Living Into Lent (Donald McKim) -- A Review

LIVING INTO LENT. By Donald K. McKim. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. Viii + 151 pages.

The seasons of Advent and Lent seem to be ripe for the production of devotional books. Both seasons are designed to prepare Christians for major festivals—Christmas and Easter. Each year several new options appear, giving congregations new possibilities for small group sessions and individuals resources for their own spiritual journeys. Because Lent is several weeks longer than Advent (and possibly a little less crowded with family events) it is an especially opportune time for gathering congregation members for spiritual conversation. Into this mix of possibilities comes Donald McKim’s latest devotional book, Living into Lent.

McKim is a scholar (he served as academic dean and professor of theology at Memphis Theological Seminary) who has a strong feel for Christian spirituality. He has produced a number of devotional books over the years that are helpful for Christians to delve deeper into their faith. He comes at this from a Reformed/Presbyterian perspective. This is true in earlier books and in this one as well.

Living into Lent offers daily devotional opportunities covering the forty-plus days of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and concluding with Holy Saturday. There are seven themed chapters, with devotions for each day of the week. The first "week" begins with Ash Wednesday, so it's shorter than the other weeks. The core themes are Following Jesus (Week of Ash Wednesday), meditating, praying, loving, thanking, enacting, and finally "Gathering at the Cross" (Holy Week). Each day's devotional appears on facing pages. On one side you have an outline of how to proceed. Thus, on the Thursday following Ash Wednesday, on the left-hand page, you have a prayer (one line), a scripture reading (John 15:12-17), a reflection (an excerpt from a work by T.W. Manson). This followed by a step titled "Consider," which invites one to read McKim's devotional reflection on the facing page "The Two Hands of Christ." Finally, there is an "Action Step." In this case, it is an invitation to "consider the two hands of Christ and reflect on where you believe Christ is pointing in your life. Also, reflect on how you experience the help Jesus brings on your journey" (p. 6). The same pattern repeats throughout. McKim draws from persons as diverse as Gustavo Gutierrez and Jonathan Edwards, Emilie Townes and St. Augustine.

The study guide that concludes the book allows participants to draw from the daily devotions for a weekly study. Thus, the guide for session One, titled "Following Jesus" (Week of Ash Wednesday), begins by stating the main idea of the session, then provides guidance for the leader, guidance on how to gather, including such things as providing name tags, refreshments, and ground rules. These first three points are essentially guidance for leaders. Then we get to the meat of the session. McKim provides an outline for opening worship, guidance for the conversation that focuses on reviewing and discussing the insights of the daily readings, followed by a concluding prayer and hymn. It's very practical and explicit so that any group can organize itself and move through the season in a way that will enhance the journey.

Although I didn’t have time to read it, Westminster John Knox Press published a second Lenten devotional: Lent in Plain Sight: A Devotion through Ten Objects, authored by Jill Duffield. It also offers daily reflections starting with Ash Wednesday. The ten objects are dust, bread, cross, coins, shoes, oil, coats, towels, thorns, and finally for Easter—stones. Each reflection includes a scripture reading, reflection, reflection questions, and a prayer. It looks very useful as well.  If you're looking for a devotional guide or a study guide that is practical, thought-provoking but rooted in the Reformed tradition, McKim’s book should work well for you. If you’re looking for something a little more traditional in format, then Duffield’s book looks good. Either way, you’re set, if not this year then next year.


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