Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Book Review: Mudhouse Sabbath

Each month I write and edit for two newsletters put out by my office. Since my boss is out of the country, this month's book review was up to me. Thought I'd post it here, too.

“Practicing the spiritual disciplines does not make us Christians. Instead, the practicing teaches us what it means to live as Christians. …The ancient disciplines form us to respond to God, over and over always, in gratitude, in obedience, and in faith.”
– Winner, in Mudhouse Sabbath

Though we are nearly a quarter of the way through 2007, the year still has an air of “fresh start” about it for me. Perhaps because today is the official First Day of Spring, and the year does not seem fully underway until the earth comes alive again. Whatever the reason for this lingering sense of new beginnings, with that mentality I’ve recently found myself drawn to treatments on the spiritual disciplines, and increasingly desirous to see more of these rhythms and practices of spiritual devotion have a place in my walk with Christ.

One of these books is Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline by Lauren F. Winner. In her earlier spiritual memoir, Girl Meets God, Winner tells the story of her conversion from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity. In Mudhouse Sabbath, she brings her knowledge and experience with Jewish traditions to bear on the Christian faith she has now embraced, suggesting that there are “Christian practices that would be enriched, that would be thicker and more vibrant, if we took a few lessons from Judaism” (from the introduction).

The titular “Mudhouse” is a coffee shop in the author’s hometown of Charlottesville, NC and indeed, one could read this short tome (a mere 160 pages) in an afternoon spent with a latte at a coffeehouse or a picnic in the park. The subtitle describes this book as an invitation, and it is just that; you will not find detailed prescriptions and techniques for practice or lengthy passages on the theology of the spiritual disciplines. In the author’s own words, this is “a small book of musings on and explorations in those practices.” With other excellent books out there that include the former (I am also delving into Foster’s Celebration of Discipline at present) I appreciate this book for its admittedly modest scope and the author’s conversational tone even as she provides an informative treatment of each area of spiritual practice. Winner’s “musings and explorations” on 11 topics—Sabbath, fitting food, mourning, hospitality, prayer, body, fasting, aging, candle lighting, weddings, and doorposts—are thoughts to which I will return as I reflect on my own attempts (and failures) at building these practices into my own walk with Christ.

Lauren F. Winner is the author of Girl Meets God, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, and a contributing writer to Christianity Today.

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