Sit with ‘Light Upon Light’


Yes, Owen Meany, I do. I do keep them there, because in books I get lost and find myself, or find something I didn’t know I needed; something I needed later. Words carry me forward, tell me I’m not alone; teach me. Words do that for me, even before my John Irving-reading days. That one, it’s from “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”

“We forget that it is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live,’ — whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit. The spiritual life requires the food of ideas for its daily bread.”

Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 125

Lectio divina — it’s one of the methods that drew me to Charlotte Mason. Lectio divina is a fancy way of saying meditative reading; receptive reading; reading that leaves you wide open to the Holy Spirit. Learning to slow and receive all of what we’re hearing is a lifelong art I’ve only really started mastering. Another be-still lesson, always.

Lectio divina’s also the spine of Sarah Arthur’s new book, “Light Upon Light.” She’s curated this really powerful collection of poems, prayers, and literature for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany that I’ve had the joy of unpacking early, and now reviewing here.

Read it, slowly. This one will sink into you.

Like the previous “At the Still Point,” each chapter’s theme threads its way through prayers, scripture selections, poetry, and selections from good books.

Contemporaries keep the selections unexpected, each time; classics remind me this story is much larger than my today, my Advent, my Christmas. This isn’t a book of prepackaged emotions — lectio divina isn’t that; you can’t predict how the Spirit will use it, even the stories heard before. But from St. Francis to Dickens to Luci Shaw and John Irving, its scope is so generous, its helping so generous — Sarah’s given us readers a new vista, which is just about the best earthly gift for that time of the year. Even selections from books I’ve read before speak with a new voice, beyond what was probably the author’s original intent. That’s part of it.

Our culture dives into Christmas as if it held all the hope and sparkle of the entire year, but “Light Upon Light”‘s selections are richer, and they don’t abandon us on Christmas Day, like radio stations that switch back to pop music at midnight. She doesn’t leave us at the cultural crescendo, and I’m going to be grateful for that come January.

“Light Upon Light” mixes the now, our current, broken world and our Christmases; and the Then, that Holy Then; and words for my soul and words for the world outside it — so far from my today that it feels not mine. I think Christmas should be that way — it’s very much an experience in my heart, IN MY HEART, Owen says. But it can’t be contained there; it’s a story that’s been writing itself since the beginning. I think Sarah Arthur’s selections come as close as we can to nailing the scope of the story. Sarah, a friend of mine, she knows story and the appetite God’s given us for stories. She knows when story becomes so holy that we just put the words up there and let the Spirit take it from there. The spaces for that to happen are all throughout “Light Upon Light.”

There’s a savior-baby, a holy hope, a very-appropriate peace and joy here. But there’s the parts of the story that don’t look so cheerful on the Christmas card: the Holy Innocents, the refugee baby. That depth and tension and the invitation to slow down during that season that isn’t a Be Still season for most people … Take it, that invitation.

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