Christian Living · Non-fiction

Literature As Prayer

between-midnight-and-dawn-a-literary-guide-to-prayer-for-lent-holy-week-and-eastertide-29As I turned the first few pages of Sarah Arthur’s Between Midnight and Dawn (2016, Paraclete Press) (Amazon), I knew I had found a kindred spirit. This newly released, rich compilation of poetry and prose excerpts is structured as a devotional for the liturgical seasons of Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, though its meditations can also be recognized as paralleling the journey of a life: we are born into dust (Ash Wednesday), journey through seasons of mourning (Lent) and seasons of uplifting (Easter), until finally we anticipate resurrection into eternity.

Unlike other devotionals, this is not a collection of five-minute “devos” formulated by an encouraging verse, often taken out of context, and a following “gear up for the day” paragraph loosely based on the short biblical quote. Instead, Arthur’s selections work together to press into each week’s subject from multiple angles by grouping  together passages from the five main sections of the biblical cannon (Psalms, Prophets, Letters, and Gospel) along with five literary readings. Since the ambition of these selections is to fuel reflection and prayer, the reader is given the freedom to read them all at once, one a day, or to flip back and forth out of order. I found myself reading them all the first day of the week, then returning to contemplate them more slowly in subsequent readings.

Arthur’s choice of readings is robust, pairing old friends (Jane Austen, Frances Hodson Burnett, John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot to name a few), with many new friends (Marcie Rae Johnson and Nathaniel Lee Hanson are new favorites), some of whom have yet to be discovered by the public spotlight. In this volume, Arthur brings together voices as old as the 3rd century up through modern times, spanning selections from Iran, India, and Syria, through all the ethnicities that make up America. This is a coming together of the global and trans-generational body of Christ. It is the fellowship of struggling toward God together, and learning to pray from one another; a pre-amble to a future where we will come before God from every nation and tongue as one voice.

Allow me to close with contributing poet Nathaniel Lee Hansen’s description of faith’s paradox, one of the nuggets I’ve gleaned from these readings:

“Belief is doubt…so I cup the ocean with my hands,

though fingers leak, dry, then crack.

Yet for a moment, I can clutch the ocean

with my makeshift bowl, taste

the salt my everyday eyes cannot see.”

If you enjoy literary readings as a pathway to prayer you may also enjoy Sarah Arthur’s two other collections:

At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time

Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany

Discussion Point:
How has literature or poetry influenced how you commune with God?

Note: Thanks to Paraclete Press for a review copy of this wonderful book. All opinions are my own.


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