Christian poets, poetry students, and all lovers of poetry won’t want to miss this highly recommended anthology by Paraclete Press.
Edited by Edward Hirsch, this year’s edition of The Best American Poetry, 2016, astronomically abounds with rising stars and a constellation of brilliant poets.
Remembering Softly: a life in poems
Review of poetry book by Catherine Lawton
Having trouble seeing the too-small print that most Bible publishers have been using? The new giant print reference Bible from Holman comes in an easy-to-read 14-point font on nice paper with a long-lasting leather cover.
In the new poetry book True, False, None of the Above, which Cascade Books kindly sent me to review, poet-author Marjorie Maddox shows how literature opens doors into people and worlds unlike our own, helping us to emphasize with others and better understand them, ourselves, our faith, and the type of literature we would like to write.
If you have heard the Christmas story your whole life, as I have, you might think, as I did, that you have considered almost every aspect of the Nativity. Nevertheless, I requested a review copy of the new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), published by Image books. I figured that if anyone would have new insights or a fresh perspective into this vital, 2,000-year old story, it would be Bible scholar, Christian author, former pastor, Catholic theologian, and university professor Scott Hahn.
From the first chapter “A Light Goes On in Bethlehem,” we receive this insightful light:
“The Christmas story has an unconventional hero – not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family…. We see the swaddling bands and know they’re for a baby, but someone had to do the swaddling…. We hear tell of the manger-crib where he lay, but someone needed to place him there…. The family is the key to Christmas. The family is the key to Christianity….
That, indeed, is one of the most profound implications of the Christmas story: that God had made his dwelling place among men, women, and children, and he called them – he calls us – to become his family, his holy household.”
Today, many people have no family. Many, including children in this country, have no home. They’re homeless, lonely, and alone.
“Without Christ, the world was a joyless place; and anyplace where he remains unknown and unaccepted is a joyless place. Everything has changed since Christ’s birth, but everything remains to be changed, as people come to receive the child in faith.”
With the joy of Christ in the world, no one needs to be without home or family. In the church, we can find loving, forgiving fellowship with one another as the Family of God. We can be grafted into Jesus’ family tree.
As Dr. Hahn points out, “The New Testament begins not with a discourse or a prophecy, not with theology or law, but with a simple declaration of family relationships.”
So the book of Matthew begins with a genealogy or, in Greek, a geneseos, which gives the root for genes, genetics, genomes, or generations and can be translated as “beginning” or “origin.” Therefore, “…the evangelist was suggesting a new Genesis, an account of the new creation brought about by Jesus Christ.” Likewise, “In the fourth Gospel, Saint John accomplishes something similar when he begins by echoing the first words of the Torah: ‘In the beginning’.”
In the book of Luke, we get Mary’s perspective and Jesus’ family line going back to Adam to show how Christ came for everyone. Matthew, however, wants to show his Jewish readers how they’re connected to Christ through their family heritage, and so his long list of begats begins with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people.
“As the roll draws to its close, however, it identifies Joseph not as a father, but as ‘the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born who is called Christ’.” Dr. Hahn goes on to say, this “final link breaks with the preceding pattern. Joseph is not called father, but spouse. The evangelist wants to be perfectly clear that Joseph had no biological role to play in the conception of Jesus.”
When time came for the infant to be born, what a birth announcement! One angel visited the shepherds, as messengers from God often did in Old Testament Times, calming fears and announcing Good News. But this time, a multitude of heavenly hosts then appeared, singing “Glory to God in the highest,” and lighting up the whole sky with angels!
Later, when the magi visited the Holy Family, Matthew 2:10 reports, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Dr. Hahn then asks us to “linger on that single line. For it captures the very moment when God gave ‘Joy to the World’ – not merely to Israel, but to the whole world: the nations, the foreigners, the Gentiles.”
In the Family of God, the church Body of Christ, love holds us together, and joy radiates from the center. Or, as Dr. Hahn says:
“If we truly celebrate Christmas, we’ll exude a joy that people will want to share.”
To be realistic, though, “there are those who would steal our joy by trying to steal our Christmas – by snickering at the lot of it: the Trinity, the virginal conception, the incarnation, the shepherds. How should we respond? By inviting them to the feast. By enjoying the feast ourselves, and by enjoying it for all of its infinite worth.”
May your Christ-mass be filled with love and overflow with joy, joy, joy in Jesus’ Name.
Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), hardback
As an active Christian poet, writer, and occasional poetry editor, I know how important imagination can be. More often, however, I heavily rely on prayer and observation – listening for God’s guidance and paying attention to the details that make a poem or post or book come alive. So I have to admit: I often think imagination is over-rated or, worse, a way to conjure up unlikely thoughts or inadvisable ideas!
Reportedly, God’s people have had similar concerns from the beginning as Genesis 6:5 reminds us, saying, “…the imagination and intentions of human thinking is continually evil.” Ouch! But wait!
What if Christ has redeemed our imaginations along with everything else about us?
I love that idea, don’t you? So, when I saw that Crossway had recently published Imagination redeemed by authors Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Matthew P. Ristuccia, I immediately requested a review copy, which the publisher kindly sent.
The subtitle reveals even more about the authors’ intentions: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind. Excellent idea! But, how do we do that?
Second Corinthians 10:4-5 gives us the short version:
For the weapons of our warfare
are not of the flesh,
but empowered by God
to bring down strongholds.
Therefore, with God’s help
we can bring down everything opposed
to what we know of God,
– that knowledge that comes to us through the Bible, our experiences, our conscience, and our God-given ability to think and reason –
taking every thought captive
in obedience to Christ.
Authors Veith and Ristuccia fully develop that idea in their book Imagination redeemed, beginning with this definition from Gene:
“Imagination is simply the power of the mind to form a mental image, that is, to think in pictures or other sensory representations…. Imagination lets us relive the past and anticipate the future. And it takes up much of our present. We use our imaginations when we daydream and fantasize, to be sure, but also when we just think about things.”
In providing biblical examples from Ezekiel throughout the book, Matt had this to say:
“It is hard to imagine a more difficult faith crisis for Old Testament people of God than what Ezekiel and his fellow exiles faced. The combined loss of hope and reassurance of divine presence were overwhelming. God’s people were in desperate need for something bigger than an oracle. Their thoughts had wandered too far astray to be called back by prophetic logic alone. Instead, they needed to see what they could not see: God’s loyal providence…. So the Lord went after Ezekiel’s imagination, and through him the exiles.”
As Matt goes on to say:“If you capture someone’s imagination, you capture his mind, heart, and will.”
Typing that quotation now, I’m reminded that Matthew 22:37 reports Jesus’ word to us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Our imaginations can free us to capture our love for God – in our minds, in our writings, and in our lives.
With vibrant words and poetic imaginations, prophets such as Ezekiel give us examples to consider, which this book also does throughout the text. Sometimes, though, I found the references to Ezekiel distracting and would have preferred the text divided by each author’s emphasis, perhaps in separate chapters, parts, or even separate volumes. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book and the excellent ideas behind it.
Like the authors, I believe, “…the part of the mind known as the imagination – the ability to form mental images – is important in the life of the Christian. Though a realm in need of discipline and sanctification, the imagination is a God-given superpower, making possible some of the greatest achievements of human beings. It makes possible empathy and compassion, shapes our worldview, and is the way into our heart.”
For Christian poets, writers, editors, and other communicators for Christ, I pray that God inspires us and stimulates our imaginations to write in all genres with such winsome words and creative ideas that we bring countless readers to Christ and the church. Imagine what we can do in Jesus’ Name!
Imagination redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind, paperback