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the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God
Author: Bobby Gross
Growing up in a protestant, evangelical Christian tradition, I never had much idea about what time of year it was. Sure, I could have told you how long it was until Christmas or since Easter, but other than a vague notion of Lent as something only Catholics celebrated and lighting candles during Advent, I knew virtually nothing of the Christian year. It wasn’t until I started attending an Anglican church while I was in college that I started to have an awareness of what it meant to live within the rhythms of Christian time. I felt as though I had discovered something profoundly meaningful when I began to pay attention to liturgical colors and read my Bible using a lectionary. The first time I attended an Ash Wednesday service and fasted during Lent, I felt like I was doing something quite daring and avant garde (after all, only Catholics do this, right?). Perhaps because I came to it later in life, paying attention to and observing the seasons of the Christian year feels nothing like rote repetition or meaningless ritual. Participating in Jesus’ story, the way that the Christian year forces me to do, puts time into perspective. December becomes a season of waiting, not just shopping. The weeks preceding Easter become a season of penitence and sacrifice, not just dreary winter weather. Ordinary time becomes a season to contemplate the intersection of faith and life, not just summer vacation. This way of living is disciplining, memory-enhancing, and life-giving.
In his introduction to Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, Bobby Gross comments on the power of paying attention to the Christian year by saying “[b]y some mysterious grace, the light of the Christ who lived in history comes into our present experience with spiritual power, and the hope of the Christ who will return in glory to renew all things also brings power into our lives. Eternity intersects Time. Keeping the Christian year helps us to live at that intersection” (32). This book is both an excellent introduction and primer to the concept of living within the rhythms of the Christian year and a helpful devotional guide. Written from the perspective of someone who also did not grow up used to the ebb and flow of Christian time but who came to it later in life, it contains useful and insightful introductions to every season, from the cycle of light (Advent, Christmas and Epiphany), to the cycle of life (Lent, Holy Week and Easter), to the cycle of love (Ordinary Time). These introductions include Gross’s own reflections on the time, as well as information about how the church has observed and celebrated them through the centuries and practical suggestions for how contemporary Christians might try to “inhabit” each season. The devotions are written on a weekly basis and include Scripture readings, reflections, prayers, and questions for personal application. There is certainly enough here to challenge without overwhelming the reader. The point is not to burden her with yet another spiritual task to complete, but rather to gently nudge her back into an awareness of Jesus’ story and her place in it. This is a beautifully and sensitively written book and one that could be used by Christians at every stage of the journey.
Although I have begun to be aware of the seasons of the Christian year, I know that I still have a lot to learn. I am looking forward to the beginning of the new year (Advent) in a few weeks, and when it comes, I am going to pick this book up again and use it as a more systematic guide to the whole year ahead. The implications and effects of this counter-cultural, and, in some ways, counter-intuitive way of living are exciting and challenging at the same time. I feel certain that Living the Christian Year will prove to be an excellent travel guide and time-keeper.