Good King Wenceslas

Wenceslas jacket.inddGood King Wenceslas
John M. Neal & Tim Ladwig
Eerdmans, 2005

I’ve come a long way from being someone who used to dislike picture books that use song lyrics are their only text. I can’t even remember, exactly, what I found unappealing about them back then. Whatever it was, I’m glad to have seen the light because there are a number of excellent books in this subgenre. Earlier this week I wrote about one and today I’ve got another one to share: Good King Wenceslas, an old Christmas carol that’s been illustrated by Tim Ladwig.

Ladwig has illustrated quite a few theological picture books, but my favorite of his is Peter’s First Easter, that gem of gems that was one of the initial inspirations for creating Aslan’s Library. Ladwig’s art is always vibrant and warm, but I find his work in this book to be especially endearing. The carol requires a variety of settings to be pictured and I love seeing them all, from the castle to the nature scenes to the peasant’s cottage. The people are just as varied (page, peasant, servant, king) and all do their part to tell the true story of King Wenceslas’ journey through harsh winter weather to give aid to one of his subjects. It’s a great story, one that I’m eager to tell my children at this time of year that can too easily become too much just about receiving and not enough about showing compassion and care.

If you enjoy connecting books with the liturgical calendar as I do, Good King Wenceslas is an obvious choice for December 26, St. Stephen’s Day (which is also Boxing Day to the English among us).

Advent Resources for Grownups

IMG_3227Every year, around Thanksgiving, Haley and I lament the fact that we don’t already have reviews written for ALL THE BOOKS, because sorting through and sharing the wealth of Advent and Christmas picture books is a daunting task that we should tackle in, say, July. (But really: who wants to read Christmas books in July? Probably the same people who have the self-discipline to make all those homemade decorations in the summer so that they can pull them out and pin/Instagram them the day after Thanksgiving. If you are one of those people, know that you simultaneously amaze and perplex me.)

It’s a good problem to have, though, because it just means there are so many good books for children to share this time of year. And we certainly will have some new reviews up in the coming days and weeks.

However: in the past two years or so, I’ve fallen into the same trap during Advent and Lent. I’ve gotten so focused on doing the season “well” with my children that I’ve barely inhabited the seasons myself, or let the days of preparation teach me. In the process, I’ve found that I become pretty untethered from what each season is all about — with the sorry result that my words about “getting ready” feel dry and disconnected. And my kids aren’t dumb. They can tell when Mom is trying to get them to eat something she won’t touch herself, rather sharing the source of her own nourishment.

So this year, I’m trying to spend part of each day (generally the early morning) sitting quietly with Scripture, reading poems and selections that someone else has chosen, and generally listening to see if and how God will speak. I’ve set aside, for now, the goal of a productive quiet time, of chasing after what I think I need to learn. So much of the Advent story is about having our own projects upended and waiting to see how God is going to fulfill his promises. Waiting to see how, and when, God will arrive.

Toward that end, then — to help us all in the waiting, and watching, and setting aside our agendas for God — here are a few Advent resources for grownups. I hope you’ll find something here to help you wait upon the Lord, and sharpen the bright hunger of hope.IMG_3225

7--portinari-triptych-detail_advent_thumbnailThe Advent Project, created by the Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts
Our small group is using this online resource together this year, and (like the previous spring’s Lent project) it is a wonderful opportunity to reflect meditatively, through word, art, and music, on Scripture that helps us understand this season. Short daily meditations for Advent through Epiphany are accompanied by musical selections and visual art. And I promise you: this isn’t flat or sentimental work. Introducing the project, Biola president Barry Corey writes, “It [Advent] is merriment and melancholy together, beauty so sublime that, like the best art, it simultaneously comforts and rocks us to the core.” You can visit the site daily, or subscribe to it via email.

Light Upon LightLight Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas & Epiphany, Sarah Arthur
This is the book I’m sitting with in my early mornings. It’s a simple but ingenious idea: for each week of Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany, daily Scripture readings and prayers are paired with complementary poems and excerpts from fiction. Authors like Dickens, Herbert, Donne and Eliot sit comfortably alongside newer voices, familiar and unfamiliar. It’s been an interesting and challenging book, one that has forced me out of my typical reading style (attempting to wring every bit of understanding out of every sentence) and into a more reflective, meditative approach. Which, as it happens, is perfect for Advent.

Sounding the SeasonsSounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian YearMalcolm Guite
Haley gave me this book a year ago, and it’s a lovely resource (or gift) for someone beginning to explore the church year, or who may not want an Advent devotional per se but still wants to approach the season mindfully. Or maybe you’d like to keep it on hand for bedside reading or preschool pick-up waiting?

Seeking God’s Face: PrayiSeeking God's Faceng with the Bible Through the Yeared. Philip Reinder

In a talk he gave at our church, Jamie Smith recommended this as a year-round daily devotional, and I ordered it right then and there. I’ve used it for about a year and a half now, and actually set it aside this Advent in favor of Light Upon Light, but it’s a wonderful book — and what better time than the beginning of the Christian year to start something new? For each day, there are Scripture readings as well as seasonally-appropriate prayers and suggested focus for free prayer. I love this book, and if I could, I’d stick it in all of your stockings.

Pray as You GoPray As You Go
Disclaimer: I haven’t used Pray As You Go myself, but I came across it awhile back while clicking through some of our church’s recommended Advent resources. I was particularly interested because it reminded me of Headspace, an app that some friends use and love. But, by my lights, Pray As You Go is much better: it offers a daily Scripture reading, music, and guided prayer in a short audio format. If you’re someone who has a daily commute, wishes for a personal spiritual director on call (why can’t I have my own church and curate on the property?) or is simply an auditory learner, this is a great site. In the tradition of Ignatian spirituality, they also offer a daily imaginative exercise and personal examen, both of which I have a very little experience with and would like to do more.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like… Advent!

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We’re well into the first week of Advent now, and the sights and sounds of this wonderful season have penetrated our house.  Here are some of the ways we’re marking Advent this year:

It’s tricky to figure out how to differentiate between Advent and Christmas because our culture generally skips directly to celebration without much preparation at all.  This year, though, I’m trying to take a few new steps in that direction.  We’re waiting to put up our tree until the third week of Advent (which is “joy” week) and the gingerbread house kit hiding in my closet will stay there until sometime during the 12 Days of Christmas.  I’ve not yet taken up the discipline of a full Advent fast, but I am trying to postpone many of our favorite celebratory activities and treats until after December 25.  My hope is that the 12 Days will seem more like a sustained celebration – and then we’ll get together with friends for a small Twelfth Night or Epiphany party to wrap it all up!

How are you entering into the preparatory season of Advent this year?

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Let Us Keep the Feast

Let Us Keep the FeastLet Us Keep the Feast
Jessica Snell, editor
Doulos Resources, 2014

Our favorite topic to write about here at Aslan’s Library, right after theological kidlit and reading with children, is celebrating the church year.  So I’m incredibly excited to share a new resource for you: Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home.  If you have any interest at all in learning about the celebrations of the church calendar and if you want to create a deeper sense of seasonal liturgy in your home, this is the book for you!

Let Us Keep the Feast, published by Doulos Resources, was actually written in four installments that were made available last year.  This newest edition contains each of those shorter books and has information about each season of the year from Advent (the first season of the Christian calendar) to Christ the King (the last Sunday in the Christian year).  The sections are well researched and written by a variety of people, but each contains similar components.  An introduction gives background about the season, both historic and theological.  Old, new, and global traditions for the season and any special days within the season are discussed.  Traditions involving food, children, crafting, and community engagement are all shared – and thankfully, the suggestions manage to be thorough without feeling burdensome.  Lastly, the resources section lists ideas for Scripture readings, songs, prayers, and other readings that correlate with the season.

I own the kindle versions of a couple of the season-specific Let Us Keep the Feast editions and if you’re short on cash or just not sure if this book is up your alley that format is a good option.  However, I think this book is one that probably presents itself better in print, so if you’re not a die hard kindle user then I’d encourage purchasing the paper copy.  Best of all, if you do buy the print copy you can actually get the kindle version for free – a nice win-win solution to my own ongoing debate about ebook vs old fashioned paper.

Advent is a time when, after a long season of Ordinary Time, many of us gear up for a long stretch of intentionally incorporating the church year into our family life.  I have a number of books that I reference in my quest to bring the Christian seasons to life in my home, but this is my new favorite.  Run out to get your own copy today and you’ll be ready for an end-of-year Christ the King celebration in a few weeks just before launching into Advent!

The Theological Easter Basket

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As I mentioned on Sunday, this is Holy Week and properly a time for quieting down, lingering, waiting with Jesus. The temptation is there to rush through to Easter – especially for those of us hosting friends or family on Sunday, since we do have to plan ahead – but if we let ourselves, this week can be received as such a gift. It’s a chance, briefly, to taste eternal time; to let all the many things that occupy us pale a bit as we let ourselves be swept into these most momentous days of God’s story.

However. Those of us with kids still have lunches to pack, clothes to wash, baskets to fill, not to mention some planning to do as we prepare to usher our children through the transition of Jesus’ final days, his death, and his rising to life.

I can’t pack tomorrow’s lunch for you. (Sorry: I’m a pretty good lunch packer, but it is one of my LEAST FAVORITE chores.) And I can’t help with your laundry, either. (Sorry again: I love getting things clean, but I do so dislike the whole process of putting it all away.) But ideas for a theologically-rich Easter basket? That I can do.

Each year, I try to fill my children’s baskets with things I hope will encourage them to love Jesus more and want to know him better. To let them know that his love for them is the most important thing in their lives. (Also some Peeps, but that’s because I’m a traditionalist even when it involves disgusting over-sugared marshmallows.) In other words: I try to give them theological Easter baskets, Easter baskets that say something about God and why we’re hunting behind the couch for baskets filled with disgusting over-sugared marshmallows anyway.

So from me to you: some ideas for filling the baskets of your own small ones, with love and hope for a blessed week. Tuck one or more of these inside your child’s basket and commit to enjoying it together during the Easter season. Peeps optional.

ADD A FAMILY READ-ALOUD
(especially if you have an older child who wants to stay up just a little later: make some tea and read a little together!)

GIVE A DEVOTIONAL BOOK: & HELP YOUR CHILD USE IT!

INCLUDE A CD

  • Slugs and Bugs Sing the Biblewe haven’t reviewed this yet, but rest assured – we will. Because trust me, you didn’t know that you needed a song about Deuteronomy 14:21 BUT YOU DO.
  • Resurrection Letters: vol. II
  • Amy Grant CollectionBecause it still stands up, and is super accessible for kids. And it gives you an excuse to sing along to El Shaddai one more time.
  • Jim Weiss CDs: these aren’t explicitly theological, but they’re such a treat. If you haven’t discovered Jim Weiss yet, Do It Now. If you have, then you know what I mean.

INVEST IN THE MATERIALS TO TELL THE STORY

(A few Easter stories from Worship Woodworks – you can buy or make the materials, and tell the story throughout the season)

We’ll be quiet here the rest of the week: see you on the other side, when everything is “turned inside out and upside down” (Godly Play)  – or, in some of my favorite words, when we find the answer to our question “is everything sad going to come untrue?” (Tolkien) in the empty tomb.

Getting Ready for the Week

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Happy Palm Sunday, friends!

I hope it’s been a good one for you. We had a lovely service this morning – where we sang this song – and I was reminded yet again that this week is all about Jesus the king, God’s king, the king who is lifted up not to a throne but a cross. Our pastor remarked, “All that’s left for us to do is cry, hosanna! Save us!”

So we’re heading into Holy Week. And I usually use Sundays to plan the rest of this week — which, this week, includes trying to build in some meditative time around preparing for a big Easter dinner, filling baskets, and getting ready to feast. I like to have things mostly done by Wednesday night so I can enter into the Triduum a little less distracted than usual. Sure, some years are more organized than others (this is one of my less organized years!), but it’s what I aim for.

In that spirit, we’ll be offering you some resources to prepare for Easter in the next few days: not to jump the gun, but to help you finalize your feast preparations before quieting down to walk with Jesus through his final hours. To start with, check out this oldie-but-goodie from Haley on the Sights and Sounds of Easter. On my own to-do list this week is to make sure I have Champagne in the fridge Saturday evening – oh, and I need to remember to order eggs from the Natural Candy Store! For the kids. Really.

So stay tuned, and may this week be a time of blessing, quiet, and deep love in your homes.

The Lent Box

A month or so back, Haley and I had an email exchange about building seasonal boxes for our kids: that is, having a stash of materials, stories, and books for the feasts and seasons of the church year. (Doubtless this was while she was reading A Homemade Year, since she asked me if I had ever celebrated Candlemas. Answer: no.)

Afterwards, I did what all good friends who are lucky enough to have thoughtful, smart people in their lives do: I copied her idea. I had a week or so to go until Ash Wednesday, so I decided to start with a Lent box. There are lots and lots of ways to do this; my choices were shaped by the ages of my children (7 and 3) and our church’s children’s curriculum, Godly Play – which I also teach. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how I built my box, and a peek at what lives inside:

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Because we do Godly Play at church, I bought copies of Sonja Stewart’s Young Children and Worship and Following Jesus to use at home. Jerome Berryman (the creator of Godly Play) collaborated with her, so many of the stories are the same; however, Stewart’s books include patterns and templates for making the materials at home, as well as a helpful appendix listing all of the materials one could ever need, cross-referenced across the stories. That made it easier for me to get started: I ordered some materials that I can use in multiple stories, as well as a few gorgeous pieces that I wasn’t going to make myself. (This tomb, anyone?)

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Worship Woodworks has lovely wooden figures for each of the Young Children and Worship stories, but there’s no reason to buy every single piece. It’s entirely possible that when we need a Temple for the story of the poor widow, I will build it out of blocks. Or Legos! I love an excuse to play with Legos. The coins tossed into the treasury are going to be some old, worthless Italian lire left over from our honeymoon. And the Passover is going to happen around our dollhouse table, with dollhouse kitchenware, which the dolls so kindly loaned us.

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Each week, I’m introducing a new story. So far we’ve done The Mystery of Easter (a story in which we put together a “puzzle” of the six weeks of Lent, which shows us that Lent culminates in a cross – a cross that is at once mournful purple and celebratory white) and the parable of the two sons from Matthew 21. The materials from each story, once it is introduced, come to live inside our box or alongside it. Coming up are the stories of the greatest commandment, the poor widow’s offering, the last Passover, and during Holy Week, Jesus the King and Jesus Dies and God Makes Jesus Alive.

The other contents of our Lent box are several books, verging toward the meditative: The Saving Name of God the Son (probably the most theologically dense board book in existence) and Writing to God: Kid’s Edition. Oh, and Bible Stories for the Forty Days, which we’re trying our best to keep up with.  To make space for the stories, I deposited the box near our display bookshelf, where I added more books about Jesus, his parables, and miracles.

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My favorite part of the Lent box, though, is the simplest and easiest to replicate. Each child has a prayer journal and some art supplies. My reading 7-year-old uses Writing to God for prompts occasionally; the 3-year-old prefers to scribble when given a chance to “reflect” on a story or a book we’ve read. Yes, his scribbles generally include Lightning McQueen, but it’s more about getting used to the practice of reflection than the outcome right now.

A really simple version of this box could easily include a candle, some matches, a notebook and colored pencils for each child, and a Bible for reading aloud. I tend to get really excited about projects and dive in headfirst, but others might prefer to slowly build a box, year by year.

I’d love to hear if your family does something similar, or materials/books/practices that are a part of your (literal or figurative) annual Lenten box. I’m slowly putting a box together for the Easter season as well: I’ll keep you posted when we get there!

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

I have to admit to feeling a twinge of sadness this morning when I dropped my daughter off at school amid of sea of green sweaters, hair ribbons, and jackets. (My girl was dressed all in black, as part of a super sneaky plot to “blend into things and then jump out at people,” but that’s another story.) I’m pretty sure that not one of those cheerful, gap-toothed first graders knew much at all about St Patrick except that he graciously gave us an excuse to wear tacky shamrock jewelry and pinch other people — two gifts, indeed, when you’re seven.

But did you know that St Patrick was kidnapped from his home and enslaved? And that, having won his freedom, he returned to the island where he had been held and preached the gospel to that slave-holding society? As a historical figure, he’s shrouded in lots of mist and legend; but even if a lot of the traditional lore around the saint is just that, that radical act of generosity and forgiveness makes his feast day worth celebrating with real gratitude.

That, and the corned beef.

 I’ll be introducing St Patrick to my kids with Tomie de Paola’s Patrick: the Patron Saint of Ireland, which arrived too late from the library for me to review. I’ll let you know if we’ll be adding it to our library. We’ll also be talking a little about modern day slavery and how our family stands against it – as well as encourages former slaves to find new life – by supporting International Justice Mission. Haley found a wonderful St Patrick figure at this Etsy shop, and I’m looking forward to hearing how she used him in her home. Do you have any books or resources that you’ve used to commemorate this ancient feast day? Let us know below in the comments!

“By thee all heaven is poured into my heart…”

Holy Saturday

When Satan approaches may I flee to thy wounds,
and there cease to tremble at all alarms…

Thy cross was upraised to be my refuge,
Thy blood streamed forth to wash me clean,
Thy death occurred to give me a surety,
Thy name is my property to save me,
By thee all heaven is poured into my heart,
   but it is too narrow to comprehend thy love.
I was a stranger, an outcast, a slave, a rebel,
   but thy cross has brought me near,
     has softened my heart,
     has made me thy Father’s child,
     has admitted me to thy family,
     has made me joint-heir with thyself.
O that I may love thee as thou lovest me,
   that I may walk worthy of thee, my Lord,
   that I may reflect the image of heaven’s first-born.
May I always see thy beauty with the clear eye of faith,
   and feel the power of thy Spirit in my heart,
   for unless he move mightily in me,
   no inward fire will be kindled.

From “Need of Jesus,” in The Valley of Vision

“Give me perpetual broken-heartedness…”

Good Friday

Grant me to hear thy voice assuring me:
that by thy stripes, I am healed,
that thou wast bruised for my iniquities,
that thou hast been made sin for me
that I might be righteous in thee,
that my grievous sins, my manifold sins, are all forgiven,
buried in the ocean of thy concealing blood.
I am guilty, but pardoned,
lost, but saved,
wandering, but found,
sinning, but cleansed.
Give me perpetual broken-heartedness,
Keep me always clinging to thy cross,
Flood me every moment with descending grace,
Open to me the springs of divine knowledge,
sparkling like crystal,
flowing clear and unsullied
through my wilderness of life.

From “The Broken Heart,” in The Valley of Vision