Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent (Walter Brueggemann) -- Review

A WAY OTHER THAN OUR OWN: Devotions for Lent. By Walter Brueggeman. Compiled by Richard Floyd. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. V + 95 pages.


Walter Brueggemann is an imposing figure. He brings deep scholarship together with a deep spiritual vision. He speaks with a prophetic imagination (to make use of one of his book titles), inviting readers (and listeners) to recognize God's compassionate commitment to creation. In fact, if you have heard him speak he has the demeanor and look of a biblical prophet! So, when Brueggemann writes, one is likely to pay attention to his words.

For those seeking a provocative spiritual companion for the Lenten journey, with the help of Richard Floyd and Westminster John Knox Press, Brueggemann offers this small book filled with wisdom for such a day as ours. As the compiler of this collection, Richard Floyd, notes, Brueggemann "is an excellent, if occasionally disruptive, companion for the Lenten journey" (p. 1). That he is.


So, what do you say about a book like this? How do you review a Lenten devotional guide that contains Brueggemann’s words? Perhaps the easiest thing to do is simply say, this Brueggemann distilled to its essence. Intended to be a daily companion for the Lenten journey, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter Sunday, each day is marked by a scripture reading, accompanied by reflection written by Brueggemann, and a prayer that is written by Richard Floyd, the compiler of the collection. When I first opened the book, I expected it to be words drawn from previously published works, but such is not the case. It appears that these reflections were written for this purpose, with the help of the compiler.  

To get a sense of the tonality of the collection, I will share this word from the first devotion, the one set for Ash Wednesday. The text for the day is Isaiah 55:6-7, a text that calls us to "seek the LORD while he may be found." Brueggemann writes: "I believe the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence" (p. 2-3). That is the tone found throughout. He doesn't allow either liberal or conservative to have the high ground. He's equally unsparing in his critique, even as he points us to Christ as hope. 

Consider this word from the third Thursday of Lent. The text is Psalm 23:6, a passage that declares that "goodness and mercy pursue me." He writes: "Lent is a time to quit running, to let ourselves be caught and embraced in love, like a sheep with safe pasture, like a traveler offered rich and unexpected food" (p. 32). 

To give one more, here is a word from the sixth Wednesday of Lent. It’s titled “The Drama of Lent” and is based on Jeremiah 31:31, where God promises to make a new covenant with Israel. Brueggemann writes: “The core truth of our faith is this: the God of the gospel brings life out of death. We can line out the move from death to life physically, historically, literally, metaphorically, symbolically . . . any way you want. But the truth is a rock-bottom acknowledgment that god can probe into our deepest negations and create new possibility, new space for life, new energy for obedience, new waves of Joy” (p. 72). The gospel is an invitation to enter new life. That’s a promise that has value to us at this moment in time, when hope seems absent for many. Knowing Brueggemann, he’s not suggesting that we stick our heads in the sand. The gospel creates in us a new reality, so we can engage the world. 

Having shared just a few tidbits, you can get the sense of the spirit and tone of these devotional thoughts. They’re deep. They’re written by one who has devoted his life to studying scripture. The texts of the day are not mere jumping off points, they’re texts to be engaged, and he does so. Despite their depth, each day's devotion is just two pages in length. They don't take long to read. But, these do speak powerfully to our lives at this time and place. So, if you're looking for a Lenten companion, this might be just the right choice.

1 comment:

Malcolm (Petroc) said...

Excellent introduction to the book and on the strength of it I've ordered it to-day. Choosing a Lent book has been my custom for years. I love Walter Brueggemann's books.