Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What are you doing for the Year of Faith? Two Book Recommendations

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. It is a sad day for Catholics in our country today, but despite how the election turned out, we can't bury our heads in the sand. We are still called to change our culture. That change doesn't come dramatically all at once. It comes gradually and incrementally. If you start with individual changes build to family changes then church changes, community changes, and keep it growing. Start small and it will snowball. So in this post I am going to review/recommend two books to you that I hope to implement in my Year of Faith, and you can too.

Both of these books were sent to me by Ascension Press, the people who bring you The Great Adventure Series, in exchange for an honest review. The first book I am going to review is The Bible Compass: A Catholic's Guide to Navigating the Scripture by Edward Sri. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect with this book, but I know that I like Edward Sri's works so I was looking forward to reading this. This book is an excellent source for understanding the Bible and answering basic to intermediate questions about the Bible that Catholics should know but most don't.

The first few chapters address Scripture as being divinely inspired and the three pillars of the Catholic faith - Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. We then move on to what I consider the most important section of this book, how to read Scripture correctly. So many of us just read random bits of Scripture, if any, and never get anything out of it, but that is not the proper way to read it. We have to know the author's intention with which he wrote as well as reading within the Living Tradition of the Church. Reading within the Living Tradition of the Church is important because the Church has been around 2,000 years so we should trust that the Church knows better than us and we shouldn't trust modern or personal interpretations that don't jive with the 2,000 year history of interpretations.

The book then goes on to address questions Catholics might have or be asked like why Catholics have more books than Protestants? (Short answer is we use the Septuagint Old Testament and the Protestants use the Masoretic text.) The book then concludes with a very short chapter on Lectio Divina, using the Scriptures to pray, which is something I am going to try and do in this Year of Faith, and you can read more about in my next review.

This was an excellent book, as I expected it to be. The chapters were short but packed with straight forward information and answers. I give this book 5 out of 5 just because I can't give it a higher rating. This book is just the right length where it doesn't bog you down with information, but makes you want to get a thicker book and dig deeper on the subject. I recommend you buy this book, if you feel like you don't know enough about the Bible and want to learn more.

The second book I am recommending to you today is Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Dr. Tim Gray. I read another one of Tim Gray's books this year, Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible, so I knew I was going to get another gem, and I was not disappointed. Hopefully, you're not like me and you have a great prayer life. If you are like me though, then you need all the help you can get! Like others before me, and probably after me, I felt that I always talk to God, but never hear Him answer. Sure I can see answers to prayers (be they yes or no), but I never felt like I was getting a one-on-one response. Arrogant to expect that, I know. Well, this book changed my whole way of thinking about prayer!

Lectio Divina is a ladder traditionally involving four steps, but a fifth step was added in this book. The steps are Lectio (Reading), Meditatio (Meditation), Oratio (Prayer), Contemplatio (Contemplation), and in this book Operatio (Operation or Application in real life). Dr. Gray uses the example of a vineyard and making wine (like ancient monks used to do) as a comparison for Lectio Divina. Like winemaking, prayer requires many steps to produce a beautiful end result. He also repeatedly says in the book, "When you pray, you speak with God; when you read, God speaks to you." This was a game-changer for me. It seems so obvious, but we expect to hear the voice of God, like the voice of a person. In reality, we always hear the voice of God when we read the Bible.

Reading this book has left me thirsting for more (fitting analogy since he compares Lectio Divina to making wine). I know I will have to take baby steps in this beautiful practice, but I am eager to try it in this Year of Faith. I'm debating ordering the workbook that goes along with this book or finding other books that offer specifics passages and exercises in Lectio Divina. Despite not having a chapter at the end to get you started with, I still give this book 5 out of 5 stars as it explained a powerful prayer practice in language anyone can understand. So if you want a deeper prayer life and not just a one-sided monologue with God, go out and buy this book and you too can be on the path to a deeper prayer life.