Moments & Days: How our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith by Michelle Van Loon
There seem to be an abundance of books published lately about time, our use of our time, what we say yes and no to, how overcommitted we are as a culture, about sabbath and white space and rest. Van Loon’s book strikes an entirely different chord. After reading her book, I am most challenged by her rendering of time, how it is not something that is ours to measure, but rather something that measures us.
“I’d like to suggest that our watches and Day-Timers and Google calendars are not the measure of our worth. We who belong to Jesus understand (at least in our heads) that we are not our own. Our eternal God has given us this slice of eternity, right here and now, in which to live for and with him.
Following a calendar that tells us our lives are not all about us is a powerful place to learn to inhabit the sacred gift of time. When Paul acknowledged not all followers of Jesus see specific days as holy, he wasn’t suggesting that everyone in the church needed to hit the ‘delete’ button on the discussion (Rom. 14:5-10). He was instead encouraging them to give one another lots of grace as they sought how to honor God together in community. He never discounted the value of the weekly/yearly rhythm of holy days. He simply wanted the Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus to understand that the finished work of Jesus the Messiah fills full the meaning of these festival days.” (Van Loon, p.xvii
I was not raised in a church that practiced liturgy or observed the Christian calendar. I am so thankful for my father’s strong insistence in teaching us that we are not bound to the law in this way, no longer bound to keeping holy days and feasts. As such, I really had no familiarity with this way of faith. My legalistic/perfectionist bent is better off for it, I’m sure. I keenly remember my first exposure to someone who prayed through the Common Book of Prayer, a simple mailman who went to church with us, who carried a prayer rug with him in his mail car, who wrote and sang the most haunting music with his wife. They sang at our wedding. I found his habits strange, uncomfortable, curious–and yet he was a kind old soul and there was something drawing about his love of liturgy. Over the years since then, it seems to have become more common to hear of Christians observing Advent and Lent and to hear chatter about the Christian calendar. I have often been curious to do more research in hopes of understanding, and I have found myself hungry to observe the calendar with the wider community of saints.
Van Loon’s book is perfect in this regard. Jewish by heritage, she came to faith in Christ in her teens and she tells a bit of her story of coming to faith, understanding her entire Jewish background and all of the feasts finding their fulfillment in Jesus. She speaks about her intellectual understanding of the Christian calendar versus the experience of worshipping through it with her community.
The first half of the book unpacks the major Jewish feasts, explaining their history and how Christ is on display in each one. For the Jewish people, “time was defined by seeing themselves as part of God’s eternal story. As they participated in specific appointed times to meet with God throughout each year, they immersed themselves afresh in his story of creation, redemption, and re-creation” (Van Loon, p.17).
The second half of the book travels through the Christian calendar. “Each day and season in the Christian year moves us through the main events in Jesus’ life and ministry. But the Christian year is not merely an annual memorial tour. It is meant to be a way to help us remember we are living eternity every day” (Van Loon, p.108).
She also includes a glossary of Jewish terms, side-by-side calendar comparisons, recipes commonly associated with the feasts, and a thick list of resources for further study.
I found her book to be incredibly insightful, whetting my appetite for further study and for further experience. Well-written, engaging, historical, Christ-exalting, revealing the ties that bind us together in the body of Christ, her book is one I highly recommend. It will be one I refer back to frequently! I just picked it up again to refer back to her notes on the Advent season, as that is now upon us.
Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas by Leslie Leyland Fields
I read Surviving the Island of Grace by Fields earlier this year and so enjoyed her memoir of her early days meeting her husband and finding her way into a life as a commercial salmon fisherwoman in the wilds of Alaska. When I saw that she was publishing a new book, I squealed with glee. Her writing is quite engaging, often rooted in landscape, honest, raw, and resonating with the human experience. This one particularly caught my attention because I have recently finished a slow two-year personal study through the four Gospel accounts, a searching for a fresh encounter with Jesus. It also caught my attention because this past year, 2016, has been a year themed with “water.” In early January the Lord specifically gave me Psalm 93 as an anthem over the year, and I have referred back to it countless times. It has been a good year in many respects, but also incredibly difficult in others. It has been a great comfort to remember that the Lord told me ahead of time it would feel as though the waters were going to overtake me. Yet, He sits above the waters and is mightier than them.
So, the fact that this book was about journeying through the Gospels specifically with an eye to the theme of “waters,” had me. I was not disappointed! Fields’ writing was as interesting as ever, weaving together seamlessly her own rich understanding of a life on the water, her personal journey through the Promised Land, and her retelling of the biblical account of Jesus’ life in that same landscape. She unpacks and brings life to biblical stories that have become, perhaps, common and stale to the seasoned student of scripture through her unique lens as a fisherwoman. She makes you feel the weight of the nets in your own hands, the sharpness of the salt air, the whip of wind and lurch of skiff. I found myself in her questions and doubts as well as in her discoveries and worship.
As soon as I finished it I wanted to start it all over again. Highly, highly recommend.
Has Anyone Ever Seen God? 101 Questions and Answers about God, the World, and the Bible by Carolyn Larsen
This quaint little book is of a devotional nature, yet organized as Q + A. With attractive design and beautiful illustrations, it asks 101 questions such as:
- What (or who) is the Holy Spirit?
- Is there anything God can’t do?
- Does God speak to people today?
- Why did God make spiders, snakes, and other creepy things?
- Why were the Israelites God’s chosen people?
- Why does God sometimes seem to hide?
The author then answers these questions simply and biblically, with a scripture reference at the bottom of each page. As you can see, the questions range from theological to practical in nature. I think it is a great little gift book for anyone coming of age in their faith, a new believer, someone curious about the Christian faith. Though not terribly depthy, it may whet the appetite and open avenues of conversation or further study. It is part of a trilogy of similar books, the others being Can I Really Know Jesus, and What Does God Really Promise.
It would be a great book to tuck at your child’s bedside, or give a copy to a curious neighbor along with some fresh baked goods.
With warm thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for their complimentary copies of these books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are mine.
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