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Thursday, March 5, 2020

"Lent in Plain Sight" (Jill J. Duffield)

TITLE: Lent in Plain Sight
AUTHOR: Jill J. Duffield
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020, (169 pages).

It is popularly said, "Seeing is believing." Faith reverses the paradigm to say that belief is seeing. In the Bible, especially the book of Hebrews, we read of people of faith who believed even when they have not seen the results. Having eyes of faith essentially means we believed even when our eyes do not see God. Having said that, it is entirely appropriate to use signs to point us to God, just like Jesus's seven signs in the gospel of John, that all points to Him and His working out of the will of God. Without derailing our minds on the need for faith to be fixed on the invisible God, we can use objects as reminders of that very focus. We don't worship the things or focus our devotions on these things. Like a prayer mat to enable us to kneel or a quiet room to help us focus on prayer in silence, objects can enhance our remembrance of Christ's journey to the cross. Enters this Lent devotional with ten objects to help us do just that.

Dust reminds us of how we have been created. This is most appropriate as Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, where believers are reminded that "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," we were created from dust, and our bodies will return to the earth as dust. Dust reminds us we are mortal; that we are limited; and that we are created beings made in the image of God. Bread reminds us of gratitude to God, and about the Lord's prayer where we ask for our daily bread. The Cross is about self-denial, and has much to do with the call to discipleship, to caution us of the cost of discipleship. It entails the suffering and pain that we all experience from time to time. Coins prompt us of the various episodes in the gospels; how Jesus answered the Pharisees with regard to paying taxes; how the poor widow's donation of two copper coins exceed the giving of the rich; and the parable of the lost coin. They also warn us about the betrayal of Jesus, because of Judas Iscariot's greed and self-interests. Shoes point out the holiness of God, how Moses was specifically told to remove his shoes as he was standing on holy ground. They emphasize our mission for Christ; humility to tie other shoelaces; wearing the armour of God with shoes as instruments of peace. Oil is for anointing; for preparing our lamps in anticipation of Christ's coming; for generosity; for compassion, healing, etc. Come Holy Week, the author introduces four more objects to guide us through our Lenten journey. The Coat marks the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The Towel brings us back to the Upper Room where Jesus washes the disciples' feet and asks them to do the same for others. The Thorn is a reminder of the crown of thorns Jesus had to bear. Finally, Stone is about the tomb where Jesus was buried; albeit a soon-to-be- empty tomb.

The book is a delightful refresher of many biblical scenes which are familiar to many of us. Duffield shows us that it is entirely possible and fruitful to let objects point us to the teachings and ministry of Jesus; and our call to follow Him. This is a brilliant idea to use simple objects to show us the journey of Christ. We can easily expand this idea to the other occasions of the Christian year. Epiphany, Pentecost, Advent, and Christmastide! What I like about this book is the simplicity and easy availability of the everyday objects. They are not difficult to find. We can even download images of these objects on our computer desktops and use them as wallpapers as a regular reminder of our Lenten journey. The chapters are brief, exactly what devotionals ought to be. They are also framed with the typical format:

  • Date of reading
  • Scripture Passage
  • Brief Meditation
  • Questions for Reflection
  • Prayer for the Day

Has the book open one's eyes and ears to see God's power and providence? Yes, for they point us to the Word of God. Has the book inspire us toward walking closer to the cross? Yes, for each day leads us closer to the entry to Jerusalem and the subsequent, death, burial, and resurrection. Are these objects able to help us pay more attention to the things and thoughts of God? Yes. They are no longer things per se, but pointers to our God of all creation. This is a wonderful devotional to read, to keep, to gift, and to journey along during the Lenten season.

Jill J. Duffield is editor of The Presbyterian Outlook. She holds an MDiv from Union Presbyterian Seminary and a DMin from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary with a concentration in preaching. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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