Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life (by Joan Chittister)

"The Liturgical Year" is part of the Ancient Practices series (see my friend Beth's recommendation about another Ancient Practices book here), and is a terrific addition to it. Whether you are looking for an informative read to learn more about the purpose of the Christian Liturgy, or desiring a devotional study, this book fits the bill. Chittister, a Benedictine Nun, is an excellent writer with a strong understanding of the historical aspects of the church year. However, she also writes thoughtfully, answering questions the reader might be asking about "How does this all apply to me?"

The book begins by providing a brief historical account of different world calendars and how the liturgical calendar fits in, emphasizing the importance of the cyclical nature of the liturgical year and explaining the components of the year itself (e.g. Sunday/Sabbath, Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter). Soon she delves into detail about the different elements, spending more time on the more important events in the Christian year, such as Advent/Christmastide and Lent/Easter. Each event is explained from a historical perspective and a devotional perspective. While sometimes the text is somewhat wordy, and there are weird "quotes" throughout the pages that are highlighted - but are essentially what you just read in the paragraph, the book is insightful and enjoyable.The chapters are relatively short and if you read one per day, you would finish the book in just over a month of devotional readings.

For me, the first half of the book was especially powerful and poignant. The chapter on Advent is entitled "Advent: The Human Experience of Waiting" and it was interesting that I ended up reading it actually during Advent. This meant that God had my attention because every sermon was about waiting and hope, and so was this chapter. She says, "the year opens with Advent, the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious.It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored" (p. 59). In this chapter she argues that learning to wait expectantly and patiently is a key element to spiritual maturity. As I was reminded of the stories of Simeon and Anna during this Advent season, I realized that in order to be more spiritually mature, I must also learn to wait in hopefulness and watchfulness for what God has for me.

Later, in the chapter on Ordinary Time (which happens twice, first between Epiphany and Lent, and then between Easter and Advent), she teaches about the problem of self-indulgence and the wisdom in asceticism (or withholding from the self certain pleasures). I was reminded how important it is to train my body to submit to my mind and spirit.

All in all, its a great read and I give it 4.5 Thomas Kincaide calendars out of 5. It may be a little cerebral for some people, but if you are willing to go with her down the road, it is both informative and completely emotionally engaging.



fblife said...

Thanks for the link! Glad you liked yours better then I did mine! :)