Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson, 2004)
Graces’ Window: Entering the Season of Prayer by Suzanne Guthrie (Morehouse, 2008)
Growth is a natural part of our lives as Christians. We are born anew in Christ, maturing in our faith through grace and the power of the Holy Spirit all our days. We even pray, in the Rite I Prayers of the People, that God will grant us continual growth in God’s love and service after we depart this life. It is, therefore, not surprising that Jesus used metaphors of seeds, vines, trees, soil, pruning and bearing fruit—all natural elements of growth—to describe the Kingdom of God. And all growth requires tending and nurture. The spiritual life is no different.
As Christians, our history and practice are rich with resources for faith maturation: scripture, prayer, corporate worship, seasons of the church year, preaching, sacraments, the lives of the saints, and classic writings on prayer and the spiritual life. These resources are not meant to be theoretical; they are to be embraced as a way to connect our faith with our daily lives.
Authors Sarah Young and Suzanne Guthrie share insights they have gleaned from tending their interior lives. They share experiences of prayer, the ground of our spiritual lives, through which they have encountered God. Both speak of searching for God. Both describe a decade-spanning process of responding to a longing that they later realized came from the Source of Life, an invitation for connection that was sometimes struggle, sometimes balm. Both acknowledge that prayer is work. It is practice. It is showing up day after day. And it is life itself. Nothing is too mundane or too outrageous to take to God in prayer.
Sarah Young writes in her introduction to Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence that she first experienced the presence of God in the exquisite beauty of the Swiss Alps. As a student of philosophy, she searched for a foundation of absolute truth on which to base her life. It was this search that led her to the L’Abri Community in Switzerland. While living in community, she began to learn about the Christian faith in a way that fed her intellectual curiosity. But something else happened. She became aware of Jesus’ love and presence in her own life in a way that nourished her far more deeply than the heady, theological inquiry that had prompted her search. She says that she discovered a relationship with the Creator of the Universe—the One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
After years of experiencing God’s presence in her own life through daily prayer, and seeing the power of God’s presence in the lives of the women she worked with in her capacity as professional counselor, Ms. Young wrote this daily devotional.
Jesus Calling provides a short reflection and scripture citations for meditation. They are meant to be read in a quiet place, leisurely and prayerfully with a Bible in hand. The overarching theme of the reflections is finding peace in God’s abiding presence. Ms. Young reminds the reader that by turning and returning to God, be it moment by moment or day by day, we can rest in the peace of God’s presence; that we can trust God without reservation; that we can let go of fear and worry and relax into God’s steadfastness; and that when we seek God, God is there.
In her book, Grace’s Window, Suzanne Guthrie, Episcopal priest and spiritual director, crafts poetic essays that capture encounters with the Holy amid the daily stuff of life. Organizing her essays according to the church year, the Rev. Guthrie pairs each liturgical season with a corresponding season of the soul articulated in Christian mysticism. In her introduction, she writes:
“Advent begins with the time-shattering apocalypse at the end of the world, reflected in our own soul when we first discover the need for God and turn in ‘conversion.’ At the darkest time of the year, Christmas teaches us to perceive the light penetrating the darkness, while Epiphany draws us to the light of Christ, gradually illuminating and transfiguring the soul in the ‘illuminative’ way of prayer. Lent teaches us to love from the dark places of doubt and to persevere through this ‘purgation’ even when the personal symbols and signs that first brought us to Christ fail. Easter turns everything upside down; all that is familiar is reconfigured, charged with God, as we experience the interconnectedness of all things in ‘union’ with God. After Ascension we might experience with the disciples a second desertion, a time of ‘unknowing’ even more puzzling than the death on Good Friday, but in Pentecost we celebrate the love of the Holy Spirit and the call to go to the ends of the earth.”
An Advent essay, “Praying the Apocalypse,” reflects on the portents in the Northern California sky and those mentioned in the twenty-first chapter of Luke. Blood-red skies and sun-blocking smoke tell of ensuing terror of firestorms over the dry, scorched earth. We interpret the skies and we prepare, but how will we prepare for the Day of the Lord?
Christmas essays consider the incarnation through geography of place, the landscape of the soul, and the power of naming.
In an Epiphany essay, “The Habit of Gratitude,” the Rev. Guthrie finds comfort in Teresa of Avila’s teaching on prayer and reflects on the intense feelings of God’s absence during a period of depression.
Lent ushers in the season of insight, marked at the outset on Ash Wednesday with the realization that God who is present in life is also present in death. “Hospital Corridor” reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God. Spring bulbs, bulldozers, and a mother’s eyesight are among the fodder for prayer and reflection during these forty days.
Easter’s “Empty Alley,” considers Mary Magdalene’s frantic search for Jesus’ body in the twentieth chapter of John, as the author herself waits for signs of resurrection.
Once you read Grace’s Windows, you will want more. You are in luck. Check out the author’s book, Praying the Hours, and her website, edgeofenclosure.org, which offers weekly meditations on the Sunday Gospel with artwork, poetry, and links to self-guided retreats. They are a treat.
From a young age, children learn from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd curriculum the liturgical color of the season after Pentecost is green because it symbolizes growth. When any of us see green in the garden or at the park and in worship this summer, may it remind us to spend time tending to our own spiritual growth.