You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith–Book Review

,,According to author James Smith, What do you want? is the most important question of Christian discipleship. Most, or at least many of us have the intellectual knowledge — we know what we should want as followers of Christ — the problem is that in our heart, what we really want is something else. That’s because we are all influenced unconsciously by what Smith calls “secular liturgies” or habits. We like to believe that “we are what we think” when in reality “we are what we desire.”

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

This means that in addition to studying the Bible, we need to “do” Christianity by establishing traditions and disciplines that help virtuous behavior sink into our bones and become our default position. The liturgy of the church helps with that. Rituals such as baptism, Holy Communion, repeating the creeds, confession, even the simple act of gathering together, reorients and focuses us on the kingdom of God where our true citizenship belongs. Family “liturgies” such as praying together, observing the seasons of the church year, even eating meals together ground us in our faith.

On the other hand, too often secular “liturgies” are allowed to influence our religious life. If worship is modeled after a concert and stop at Starbucks, and Youth Group is reduced to a “game night” we’ve missed the mark.

As Christians we need to place ourselves in God’s story. In the final chapter, Smith says:

“The body of Christ should be a testimony to the kingdom that is coming, bearing witness to how the world will be … Our work and our practices should be foretastes of that coming new city and thus should include protest and critique. Our engagement with God’s world is not about running the show or winning a culture war. We are called to be witnesses, not necessarily winners.”

We are called to be different, and we need to develop the habits and rituals that will make that a reality in our daily lives.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. Thought provoking and challenging. I recommend this one!

For more about Christian worship see these posts:

The Ways We Worship

First Things First — Who (or what) Do You Worship?

Worship Essentials – Book Review

The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell–Book Review

Angela Williams Gorrell was hired by Yale University to work on the Theology of Joy and the God Life project.  Shortly thereafter, she experienced three traumatic deaths of people close to her:  her cousin’s husband committed suicide;  her young adult nephew died suddenly due to a cardiac arrest;  her father died after years of opioid addiction.  Research and teaching about joy became difficult.  This was certainly an opportunity to grow through challenging circumstances!

Through volunteering to lead Bible studies in a women’s prison, Angela begins to see that joy and sorrow, grief and rejoicing can coexist. Working with these women who are imprisoned, who often have suicidal thoughts, who struggle with addiction, she still notices their moments of real joy.

“Because joy is God, because it is what you feel while being ministered to, it can always find you.”

It is possible to be in the midst of grief, and at the same time experience the joy of looking forward in hope.  Joy seemed to flow from loving relationships, and despair from loneliness and isolation.

“Joy is a counteragent to despair because it can be sustained and sustain us, even when standing right next to suffering.”

She compares times of mourning to the Saturday before Easter.  It is a time of in between. 

“The majority of the time in our lives is spent living on Saturday, in the space between death on Friday and the indescribably joy of Sunday morning.”

This memoir-like book will appeal to anyone dealing with the challenges of grief, especially grief related to a tragic or unexpected death.  It is an open and honest exploration of one person’s journey out of deep sorrow.  At the end there is an epilogue that includes resources for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, or addiction.  There is also some current information about work that is being done to  educate people about these issues and prevent untimely deaths.

The author ends by saying:

“I hope you will join in the important work of reducing suicide, healing addiction, and changing the prison system. I hope you will create and nurture a community that focuses on understanding, recalling, and being open to joy.”

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  I read it in one day.

For more on the topic of grief see:

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

I Still Believe–Movie Review

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop–Book Review

An Image of the Trinity

Image result for rublev's trinity imagesThis icon of the Holy Trinity was painted by the monk Andrei Rublev.  It depicts the three visitors to Abraham, each angel symbolizing one of the persons of the trinity.  When you look closely, you will notice that each figure wears different garments, but has the same face.  Many comment on the feeling of invitation and inclusion experienced as you spend time gazing at this beautiful image.  I have a number of icons, and this is definitely my favorite.  It gives me a sense of peace and light.

Here’s a quote about this icon from Henri Nouwen’s book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord.

“During a hard period of my life in which verbal prayer had become nearly impossible and during which mental and emotional fatigue had made me the easy victim of feelings of despair and fear, a loving and quiet presence to this icon became the beginning of my healing.  As I sat for long hours in front of Rublev’s Trinity, I noticed how gradually my gaze became a prayer.  This silent prayer made my inner restlessness melt away and lifted me up into the circle of love, a circle that could nt be broken by the powers of the world.  Even as I moved away from the icon and became involved in the many tasks of everyday life, I felt as if I did not have to leave the holy place I had found and could dwell there whatever I did or wherever I went.”

Is there a Christian painting or work of art that has affected you deeply?  If so, please comment and tell us about it.

The Art of Prayer Journals

If you google prayer journals you will find it overwhelming. There are so many ways to journal your prayers, from simple to complicated. Here is a pic of my prayer journal.

20160531_143146_resized I love making things myself! It is therapeutic and so fun to be creative. (God is creative and so He has made us to be creative in His image!) I just took a plain spiral notebook, divided it up in sections (prayers of thanks, pleases, family, friends and others, and bible verses), and made a pretty cover for it with scrapbook paper!

I don’t just write my prayers in there, I also doodle…


As you can see, I started out color coding my prayers (my OCD) but have not really been able to follow it so I just write with any color pen. In the back cover, I have an excel spreadsheet I made for organizing prayers so that once a month I cover the things I want to remember to pray for… here is the link if you would like to see it.

30 Days of Prayer Schedule

I pray for 5 categories; praises, myself, my husband, my children, and reaching beyond. I wanted to make my prayers more specific so that’s why I created this spreadsheet. That way I pray for one specific area of the 5 categories each day. By the month’s end, I have lifted intercessory prayers on behalf of all these areas of my life. Don’t feel like you have to be this organized with your prayer. (again my OCD) I am not perfect at it myself but I find if I try to organize my life I am less frazzled and don’t get frustrated as much when I feel overwhelmed or can’t remember something. Maybe this idea of journaling can help you too. Remember…there is no right or wrong way of keeping a prayer journal. Find what works for you and if you need to switch it up and try something else, don’t beat yourself up. I find if you keep it fun and creative it is less likely to feel like a chore and the more you will be inspired to keep doing it! Happy journaling 🙂

God Loves You & So Do I

Leslie Winston

My Favorite Icon

Speaking of Christian art, I have a number or icons.  This one is my favorite.  It seems particularly appropriate since we just celebrated Trinity Sunday. What do you think?  Does this icon speak to you? Does it help you understand the trinity?

Might this icon help you to pray?

The Holy Trinity
Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity.
The Church has many different depictions of the Holy Trinity. But the icon which defines the very essence of Trinity Day is invariably the one which shows the Trinity in the form of three angels. The prototype for this icon was the mysterious appearance of the Holy Trinity in the form of three travelers to Abraham and Sarah under the oak of Mamre. The Church specifically chose this particular icon because it most fully expresses the dogma of the Holy Trinity: the three angels are depicted in equal dignity, symbolizing the triunity and equality of all three Persons.

The Trinity. Andrei Rublev (1370-1430). Moscow.
The Trinity.
Andrei Rublev (1370-1430).
We find the deepest understanding of this dogma in the icon of the Trinity painted by the venerable Andrei Rublev for the Trinity Cathedral of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. This icon is a masterpiece of ancient Russian iconography, and it is not surprising that the Church established it as the model for depicting the Trinity.

In Andrei Rublev’s icon, the persons of the Holy Trinity are shown in the order in which they are confessed in the Credo. The first angel is the first person of the Trinity – God the Father; the second, middle angel is God the Son; the third angel is God the Holy Spirit. All three angels are blessing the chalice, in which lies a sacrificed calf, prepared for eating. The sacrifice of the calf signifies the Savior’s death on the cross, while its preparation as food symbolizes the sacrament of the Eucharist. All three angels have staffs in their hand as a symbol of their divine power.

The first angel, shown at left, is vested in a blue undergarment which depicts his divine celestial nature, and a light purple outer garment which attests to the unfathomable nature and the royal dignity of this angel. Behind him and above his head towers a house, the abode of Abraham, and a sacrificial altar in front of the house. This image of the abode has a symbolic meaning: the house signifies God’s master plan for creation, while the fact that the house towers above the first angel shows him to be the head (or Father) of this creation. The same fatherly authority is seen in his entire appearance. His head is not bowed and he is looking at the other two angels. His whole demeanor – the expression on his face, the placement of his hands, the way he is sitting – all speaks of his fatherly dignity. The other two angels have their heads inclined and eyes turned toward the first angel with great attention, as though conversing with him about the salvation of mankind.

The second angel is placed in the middle of the icon. This placement is determined by the position held by the second Person within the Trinity Itself. Above his head extend the branches of an oak tree. The vestments of the second angel correspond to those in which the Savior is usually depicted. The undergarment is a dark crimson color which symbolizes the incarnation, while the blue outer robe signifies the divinity and the celestial nature of this angel. The second angel is inclined towards the first angel, as though deep in conversation. The tree behind him serves as a reminder of the tree of life that was standing in Eden, and of the cross.

The angel on the right is the third Person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. His light blue undergarment and smoky-green outer garment represent heaven and earth, and signify the life-giving force of the Holy Spirit, which animates everything that exists. “By the Holy Spirit every soul lives and is elevated in purity” – sings the Church. This elevation in purity is represented in the icon by a mountain above the third angel.

Thus Andrei Rublev’s icon, while being an unsurpassed work of iconography, is first and foremost a “theology in color,” which instructs us in all that concerns the revelation of the triune God and the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

From the book “Thoughts on Iconography” by monk Gregory Krug.


Praying with Art

Are you an artist?  Or someone who is interested in art history?  Or maybe you just consider yourself a “visual” person?  If so, you may like to explore the idea of praying with art.  Henri Nouwen, a catholic priest who was well known for his books on the spiritual life wrote an entire book about his experience with a famous painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt.  Here is an excerpt describing his original encounter with the painting,

“When I first saw  the Prodigal Son I had just finished an exhausting six week lecturing trip …I was dead tired …anxious, lonely, restless and very needy.  …It was in this condition that I first encountered (a poster of the painting)…on the door of Simone’s office.  My heart leapt when I saw it.  After my long self-exposing journey, the tender embrace of the father and son expressed everything I desired at the moment.  I was, indeed, the son exhausted from long travels;  I wanted to be embraced;  I was looking for a home where I could feel safe.  The son-come-home was all I was and all that I wanted to be.”

Here is the picture Nowen described:

In the book Nouwen meditates on this picture, thinking of himself as the prodigal son, the older son and the father.  Christian art can be a way to put yourself into a Bible story, imagine the environment and the characters and experience it in a whole new way.

If you are interesting in exploring this type of prayer, you might also want to read Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons, by the same author.