Review: The Canticle of the Creatures by Luigi Santucci

Lent starts on Wednesday and I’ve been thinking of ways to practice a slower, quieter Lent this year. I’ll be working my way through Heather Caliri’s Word Made Art (you can read my review here) and I bought my first traditional Bible study in years. I want resources that help me slow down, dig deeper, and give plenty of grace as I practice intention during this already busy season for our family.

1542207596When I received The Canticle of the Creatures for Saint Francis of Assisi by Luigi Santucci, I wasn’t thinking I was getting a book to guide me through Lent. Structured so that each short meditation is from the point of view of one of the birds or animals St. Francis encounters, this small book invites the reader to pause and recognize that when God called us to love the world, this means all the world. From the nightingale and swallow to the fish and bees, each entry leads us into remembering justice, kindness, and peace.

There’s a reason Saint Francis is known and loved by Catholics and Protestants alike. His call to do justice for the poor, to recognize the beauty of nature, to live a simpler, more intentional life are inspiring in a world that so often forgets the holiness of these practices.

I’ve been reading this book slowly, one small chapter a day with breakfast. The stunning illustrations are a treat in the morning and the poetic storytelling start my morning with the type of devotion I haven’t experienced. I’m invited to slow down, to notice, and to remember that God is found in the small, everyday creatures.

I love that the stories are short enough to read at breakfast with the girls yet deep enough to carry me through the morning. Paraclete Press sent me a companion book, The St. Francis Holy Fool Prayer Book. I haven’t started it yet, but I wonder if they’d be best read together. Starting on Wednesday, I’ll incorporate the two into my routine.

How are you slowing down during this Lenten season? Even if you don’t practice Lent, what are ways you stay grounded in the daily busyness?

I received this book free from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

Books Referenced in this Post:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.


Practicing a Gentle Lent with The Word Made Art

Lent starts in just two weeks and I’ve been thinking about its observation. In the past, I’ve mailed cards, prayed for politicians, and given up wine in order to fund microloans. This year, as I thought of something to do, the word gentle kept coming to mind. Our season has been pretty intense. There are a lot of emotions in our house around being two-years-old, going to kindergarten all day, and functioning in tax season-mode. Even the best ideas seemed a bit overwhelming this year.

unnamedRight after gentle came to mind, Heather Caliri sent out a call to be on her launch team for Word Made Art: A Spiritual Encounter. I don’t consider myself visually creative. It’s been decades since I’ve painted or drawn with any regularity. Over the years, visual creativity has come to feel rusty and intimidating. And yet, I felt that nudge again that this would be a gentle way to approach Lent. Me and my Bible, getting messy, tactically exploring the word of God.

The aspects that made me uncomfortable about Word Made Art are the things that were simultaneously most freeing. After reading the directions for the week, I wanted Heather to walk me through the project with step-by-step instructions and examples. She doesn’t do this and it’s intimidating at first. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? That Lent is deeply personal and the way that I interact with the Bible is going to be completely different than Heather or you. If she had given detailed directions, a lot of the practice would have been lost.

The book is set up by weeks with scripture readings, spiritual practices, and a loose guide to getting your Bible messy. I actually went to a used bookstore and bought a Bible for a dollar for this project. You’ll be getting it dirty (literally), drawing and painting in it, highlighting and pasting over words. This is about physically interacting with your Bible and creating a piece of art through the six weeks of Lent.

I didn’t do each exercise fully, as Lent doesn’t begin until February 14 but I’m looking forward to going through the scriptures and activities slowly, to pausing and getting messy, to stretching my boundaries and experiencing a gentle Lent.

How are you entering Lent this year? Do you usually give something up? Add something? What prepares you for Easter?

38110534Word Made Art releases this Wednesday, January 31! Preorders help authors, so if this book looks like a good fit for your Lenten journey, order it today!

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.


Keeping My Dreams in the Small Moments

“The way we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

IMG_8202I have a love-hate relationship with this quote. Mostly, I love it. It’s true: How I spend these days of small moments build into my family’s culture and life. The choices we make with our careers and our spending habits are shaping what we’ll be able to do with our girls in the future.

But sometimes, I think, Really?! I’m spending my days picking up crayons and answering the same question again and again. THIS is how I’m going to spend my life?!?!

I know that when the girls are grown and we’re empty nesters, I’ll still be doing the mundane of laundry and dishes and all those small things. But I don’t want to think about that. I want to think about big things in the future. My 5-year goals don’t include having a tidy house.

There are so many books about embracing the rhythms of our everyday. I just finished Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren and have started Hello Mornings by Kat Lee. Both are about embracing those small holy moments in our days. I need to read these books, to be reminded of the importance of breathing and infusing holy into those quotidian moments.

But I also need to remember not to surrender my dreams to those small moments. That I can get easily mired down in the mundane. How do I keep the big hopes and visions in mind without resenting the small?

God is indeed a God of the everyday. But God is also a God of big, wonderful dreams. Without those, where would humanity be?

Today is my cleaning day. As I tidy and vacuum and run errands, I’ll listen to messages and podcasts about changing the world. I’ll infuse activism into these small moments, remembering a bigger story in the mist of the small work.

How do you keep the big picture in mind without resenting the daily routines? What are ways you infuse hope into the everyday?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “surrender.”

Books referenced in this post:



Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Leaning Into Ideas Rather Than Details

I just finished reading This is Not a Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestinian Festival of Literature, one of the most stunning collections of essays I’ve ever read. I spent over a month slowly reading the words, letting them sink in. Some days, I’d take a break. Often, I would only read one or two essays a night.

grown-up-1637302_960_720As December drew to a close, I knew I could have sped through a few more essays at a time to get one more book read before the year ended. Instead, I chose to savor each story and poem.

It’s with this mindset and intention that I’m entering 2018. After spending a few years tracking my reading goals with a set number, this year I decided to take a break. I’ve made a list of twenty books I’d like to read, and I know more will come. I want to slow down, to savor, to go deeper into these books.

It’s not that I didn’t learn a lot last year or that I rushed through my books. But sometimes, when a number is attached to a goal, I make it about the destination rather than the journey. I’m learning that some years are for measurable goals and other years are for visions and ideas.

I have a friend who creates categories she wants to learn more about each year and tailors the books she reads to those categories. Other friends do a “clear the shelf” challenge, where they stack books on a shelf in their home and try to empty it by the year’s end. (I suppose this is similar to my list…)

I was thinking about goals I have for this year and many of them are like my reading list. I have some ideas and hopes but none are conducive to creating a spreadsheet or checklist. I like that this year of lean in means leaning into the ideas rather than details. I’m not throwing out details but I’m also holding my goals a bit more loosely. I have a feeling that things are swirling around this year and I want to be open to learning rather than achieving.

In her chapter called “Composting,” Natalie Goldberg says,

“…we collect experience, and from the decomposition of thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil” (pp 18-19).

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Especially now at the start of the year, in these months when we turn the compost and wait for spring, I’m setting my goals knowing that there is some waiting to be done. I’m resting with an overarching vision of my year.

This is pretty counterintuitive for me. I like checklists and goals but it also feels peaceful and right. Maybe this year of lean in will mean big things but right now, lean in means leaning into immeasurable goals.

How do you set goals? Are you a checklist person or an ideas person? Have you ever switched up the way you track your goals?

Reading One Star Reviews as an Act of Peacemaking

I’ve read so many articles in the past few years on the need to step out of our comfort zones, to see and hear experiences from “the other.” That our nation and world wouldn’t be so divided if we just know people from different backgrounds. That our churches would come together if we were able to bridge opinions over a meal.

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 1.51.35 PMI fully agree with these sentiments. Until we sit down with people whose life experiences and worldviews are different from our own, it is too easy to vilify those who think differently. It becomes second-nature to characterize an entire group based on what we see portrayed rather than what we know through relationship.

This is so much easier said than done. How many of us look up people of extremely different political views and ask them out for a coffee? How many of us actively seek out neighbors whose views on immigration, on gun safety, on religious freedom frighten us? It’s hard to do. When I look at my close group of friends, we mostly think alike. We see the nuances as differences but to an outsider, we are pretty homogenous.

I was talking with a friend about how I love to read one-star reviews of books I’m enjoying. Usually close to the halfway point, if I’m really connecting with a book, I’ll check out the really low reviews on Goodreads. It’s always interesting reading why people don’t connect with aspects of a book I love.

Some of the time, low reviews are based on dislike of writing style or format. Those aren’t as interesting as the ones who don’t connect on a personal or moral level. I look for the reviewers who are offended or who just don’t get the point of the book. Recently, I read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and was impacted by his thoughts and perspective of apartheid and oppression. As I read through the one-star reviews, I noticed quite a few people called Noah racist or anti-Semitic. Reading their reviews gave me a new lens for why Noah’s book is so powerful and necessary.

As my friend and I talked about this practice, she pointed out that this is an easy entry into the world of peacemaking. Reading an entire book from an opposing point of view may be too much right now. Sitting at a table and having a meal with someone on the opposite side of an issue may feel too threatening. But reading a review? It takes less than two minutes.

Some reviews totally reinforce my stereotype of certain groups. But I’ve found that the more opposing reviews I read, the fewer people seem like a stereotype. I still may not agree with them. I may even still roll my eyes at the reasoning for dropping a book by a star or two. But my mind is opening up to different sides of an idea.

Maybe this practice will help me when I meet those folks in real life, whose ratings of books and political views are so much different than my own. By exposing myself to one star reviews, I’m taking baby steps toward the everyday peacemaking and activism I long for.

Do you read one-star reviews? What are small ways you practice everyday peacemaking? 

We’ll be digging deeper into this idea of reading one-star reviews as an act of peacemaking over in The Red Couch Book Club’s Facebook group. If you’d like to join this discussion as well as other conversations about faith and social justice, I’d love for you to join!

Favorite Books of 2017

It’s the week of lists and favorites as we prepare for the new year. As of right now, I’ve Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 10.39.10 AMread 67 books and am hoping to hit 70 by the end of the year. I did a better job than in years past of balancing fiction and nonfiction reads. I also tracked my page goals and found that they matched up pretty well with the number of books I read. I feel like I read a lot of great books this year, probably because I’m learning to be pickier about what I choose and about dropping a book that I’m not connecting with. I thought I’d compile a list of my favorite reads of 2017, in case you were looking for a way to spend some gift cards. Most of these books have made it into other lists and references throughout the year but these are the ones worth mentioning again.


To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This beautifully written novel follows the men of the first exploration to the interior of Alaska was well researched and thought-provoking. Ivey weaves maps, journal entries, and letters to tell the story of Alan and his new wife, Sophie, who is left behind in Washington as he leads a group of men on a harsh expedition. Ivey’s writing style is engaging and I’m thinking of starting 2018 with her earlier work, The Snow Child.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This is a book everyone should read. Following two half-sisters from Ghana, one who marries an English colonist and stays in Africa, the other who is sold into slavery in America, we see the history and repercussions of colonialism and slavery as each chapter flows into the next generation. The format is powerful as Gyasi points out the direct results of actions three hundred years ago to what is happening in modern society. I’m currently reading Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, which pairs well as a nonfiction account of laws and practices that have continued nearly two hundred years later.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
These powerful short stories follow Vietnamese immigrants following the American war in Vietnam. Some stories take place right after the conflict; others are reflections twenty years later. As with powerful fiction, Nguyen is able to weave facts, history, and important commentary into his stories. Frank recently took my library copy of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which seems like a good pairing.

American War by Omar El Akkad
As with most dystopian novels, this one had parts that hit a little too close to home. But Akkad’s view of the future seemed plausible and, while I didn’t connect with any of the characters, I also had trouble putting the book down. It gave me a lot to think about without being too heavy-handed.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
I will read anything written by Roxane Gay. Her subject matter is gritty and raw but these stories are important. However uncomfortable the topic, Gay reminds her readers that these stories are based on actual experiences. She doesn’t sugarcoat life and I always close her books feeling that I’ve gained empathy for the stories and struggles of others.


Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein
This book (and Orenstein’s TED Talk) has started a necessary conversation about how we’ll model and present healthy views of sex to our girls. It’s no shock that our culture needs an overhaul in how we treat women and deal with sexual misconduct. I don’t know the big answers to that, but I do know that I want to raise strong girls who have a healthy view of themselves and their sexual experiences. Girls and Sex was the starting point I needed.

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
My year has been marked by learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Blood Brothers was a good starting point. Written by a Melkite priest, Chacour’s family has lived in Galilee for centuries. This book reframed the conflict for me and added depth that is so often lost in the media’s portrayal of this seemingly two-sided issue. Paired with The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, I’d recommend either book as a place to dig deeper into the stories of this region.

Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha
I had the honor of being on the launch team for Kelley’s powerful book but it’s one that has stayed with me. As an adoptee and mother of adopted children, Kelley brings her experience of adoption into her theological readings. Kelley digs into the sacrament of belonging – that Christianity is built on the idea of adoption and what that means in our relationships with God and one another.

Mending the Divides by Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart
Another book centered around Israel and Palestine, Huckins & Swigart dissect the story of the Good Samaritan in asking, Who is my neighbor? As they ask this question and center their search around peacemaking, they also give practical advice and help in creating peace from a grassroots level. They helped me look into my own family as a place to start working toward global peace.

Slow Reads

I’ve been reading the following three books all fall and they are ones worth taking slow. I’ll read a chapter or two a day, sometimes leaving the book for a few days before picking it up again. This is not normally how I read and I’ve found it so rich and satisfying. As I look toward 2018, I want to be sure to keep some of these slow reads by my side.

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
This memoir is one I’d recommend everyone read. When I read the news and wonder how we have created systemic injustice, Douglass answers those questions. His own story of life as a slave is powerful on its own but Douglass includes societal commentary that helps me understand how certain policies and practices were put in place and are still considered normal.

In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson
This book is worth reading just for Richardson’s reframing of the “sin of Eve.” Leading us through powerful women in church history, Richardson gives insight and blessings to help us on the way. Reading about the church mothers is a reminder to reach back in history and immerse my own experiences in the stories of those who have gone before.

This is Not a Border, edited by Ahdaf Soueif and Omar Robert Hamilton
These reflections and essays from the annual Palestinian Festival of Literature have been powerful and heartbreaking. Included are insights from Palestinians, Jewish authors, British and American artists, and other creatives who have participated in PalFest. Their insights and reporting into what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank have given faces and stories to an underrepresented people.

Of course, I have so many more favorite reads of this year – it was hard to narrow down! Check out my Goodreads shelves if you’re looking for other recommendations. In the past, I’ve set goals and made lists for my reading. This year, in taking over the Red Couch Book Club as well as some other projects and focuses, I’m not really sure how I’ll set and track my reading goals in 2018. I do know I want to read more women of color and will be more aware of how I choose the books I read.

What were your favorite books of 2017? How do you track your reading? Anything you’re looking forward to reading in the new year?

The Red Couch Book Club

RedCouch-books-2018Tis the season for posts reminiscing about 2017, rating best books of the year, and looking toward the new year. In the land of the Red Couch, this year has been one filled with changes. In March, I was honored to step into the role of editor for this incredible community. You all have stretched my thinking and my reading this year, and it’s been quite an adventure and learning experience!

Something that is so interesting about planning a year’s worth of reading in advance is learning to trust that the right book will be picked for the right month. I found that to be true in so many ways of our 2017 selections, whether remembering the importance of lament to learning the complex history of immigration in the United States to making space for the layers of hospitality this season, each book seemed picked for the right moment in time.

As we sorted and arranged and added books to the 2018 lineup, my hope is that the same holds true for next year. It was difficult narrowing the list down but I love the story we’re trying to tell through these books! Head over to SheLoves to check out our 2018 book selections!