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Monday, September 5, 2016

"Word by Word" (Marilyn McEntyre)

TITLE: Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice
AUTHOR: Marilyn McEntyre
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (224 pages).

As the title suggests, this book is a patient meditation on the Word using ordinary words as entry points into the spiritual practice of meditation. Words are ways in which we describe our inner longings accurately and clearly. Readers are invited to do the same using single words used in "seven different ways and seven different phrases." This is following the ancient practice of 'lectio divina' which enables us to let the power of a single word usher us into the beauty of the Word of God. Used together with centering prayer, not only does it aids our meditations, it helps us in our prayers. The purpose of it all is to slow down our hectic pace in order to keep in step with our natural speed. In a world of multitasking and distractions, these verbs used are samples for us to be creative about our own set of words. Using her own morning Scripture readings, McEntyre shares with readers her method of spiritual reading. Using verbs to guide each chapter, she lists seven ways per verb (one per day) to practice letting the words train our minds. Readers get to listen in our how the author practices the daily routines. With reflections from the Bible, she meanders through a wide range of experiences and illustrations. We learn about prayerful listening. We receive with an eye to bless. We let God's work of creation lead us toward enjoyment. We let go of control so as to appreciate God's sense of timing and direction. We watch God's timing and accept God's way of grace. We resist the ways of the world's seductions and intentionally build in good spiritual habits. We learn to be still so as to develop a sense of clarity in us. We follow the nudging of God, something which is increasingly difficult in a world of distractions. As readers approach the end of the book, it is hoped that there is a pattern that readers can learn of, so as to develop their own set of verbs to be used likewise.

Habits are crucial in spiritual formation. This is because the human heart naturally gravitates toward stubbornness and hardness of heart. Without intentionality, it is hard to change from the inside out. I find this book a welcome addition to my library of resources on spiritual listening. There is journaling that we can do to refresh what we have learned. There is spiritual meditation and contemplation that we can adopt along the way. This book is McEntyre's personal way of doing Lectio Divina. A good spiritual reading will pave the way for the rest like oratio, meditatio, and contemplatio. The word 'daily' is important. It is one thing to read through a book once straight through. It is yet another to take a day at a time, a verb at a time, a thought at a time, and a prayer at a time. This is the habit forming process which is essential in the formation of the soul. Without regularity and sustained reflection, it is hard for any forming to be made. Thanks to McEntyre, we have another set of practices we can adopt. Simple, clear, and inviting, this word-by-word format is a refreshing process that leads us toward deeper spiritual formation.

Marilyn McEntyre is Professor of Literature and Medical Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a popular speaker at retreats and writing workshops. She had recently won a Christianity Today 2015 book award for "What's in a Phrase?"

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of William B. Eerdmans and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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