God calling

Over coffee this morning, a very prayerful member of the congregation started talking about a little book she uses called Daily Light. It fits in her handbag. It offers readings for morning and night, and often seems to say just what she needs. Then out came a Promise Box, which was new to me: a small box, with 140 tiny scrolls of sentences from scripture, with a handy pair of tweezers for plucking them out.

It made me wonder about how many different forms of daily devotion we use in the church, and how seldom we talk about what they are.

Nowadays, my daily devotions are fairly predictable: set daily prayer, time for silence, a barely articulate prayer that I have said for years before getting out of bed, but which never gets spoken when I am fully awake. But there have been various things along the way.

In my first year or two of exploring faith, it was music that led me on. Recordings of Taize chants, the still beloved The Lover and the Beloved by John Michael Talbott. I didn’t realise at the time how important these things were, but they played pretty regularly in the background, and rose to the surface when needed.

Then one day, I was hiding in a seldom used piano room in my halls of residence for a bit of peace, and I found a tattered copy of a book called God Calling. The book was written by two sisters, if I remember correctly, who said that one day, God came to them in prayer.  Started speaking, as if writing a letter.  Asked that they write his words down, to share with others. Even then the concept made me cringe. And so did some of the langauge and theology. But there was something there that kept me coming back. Something that kept me reading it, letter by letter, day by day, as I explored what I believed (and didn’t believe) about God. I found the book last month when I was clearing bookshelves in the States. I didn’t dare open it, for I wanted to remember it fondly, and I knew that reading it would not help at all.

After that, I ‘graduated’ to the rhythms of an Ignation retreat in daily life. Then to prayer books and books about prayer. Books about prayer are tricky. They are not in themselves devotional. But I find that reading them before bed sometimes helps sustain silent prayer when everything else seems dry.

The thing I find interesting about devotional books is that their effectiveness seems to be far removed from their objective worth. Sloppy theology? Horrid pictures? Lack of inclusive language? Well, if it’s the right book at the right time, none of it seems to matter.

But maybe that is why we don’t talk about them much. They are not quite ‘good enough’ — too embarrassing to share. But really, how bad can it be? What dark secret could surpass a book of letters by two pietistic sisters, claiming to receive dictation from God? Go on. Tell all. What devotional books have you used over the years?

4 thoughts on “God calling

  1. I was given some dreadful devotional books as a teenager – they were very preachy, tried too hard to be trendy, and were far too focussed on sex and relationships. Appalling stuff. Put me right off church and God for years.

    The book that got me thinking about Christianity again was ‘Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner’. My mom sent it to me when I was living in rural Japan and found myself missing the presence of churches and the option of going on Sunday (which was strange because I hadn’t been going to church for several years by that point). I think what I appreciated about it was the feeling of journeying with. I was privy to one man’s ponderings and didn’t feel preached to. His God felt more like a God I could like and be in relationship with. I still have a lot of respect for Buechner.

    I loved Maggi Dawn’s Advent-Epiphany book ‘Beginnings and Endings’, and I always find myself drawn back to Celtic Daily Prayer. Kathleen Norris’s ‘Cloister Walk’ isn’t really a devotional book, but I used it as one for a time. And now I have numerous poetry books and various books of seasonal readings that I’ll often pull out at random.

    It’s so true that the right book at the right time makes all the difference, regardless of awful pictures and lazy theology.

  2. By and large I find devotional books impossible, and I always feel horribly guilty about this. In fact, until Kate said ‘Kathleen Norris’ I was about to say all devotional books… but I do find her hugely helpful. And while on Americans, Wendell Berry. Then George Herbert is always good. In fact it seems that poets can reach me in a way ‘how to’ books simply cannot.

    There are a small number of patterns I use for prayer, another source of guilt. My most basic pattern is offering my family and friends to God in the morning, then simply being with him. In the evening I offer him back the day, and spend time with him, often drifting into sleep that way. The other thing which I do in patches is to say Morning and Evening prayer. I most like the bible reading in this, and not infrequently find I have read ahead, which poses problems afterwards – which is a truly nit-picking approach to it, I fear. But sometimes pressure of time or just staleness leads me to drop it for a bit.

    I can’t imagine a day which does not start with my saying: ‘Good morning God’, though I don’t always keep up the worded prayer afterwards. Many words are usually a sign of stress.

  3. A big fat book called “Celebrating the Church Year” – readings for every day, organised by the church calendar. And at other times, the religious poems of Donne. And R.S.Thomas, over and over again.

  4. I keep going back to the 1st “Christian” book I ever bought – CS Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters”. Wickedly funny, but full of shrewd wisdom about our human condition and God. Then HA William’s “Someday I’ll find you” – here is some one who’s gone through the mill but still keeps faith. But I need a still place, a candle and either an icon or the Reserved Sacrament for it to really work for me.

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