During Lent our faith is defined by everyday acts of choosing to be faithful despite our doubts.
Everyday Skeptics: Devotions for Spiritual Growth is the new United Church Lenten devotional for 2019. It features reflections from United Church partners who do local and global ministry, often in challenging situations of "prophetic risk." We spoke with the editor of the book, Alydia Smith, to find out more about it.
Q. Everyday Skeptics is an interesting title for a book of Lenten devotions. Can you tell us more about the book and where the title comes from?
Alydia: It was a struggle picking a title for this book. There are about seven of us who sat around a table last spring to brainstorm the right title, and it took us two brainstorming sessions before we came anywhere close to a consensus. We wanted a title that spoke to the everyday miracle of faith. That our faith is not always defined by those grand, burning bush moments of clarity, but by the everyday acts of choosing to be faithful despite (or I guess because of) our doubts. If we were certain about everything, all the time we wouldn’t need to have faith, we would not need to wrestle with our decisions and actions. Life is not that clear and folks like the prophets help us to wrestle with those murky everyday decisions we must make on what a faithful response would be.
Q. Everyday Skeptics has quite a wide range of contributors, including several people from countries outside of Canada. Can you tell us something about the contributors and how you brought them together?
Alydia: I am really excited that we were able to gather such a wonderful collection of contributors. In our production meetings we brainstormed people who had inspired us to live out our faith and all these folks came up. Some we had heard at rallies, ecumenical gatherings, conferences, interacted with on social media, or meet through personal interactions with our work in the church. We also wanted to highlight that The United Church of Canada and the people that we minister with is much larger than our young denomination and the people within our communities of faith. We are thankfully part of a large network of United and Uniting churches and we share our faith and ministry with people across the country and around the globe. It’s quite incredible to think of how large the church really is.
Q. Lent is a time when people from many Christian traditions pursue practices to deepen and enrich their spiritual lives — each of the daily reflections include resources for us to pray, ponder, and sing. How do you see people in The United Church of Canada using this Lenten devotional?
Alydia: I have always found Lent a helpful time to kick-start a new spiritual discipline or practice. Sometimes, by Easter, I find that the practice is not for me, but other times it sticks and becomes integrated into my daily routine. Hopefully this Lent book can help to kick-start a new spiritual practice of daily devotions, maybe for the season of Lent, or maybe ongoing. Even if in the long haul, the devotional format is not for you, hopefully the habit of setting time aside can be used for another form of spiritual growth. I have heard from many communities of faith, who form study groups around the annual devotional book. The spiritual practice of discussing our faith with others has been very formative for me. I hope that there is something formative for everyone to grasp onto in this series.
Q. You write in the introduction that it's important for us to always wrestle with the "so what" of our faith and ministry. How will this book help us do that?
Alydia: In this book the contributors picked their own scripture versus (with surprisingly very little overlap). They were asked to pick scripture from the prophets that spoke to them now, in other words to pick scripture that they wrestle with. All of the devotions in a way respond to the question of "so what does this text have to do with me and my life now?" The whole book wrestles with what ancient words have to say to our modern reality. I just love it, and I am so grateful to our amazing contributors for sharing their insights into the "so what" of it all.
Q. Everyday Skeptics includes a number of reflections from people whose faith journey has called them to "prophetic risk" and ministry situations that are sometimes dangerous. What message might people find in this book for the times we are living in, and what could it call us to?
Alydia: Contributor Paoula Marquez shows us prophetic risk in a soccer game, and contributor Basil Coward shows us prophetic risk in receiving a roadside blessing from a sister religious on the way to church. Beautiful, symbolic, deeply complex and prophetic acts rooted in faithful living. What I appreciate about these stories, and all of the devotions in this collection, is that no one sets out to be provocative and risky; it is clear from these devotions that they set out to be faithful followers and sometimes risk is the price of this integrity and faithfulness. I really hope that readers are able to take away the fact that ordinary, steadfast and even mundane faith is what becomes extraordinary faith in hard and trying circumstances.
Everyday Skeptics is available from UCRDstore in print or as an ebook. You can also buy the ebook version at Amazon.ca, Kobo.com, or other online booksellers.