(Anyone who is interested may also want to take a look at my "All the Books I Read in 2016" post: CLICK HERE.)
Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times (Jennifer Worth). The first book I read this past month was actually a re-read. Richard gave me this book for Christmas because we'd just finished watching all six seasons of the TV series of the same name. I thoroughly enjoyed going back to re-read Worth's descriptions of her years as a young nurse-midwife working with an Anglican nuns' order in East London in the late 1950's. This memoir is full of fascinating social, religious, and medical commentary, and the real-life stories of her patients and colleagues are told with humour and respect.
Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul's Path to God (Gary Thomas). The heading on the back cover says "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's spiritual walk" -- which is a great way to approach this helpful and interesting book. Thomas covers nine different "pathways" to connecting and relating to God:
- Naturalists: loving God outdoors
- Sensates: loving God with the senses
- Traditionalists: loving God through ritual and symbol
- Ascetics: loving God in solitude and simplicity
- Activists: loving God through confrontation
- Caregivers: loving God through loving others
- Enthusiasts: loving God with mystery and celebration
- Contemplatives: loving God through adoration
- Intellectuals: loving God with the mind
Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith (D. L. Mayfield). I confess that if I'd gone solely by the title and cover of this book, I might not have read it. To me, the main title gives the impression that this will be a more journalistic exploration of how refugees and immigrants are treated in America -- and that theme is touched on. But I'd read some of Mayfield's writing in journals like Image and Ruminate, so I expected the book would be far more tender and personal than that -- and it is.
This is a beautifully written, heartfelt collection of discrete but connected essays about Mayfield's relationships with refugees and other displaced people. As a Christian teenager wanting to please God and make a difference in the world, she started working with Somali, Bhutanese, and other refugees -- but as her efforts to teach English, share the gospel, or show the Jesus film languished, and as she got more overwhelmed by trying to meet the needs of her new friends, the more she was able to realize God's grace for herself. Through discouragements and humiliation, she slowly learned that sometimes ministry was just sitting on someone's couch and letting them feed her, without thanks or reciprocity or results.
In relation to the Sacred Pathways book mentioned above, I think Mayfield's book depicts a very real, beautiful combination of Activism and Contemplation: of feeling that sense of calling to work for God yet also humbly beholding and adoring God as He appears in unexpected places and faces. In one of my favourite passages near the end of the book, Mayfield writes,
Like many of our stateless wanderer friends, my little family and I have moved a few times. And each time we pack up our apartment, my refugee friends and neighbours bring gifts: clothes for the toddler, fried fish cooked whole and sliced like a baguette, crumpled dollar bills that they shove into my shirt. Before, I would have felt ashamed, unworthy, like I could have done more. Now, I weep with relief, with the blessings of being loved. As my friends offer to help clean and pack and take many of our worldly goods back to their ow apartments, it feels good, even authentic, to be the recipient. To be the one in need. It confirms that this is quite possibly the only posture that Christians in this day and age can take, to be in a place where we freely admit our shortcomings, where we desperately need our neighbours. A place where we throw off the voices telling us to insulate ourselves from the great brokenness of the world and the burning fire that is the love of God.
If you're feeling jaded by triumphalist missionary stories, discouraged by failure in your own calling, or just ready for some moving and authentic writing, I'd strongly recommend this book.