I’m grateful for this new review of A World Transformed at the Canadian Theological Review. This is a meaty one; the reviewer, Matthew Forrest Lowe, takes us through the book chapter by chapter. I appreciated such a careful reading. If you’ve ever wondered what’s in my book, this review is a great way to find out!
I’ll leave you with a few excerpts from the review*:
Thankfully, Lisa Deam’s book is really and truly accessible: it’s a genuine pleasure to read, a skillfully laid path that engages our minds and our spirits with each inviting step. From the outset, Deam is winsomely honest about her own surprising journey, initially inspired by undergraduate encounters with medieval art. ‘I loved the way that medieval artists saw their world: with creativity and in intimate connection with the creator. It became the way I see my own world, or the way I try to see it’; in particular, the seven-hundred-year-old Hereford Map ‘transformed not only the course of my scholarly career but also my journey with God’ (1). As the book unfolds, the challenge Deam faces is that of persuading us that this and other medieval maps can offer us similar guidance on our own journeys.
Throughout the book, readers will benefit from illustrations taken from the maps in question, as well as from sets of ‘Reflections and Practices’ at the conclusion of each chapter. These exercises are well-chosen, pushing us just enough into new territory, as it were, to challenge us to grow.
[T]he book as a whole remains a marvellously reorienting read, supplying insights for mind and soul on nearly every page. As Deam says, in dialogue with Augustine, ‘No person lies beyond [God’s] reach. God redeems the edge, making it a place of miracles as well as monsters’ (55).
Monstrous creatures roam the edge of the Hereford Map
Lowe seems to especially appreciate the maps’ definition of Christ as monster-defeater. This is an aspect of medieval maps that I love, too. So I’ll leave you with a question: how has Jesus defeated the monsters in your life?
*To read the entire review, scroll down to page 9 in the link provided.
Lisa’s book, A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps, is on sale (Kindle version) for $2.99 for a limited time. Check it out and share the news!
This week I’m over at the Ancient-Future Faith Network reviewing Mystic Chapel, the fantastic new album by The Project. Here’s a peek:
Mystic Chapel is the newest offering from The Project—musical artists Duane Arnold and Michael Glen Bell. Perhaps you know their first album, Martyrs Prayers (if you don’t, you should!). I grabbed a copy of The Project’s new CD just before Christmas, and it didn’t take me long to decide that this is the album that will journey with me through 2016.
Why? Because Mystic Chapel is itself a journey, one that echoes the walk I find myself on.
In word and song, Mystic Chapel tells the story of a man for whom faith is a distant memory. Weary from his search, the man finds his way to “a small clapboard building with a broken cross on a small steeple.” Once within, he dreams that he enters a garden and sees a stone rolled away. But is it a dream? Perhaps it is a vision and the man a mystic.
Click here to read the rest of this review at the Ancient-Future Faith Network!
And be sure to get your CD or download of Mystic Chapel at http://themartyrsproject.com.
Today, the Church remembers Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167), abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. I wanted to share with you a beautiful passage from his De institutione inclusarum (The Formation of Anchoresses) on praying—and more—for the world.
What is more useful than prayer? Give it. What is more gracious than pity? Spend it. Hold the whole world in one embrace of love; consider the good to congratulate them, the wicked to grieve over them; behold the afflicted and compassionate the oppressed; call to mind the miseries of the poor, the groans of orphans, the desolation of widows, the sorrows of those who weep, the needs of pilgrims, the vows of virgins, the perils of men on the sea, the temptation of monks, the cares of the clergy, the hardships that soldiers endure. Open your heart to all, spend your tears on them, pour forth your prayers for them.*
It seems that we need these prayers more than ever today.
*For Crist Luve: Prayers of Saint Aelred Abbot of Rievaulx, trans. Rose de Lima (Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1965), p. 10.
I suddenly recalled, this fourth week in Advent, that my book, A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps, contains a seasonal reflection! I decided to share it today as an excerpt. Read on for a gift from God via the wonderful world of the Hereford Map.
I will never forget the first time I caught a glimpse of God’s plans for the world. I was a teenager, and it was Advent. On Christmas Eve, the church in which I grew up held a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a type of service that originated in England in the early twentieth century. The lessons began with readings from the book of Genesis and proceeded through the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus before culminating in the familiar Christmas story from the Gospels. I loved sitting through this long service. The hour was late. The church was candlelit. The lessons brought us closer and closer to Jesus. All was anticipation.
Yet what thrilled me most, what I remember most, was the first lesson of the service. The reading took us to the Garden of Eden, after the fall of humanity, when God reveals that Adam’s seed will bruise the serpent’s head:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel (Gen 3:15).
Waiting for Jesus, I was suddenly transported to the beginning of time. Christmas was revealed for what it is: not an isolated feast, but the center of a vast history that began in the mind of God and that will not end until the day of judgment. Driving home after the service, beneath a dome of glittery stars, I knew that Jesus was part of something incredibly big. And since I claimed Jesus, whose birth I was celebrating—or rather, since he claimed me—I was part of something big, too.
What a wonderful moment. My place in the world, my significance in the grand scheme of things, was presented to me like a gift from God. Since that night, I have tried to hold on to this certain knowledge of my significance. But it’s difficult. The world seems bent on putting me in my place—a very small place. As we all do, I face rejection on a daily basis. I compare myself with other people and come up wanting. I feel misused and overlooked. Sometimes, at the end of a difficult day, it can seem that God himself has forgotten about me.
The Hereford Map, ca. 1300. Image courtesy of University Library Groningen.
History tells me otherwise. And when I feel small, I need a big dose of it—a dose the size of the Hereford Map. God’s people need to tell his story. We need to rehearse it, revel in it, and get lost in its grandeur. When we do, we realize how wide—and at the same time how welcoming—God’s story really is. Dorothy Bass reflects,
Amazingly, even though this story began before time itself and reaches beyond the end of time, it is a story that has room in its narrative for each individual who encounters it in the present day.
When we get lost in God’s story, we find ourselves.
Embrace Your Place
Bass suggests that we enter God’s story by celebrating the church year, which, through its liturgical seasons, takes us through key points in the “life of God.” I like the idea of paying attention to sacred history throughout the year, as I did at that Christmas Eve service long ago . . .
I find another point of connection to God’s story in the Hereford Map. Sitting down with a good reproduction of the map, I let history wash over me. My eyes roam over the map’s sacred sites, from Eden to Africa to Jerusalem to the gates of heaven. If you try this exercise yourself, you will see that the map organizes these sites in a particular way. It lays out salvation like a diagram. The creation and the birth of sin take place at the edges of the world, as if to show their distance from human experience and understanding. Jesus lies at the center. Time ends, and eternity begins, at the top.
In between these pivotal sites in the history of salvation, there is a lot of room—all the room in the world. There is room for the medieval Christians who were the map’s first users, and room for you and me. Room for our stories. Room for our mistakes. Room for our redemption. Room to recover our significance.
In fact, every follower of Christ finds herself on the map of salvation every day, in ordinary but breathtaking ways. Have you ever had a bad day? Have you ever let sin get the best of you and then knelt humbly to ask God’s forgiveness? That’s part of my day every day. It’s also part of the grand design of God. When we sin and ask forgiveness, we are playing our role in the drama of salvation—the very drama illustrated on the Hereford Map. We journey from the monstrous races at the edge of the world to the cross at the center. We make the journey of God’s saving grace . . .
Let us, then, learn to embrace our place in God’s plan. Let’s learn to think big. No more false humility. No more wondering where we belong or whether we matter in the grand scheme of things. We do matter. And we belong on the map of salvation.
 Dorothy C. Bass, Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 80–81.
Wow, I had forgotten how much I love my book! Let me clarify—I love what medieval maps allow us to see about God, his love, and his plan for humankind. Read more in A World Transformed.
This year, as I’ve attempted to keep Advent and—of course—prowled social media, I’ve noticed some interesting practices here and there. So I decided it was time for an Advent round-up! This is not meant to be a definitive compilation, just some neat things I’ve found. Some are historical, some new, some strange, and others just kind of fun. Maybe there’s something for you.
So here you go—10 Advent Practices for 2015!
1. Fast. Advent began as a season of preparation for the baptism of Christian converts, which took place on Epiphany. Consequently, Advent included fasting for much of the Middle Ages (and still does in some churches today). This may seem difficult given the season’s culinary excesses. But there is more than one way to fast. Check out this great post on The Nativity Fast to see how “fasting is not just about food.”
Rogier van der Weyden, Columba Altarpiece (detail). Note the crucifix hanging above the infant Jesus.
2. Look for the four comings of Christ. Instead of using the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love when lighting your Advent wreath, reflect each week on one of the four—yes, four—comings of Christ as taught by medieval theologians. I did some research on this and was surprised by the rich and complex tradition of Christ’s comings. See my recent reflection on this topic.
3. Read Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book. I admit that this is a strange practice, and it’s a highly personal one. Almost every year, I read Willis’s time-travel thriller during the Advent season. Why? Set in December in medieval England (and 21st-century Oxford), it offers a totally unsentimental look at the kind of love and hope that pierce the darkest of human days. For more, see my review of Doomsday Book from this summer.
4. Celebrate the Stations of the Birth. Led by Emily Stone, the women of Renovatus Church in Charlotte, NC began a unique practice this year— celebrating the Stations of Christ’s birth as an Advent parallel to the Stations of the Cross. Readings, poetry, and visual aids took participants through stages in Mary’s journey, including her response to the angel, her visit to Elizabeth, and Jesus’ birth. Each station helped the women prepare for what Christ is birthing in their own life. Doesn’t this sound like a neat tradition?
5. Wait. The Feast of the Nativity doesn’t begin until December 25. The four weeks preceding are a time of preparation. How can we spend some time this Advent preparing instead of partying? We may not be able to do much about office parties or Christmas music blaring in public. But how about in our homes? Perhaps we don’t put up the tree until Christmas Eve. Or we sing songs of preparation instead of Christmas carols. Worried you won’t get enough holiday cheer? Remember that the Twelve Days of Christmas follow Advent. They are a liturgical season of feasting unto themselves.
6. Read a poem a day. My Twitter friend Marguerite is having an all-poetry Advent (check the hashtag #poetryonlyAdvent on Twitter). She writes, “All my ‘recreational’ reading is going to be poetry. This will mean much more intense, careful reading.” Some of her favorites are Christian Wiman’s “Every Riven Thing” and John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-person’d God.” Reading something completely different can slow us down and help us to pay attention.
7. Walk into Starbucks and order your favorite drink in a new size—the (Ad)venti!
8. Do your shopping before Advent. This tip comes, again, from Marguerite. I imagine a whole new countdown—just 14 shopping days until Advent! By getting this task out of the way early, we can spend time preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ.
9. Ban violence. This is another medieval tradition, one I discovered on Medievalists.net. In the 11th century, a series of decrees called the Truce of God forbade violence (such as feuding, war, personal revenge, and military activities) during Advent. In 1063, the Bishop of Terouanne wrote,”You shall also keep this peace every day of the week from the beginning of Advent to the octave of Epiphany.” What if we banned violence—arguing, passive-aggressive behavior, baiting, and so on—in our own hearts and homes? What if we kept the peace this Advent?
10. Mix up your music. Kate is changing her listening habits this Advent: “No radio, more silence and classical music. Deeper listening.” What might a little silence and more careful listening do for us this time of year?
And a bonus “practice”–
11. Embrace the chaos. Here the truth comes out. How many Advent practices have I actually kept this year? Not many. The tree went up the Saturday after Thanksgiving (I blame the kids). I’ve picked fights (I blame the stress). I haven’t fasted (I blame . . . you get the point).
I’m grateful to my friend Phil Steer for reminding me that keeping Advent is worthy but not mandatory:
Phil links to Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you” (Gal. 4:10-11).
I don’t know if I’m trying to earn God’s favor, but I do know that sometimes I can’t seem to do Advent. I like the practices I rounded up above and genuinely think they (or others) can help us prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. At the same time, I realize that I can’t save the season—or myself. This awareness is perhaps my greatest practice. It’s why I need Jesus to come this and every year.
How about you? How are you keeping—or embracing the grace of not keeping—Advent?