Meditations on the everyday and the sacred offer food for thought

Published October 1, 1999

Things Seen and Unseen is the chronicle of one woman’s experience during a year in her parish church. The book is built on the framework of the church year, from advent to ordinary time, and includes reflections on those seasons through the unfolding events of a particular Christian community. The personal diary and the church calendar are set side by side.[pullquote]Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, California, has the usual mixture of people – old and young, rich and poor, gay and straight, people of many races with many different stories. It is a parish where lots of study goes on in various groups, where the lay members of the parish council struggle with decision-making about small issues like Christmas decorations and about the larger issues of human sexuality and the Christian faith, where members are born, live, and die.Central to the book is Gallagher’s experience of volunteering at the parish “community kitchen” where meals are served to those in need. Here she learns about finding God in the ordinary, about the interconnectedness of faith and action. Being faithful to God, she finds, is being faithful to others in sickness and in health, for better, for worse. “I don’t think the Eucharist makes sense without the soup,” she says. This is one woman’s journey in faith in one particular parish. But her meditations on the everyday and the sacred provide all of us with much food for thought. An image that sticks with me is the volunteer in the soup kitchen who, before beginning to cook, kisses the neckband of her apron the way a priest kisses the stole. Nora Gallagher has said that she yearns to embody her faith, to see it acted out, incarnate. Her story tells us what she learned about incarnation, death, and resurrection over the course of a parish year. The Flowering of the Soul is a collection of prayers by women, edited by Toronto author Lucinda Vardey. The book is a rich treasury of nearly 1,000 prayers, poems, blessings, and thoughts about prayer, by women of many countries, many religious traditions, from many periods of history.Vardey structures the book around five aspects of prayer: devotion, supplication, surrender, contemplation, action. In the beginning 40 pages, she gives an excellent introduction to prayer, what it is and how to sustain a life of prayer. She speaks of the uniqueness of women’s spiritual experience by describing five key virtues shared by women who pray – relatedness, perceptiveness, unity, dedication and care.As editor, Vardey chose to preserve the language of the original prayers, whether that was inclusive of feminine images for God or using more traditional masculine images. There is, however, an excellent introductory section reflecting on feminine images of God, not only in the Christian tradition but in other world religions. I identified 11 Canadian women from the brief biographies. The only surprise was the listing of Sen. Lois Wilson, former United Church moderator and published author as having “no biographical information found”! Surely a phone call to some church office might have solved that one. This collection is a great resource for women and men for both personal and public prayer. There is a wealth of material here, to be dipped into over a long time. It is an excellent resource and a valuable contribution to the literature of women’s spirituality. Dr. Patricia Bays is a Christian educator living in Ottawa.


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