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November 21, 2009

Really comes up short...The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

I really enjoy the idea of incorporating some ancient practices into my own faith journey. I was raised in a fairly conservative Protestant background and have no real experience in many of the traditional practices that some churches embrace. After reading another book in this series, The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher, I was very excited to see this title among my choices for the Thomas Nelson blog reviewer program, because the first book was fantastic. (Feel free to read my other reviews, including that one)

That being said, I had a very difficult time connecting with this book. Before it arrived, I thought perhaps it would walk me through the liturgical calendar explaining what each part was, how it worked and why they chose to observe it, including methods to incorporate some of it into my own life. In the end, it felt more like a checklist of feasts, rather than experiences that can be “practiced” if you will. The book felt like it really lacked focus and constantly shifted ideas. There were many times when I thought Chittister was going to break out of the mould and draw me in, but I was always left wanting more.

Perhaps I started on a negative tone because of something she states on page 6 that just didn’t seem quite right. She states, “Like the rings on a tree, the cycles of Christian feasts are meant to mark the levels of our spiritual growth from one stage to another in the process of human growth.” As is the case with many Christians I know, it is very easy to go through the motions without any real depth or true life-changing experience. Even through observation of these events and feasts, we may still remain very shallow in our faith, and the remainder of the book did not do much to demonstrate how following a liturgical calendar would help push me to deeper levels of faith.

The parts that struck me most were when she addressed the role of suffering and loss in the Christian walk. Talking about suffering on page 123, Chittister writes, “Suffering requires us to stretch our souls to the boundaries of personal growth. It brings to the surface in us both strengths and weaknesses we could never, in any other way, know we have.” It’s possible I could more easily connect with the idea of gaining understanding of Christ through personal suffering, or realizing that He also suffered. All in all, the parts I enjoyed were few and far between. I wouldn’t recommend this book, but after reading Nora Gallagher’s The Sacred Meal, I’d definitely still be willing to check out other books in this series.