In yesterday’s post I celebrated some good and useful books about the liturgical year. Joan Chittister’s has gotten some good press, as have most in that fabulous “Ancient Practices” series. (The last two have been on tithing and going on pilgrimages.)
And, I celebrated that we are doing an author appearance with Bobby Gross. He is the author of the aforementioned Living the Christian Year, a book we commented upon when it first came out, and which we are very happy to be able to promote again now. Having an author around keeps us on our toes and we are filled with nervous anticipation. We hope you are with us in spirit, as they say, and that if you’re in the area, you might stop by. As we’ve announced, we will have a worship service at First Presbyterian Church of York (downtown) at 7:30 to celebrate Ascension Day with Bobby reading excerpts from the book and more. Afterward, we will gather for refreshments and another “ancient practice”—that of getting books signed with author autographs. I doubt if that will get into the series edited by Ms Tickle, but it is classic, eh? Something about signing books.
If you want one, just send us WHO it is to be made out to, and we’ll get Bobby to autograph a book for you. We’ll send it, at the sale price of $15.00.
Living in the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God starts out with Gross giving an historical overview, educating us about the “intersection of time and eternity” and how living into these sacred cycles really helps attune us to the ways of God.
That very first part alone is worth the price of the book, but, of course, there is immense wisdom scattered in the rest of the daily devotions, too (and I mean that— there are treasures of insight here, good, good stuff.) In that first chapter he tells of his own growing journey into liturgical time and how living in New York during the horrors of what we now call “9-11” effected him. His judicious use of good quotes from the likes of Eugene Peterson, Lawrence Stookey, and Dorothy Bass show that he has read widely and deeply in this sacramental view of time. And, given his own experiences (as one who didn’t grow up in a highly liturgical church), there is nothing taken for granted. He tells us a bit about where these notions come from, and—what is most important, I think—how inhabiting these patterns, allowing these cycles and seasons and holy days to shape our imaginations, allows us to do what even the most recent Donald Miller book invites us to: living into a bigger and better story.
Bobby starts the book with a brief, but well written and tender recollection of having Bible devotions in his family (see, he did have some ritual experiences early on.) This love for Bible stories and other stories, too, gave him the “ears to hear” the deeper meanings of epics like the Tolkien myths, which he cites to great advantage.
“Most of us,” he writes,
think of ourselves as ordinary people living quiet lives in unremarkable places. We are merely hobbits in our shires. But listen! We may not be caught up in dangerous drama like Frodo and his loyal companion, Sam, but we nonetheless live inside a big story, one that started long before our birth and that will go on long after our death, one that’s as wide as the universe and as old as eternity: the Story of God as centered in Jesus the Christ.
Our personal narratives take their fullest shape and deepest meaning in relation to God’s purposes for us and for the world. As Eugene Peterson puts it, “God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.” A very large context and very long plot indeed.
Later, Bobby summarizes, “In other words, we want to inhabit the still-unfolding Story of God and have it inhabit and change us. And this is exactly what the ancient liturgical habits of living the Christian year helps us to do.”
I don’t know if this language of “story” resonates with you. Bobby has worked with university students, and now directs those who do this hard work, campus ministers among grad students, faculty, and emerging young scholars. I do not think it is an accident that he has found this approach helpful, as it is a common-place that our post-modern generations long for coherent stories. Some of us still just tell the gospel in terms of dogma and doctrine with little beyond theological facts either affirmed or rejected. (Think of the debate about how to best describe justification and imputation that raged at my Facebook site after I applauded N.T. Wright last week.) Some of us talk about faiths as worldviews, but often as if they are mere intellectual constructs, philosophies, ideas. Yet others are increasingly realizing that worldviews are, in fact, shaped not only by ideas, but by the flow of narrative, by images, by metaphor. That is, our lives are story-shaped and our deepest convictions come to us as a story of which we are a player. As scholars as diverse as Stanley Hauerwas, Eugene Peterson, Madeline L’Engle, Lesslie Newbigin, (and yes, N.T. Wright) remind us, the Bible itself is story-shaped.
So how to “get into” the Bible story? Reading it in bits and pieces won’t do, and wading through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and so on, while mandatory, isn’t enough, either. Perhaps this ancient wisdom of a liturgical calendar, of arranging our very days and months and seasons in terms of the life of Jesus might help us. Bobby makes a brief, but solid case that this is so, and then gives us 52 weeks/chapters showing us how it is done.
At one point he nicely reminds us that the Christian year “gives us a panoramic view of the triune God and his Story. But we don’t just survey the landscape; we inhabit it.” Nicely put, isn’t it?
Near the very moving last page, he wonders how the reader is doing. He wonders out loud for a paragraph or two about different kinds of readers, those who naturally enjoy this approach, or those who have found it odd or off-putting. Some are part of communities of faith that reinforce these ancient rituals and practices, others not so much.
He suggests, “But whether all this seems brand new or old hat, feels liberating or overwhelming, I encourage you to stick with it. Continue to avail yourself of this means of grace. Enjoy the freedom to experiment and find the patterns of observance that work for you.
And be patient. Like any new habit, the doing gets easier over time and the dividends grow more rewarding.”
Reading and pondering books like this is a way to grow up in Christ, to deepen discipleship. In workshops I do, I sometimes call reading a “spiritual discipline.” Whether it is this resource or another, I hope you are doing “spiritual reading” and “sticking with it.”
Here is the transcript of an interview with Bobby Gross about Living the Christian Year.
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