging from contemplative prayer to spiritual direction, and they all merit at least a look.

Two recent books explore some of those paths in some detail, and they, too, merit at least a look. They are Marcia Ford's Traditions of the Ancients: Vintage Faith Practices for the 21st Century and Tony Jones's The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life, and they're both wonderful books.

Ford's book briefly examines 28 ways to deepen your connection to the Divine. Each short chapter in her book touches on one of the traditions in a personal, reflective manner. Then there's a boxed section that explores that tradition and its practice in more depth. Each chapter is additionally peppered with boxed scripture and other quotations illustrating the point at hand, and the book ends with a brief bibliography.

Jones's book goes into more depth, but that's probably because he only deals with sixteen ways to embrace one's spirituality, about half that of Ford's book. The Sacred Way includes a very helpful chapter trying to define that troublesome term ("spirituality"), and uses journal-like entries to enter each practice as it unfolds. Jones includes material on both the history and theology of each of his disciplines of the spirit, and the book ends with a bibliography of both web and print resources, as well as a "short" — two pages of closely spaced type — resource list of Christian spiritual classics.

There are lots of books out there that address spirituality. These two stand out from the mass.

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Ave Maria Press is a small ecumenical publisher based in Notre Dame, Indiana. They have several imprints, including Christian Classics, Forest of Peace, and Sorin Books, and publish many books from a number of perspectives. I love their stuff (they published one of my favorite titles of last year, Caryll Houselander's The Reed of God), and frankly leap at the opportunity of sharing a mite of my enthusiasm with other hungry readers and explorers of the spiritual life.

Ave Maria, in their Sorin Books imprint, has just released a book that is particularly exciting to me as it comes from a tradition for which I have a deep and abiding passion. The book is Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk through the Quaker Tradition by Catherine Whitmire. Whitmire, the author of the very popular Plain Living, is obviously well equipped to explore her Friendly subject. This book is designed to be a devotional, but it could equally well be a reader in the peace testimony of the Quaker tradition — or in peacemaking in all aspects of any of our lives. The book is divided up into chapters that each provide a reflection on some aspect of peacemaking, followed by a selection of Quaker quotes that illustrate that reflection, and then a series of queries, or questions, to deepen one's consideration of the topic at hand. Simply because I can't resist, here's a quote from a chapter entitled "Practicing Peace in the Face of Evil." The source of the quote is Henry Joel Cadbury, and it dates from 1922:

The method of Jesus in dealing with evil was, in a word, the overcoming of evil with good. Desiring as he did not the punishment of wrong, nor the defense of right, as we use these terms, but the making right of one who is wrong, he exhibited a strange contrast with the methods of modern law, industry and politics. He was able to draw the line in both his teaching and conduct between rebuke and reviling, between judgment and censure. The present day methods of dealing with evil Jesus habitually eschews. They are forms of coercion, by law, by violence, by external moral authority, by propaganda. Jesus relied on forms of conversion, by rebuke, by persuasion, by individual and inward conviction, and by love.

And, the first of the queries for that chapter asks: "When have I overcome evil and affirmed my humanity through resourceful everyday means?" These are the sorts of questions many more of us could be asking ourselves, particularly in our day as things seemingly fall further and further apart. This timely and fascinating book is a good means through which to pursue such a practice, one that would inevitably prove challenging and lead us to greater integration of faith and practice in our own lives. After all, isn't that what spiritual discipline is supposed to be all about in the first place?

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Traditions of the Ancients: Vintage... New Trade Paper $14.50
  2. The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices... Used Trade Paper $8.00
  3. The Reed of God: Used Trade Paper $8.95
  4. Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk... Used Trade Paper $9.95
  5. Plain Living: A Quaker Path to... Used Trade Paper $7.50

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