“Whatever derives from lively faith is itself lively,” wrote the great German theologian Helmut Thielicke. His statement about authentic responses to faith can be applied to the most recent volume from the Chrysostom Society, Epiphanies: Stories for the Christian Year. Published by Baker Books, this group of Christian writers and ministers has offered another lively contribution to liturgy and spirituality.
The book is the second edition of Stories for the Christian Year. It contains a collection of primarily autobiographical reflections on the seasons and the saints that mark the Christian year. These writers examine the seasons and days of Advent, Christmas, Holy Innocents, the Solemnity of Mary, Epiphany, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Annunciation, Lent, Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, Easter Orthodox Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Transfiguration, All Saints, All Souls and Christ the King. Additional chapters focus on saints celebrated in the Christian year: Stephen, Philip, James (the Lesser), and Luke.
The writers are part of the Chrysostom society, an ecumenical group of religious authors originally formed by Richard Foster, Calvin Miller and Karen Mains. Each writes from his or her own faith tradition and life experiences. All live in North America. They are Doris Betts, Scott Cairns, Harold Fickett, Diane Glancy, Emilie Griffin, William Griffin, Alice Slaikeu Lawhead, Stephen R. Lawhead, John Leax, Madeleine L’Engle, Karen Burton Mains, Calvin Miller, Shirley Nelson, Virginia Stem Owens, Eugene Peterson, James Calvin Schapp, Luci Shaw, Robert Siegel, Walter Wangerin Jr., Gregory Wolfe and Philip Yancey.
The title leads the reader to expect that these stories will contain the writers’ experiences with these holy days. In most cases, each essay combines biblical references and allusions with anecdotal information. Each chapter, easily read separately or together in one sitting, reveals a personal side and leads the reader on a journey to explore his own reflections on these days. Peterson’s story of the Christmas without a tree provides vivid imagery of life within a Norwegian family. John Leax’s essay on Lent records journal entries from a season he spent in a cabin in the forest. In a few instances, the authors use other genres to express their thoughts. For instance, Robert Siegel poetically describes the view of Palm Sunday from the viewpoint of the colt:
“Contemplating the dust he stands
in the direct unbearable noon, tethered
to the dead throne. His long ears hang
down, twitch and revolve as the gang of flies brassily land, bite, and ascend
in a constant small black cloud…
Still, he cannot guess what he is carrying,
and will not remember this moment in all the years until he is worn out, lame…”
This book would be a welcome addition to any believer’s library. For the days not normally celebrated in one’s tradition, this book provides an excellent pedagogical tool. Those familiar with the lectionary and the Christian calendar will find an excellent resource for personal reflection and examination throughout the Christian year. Families could also use it for devotional reflection. This book goes beyond a helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. This is meat and potatoes, a resource one will turn to for inspiration and challenge.
Bill Shiell is senior pastor at Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas.
William D. Shiell is the President of Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. He is the author of five books, most recently Acts in the Preaching the Word Series (Smyth & Helwys).