Low (John Pavlovitz) -- A Review

LOW: An Honest Advent Devotional. By John Pavlovitz. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2019. 59 pages.

Advent is a rather brief liturgical season easily overlooked as we speed our way toward Christmas. There are liturgical attempts to slow things down, but the rush to the big day tends to run through every boundary and border. Thus, Advent, which is a preparatory season often gets short shrift or gets reinterpreted in a way that undermines its more somber tones. In church, we’d rather sing “Joy to the World” than “Let All Flesh Keep Silence.” Nevertheless, Advent remains with us as a season that invites to examine ourselves, our context, our world, so we can ask where God fits into all of this. How might we prepare ourselves to receive the good news that the Messiah has been born in Bethlehem?

                Christian publishers do sense the need for resources that can be used during the season, resources that give voice to the preparatory nature of Advent. So, each year they invite us to purchase guides and devotionals. Often they are set out either on a weekly or daily basis, and they are usually fairly defined. That is they stay close to the meaning of the Advent season. Such is not the case with John Pavlovitz's contribution published by Chalice Press. At least my "Advanced Review Copy" doesn't have a guide to use (though page 3 of my version says "Weekly Themes to Come," a look at the Amazon page shows a table of contents with more specific guidance on page three). With that caveat, I will focus on the brief reflections present in the book as I have it. But, before that, I should introduce you to the author.

John Pavlovitz is a progressive Christian blogger/speaker/ author and sometime pastor. He is the author of two prior books A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community and more recently Hope and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World-Saving Manifesto. I've not read the former but have read and reviewed the latter. Pavlovitz’s writings tend to have a hard edge, with political/social elements. Thus, this devotional has some of that, which is probably expected by his readers.

This devotional follows the train of thought present in the earlier books, offering a progressive, politically activist vision of the Christian faith. The title, Low, reflects his desire to look at the story of Advent from ground level. He suggests that we tend to sanitize the events described in the Gospels, and so here he wants to get to the messier, grittier dimensions. He invites us to consider that we’re called to remember the “story of an olive-skinned baby, born amid the smell of damp straw and animal dung because no human-worthy welcome could be found; of a child of young Palestinian Jewish parents, desperately fleeing politically ordered genocide” (p. 1). By getting low, we see how Jesus meets us in the nitty-gritty parts of life. He notes that the message of Advent, that Immanuel is coming, suggests that Jesus is getting low, and that “this is really good news for us here on the ground” (p.2).

As I noted earlier, on page 3, the words “weekly themes to come” appears. My assumption is that a guide for using Pavlovitz’s meditations appears in the final edition. What we have from Pavlovitz is a series of reflections, usually filling two pages. He builds his reflections on Scripture but not necessarily a text we usually attribute to Advent. Nevertheless, one can use this as a daily devotion, for the purpose of discerning the implications of the season for the world in which we live.

Returning to the meaning of the book’s title, Pavlovitz notes in the final devotion that it refers to the "low places: the places of grief and of reverence, of caregiving and prayer, of peace and rest" (p. 59). It is a good reminder that the season of Advent-Christmas is often a difficult one for people. It can be a season of grief in the midst of joy and celebration. The consumerist vision often overwhelms the reverence that the season holds for us. Thus, resources that invite us to slow down, look around, and attend to the needs around us, is welcome. This is especially true in an age of confusion and disorder.  In essence, this is an Advent devotional that recognizes this isn't necessarily the merriest of seasons. For those needing permission to live in those low places, this is a worthy guide.


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