Yes, God’s Word does have something to do with our everyday lives. You will be reminded of this regularly as you accompany the congregation of St. Timothy on their journey toward understanding what it means to be a community of Christian disciples. You may find yourself asking with the members of St. Timothy, “How do we live with that disconnect between how we want God to be and how God really is?” In these pages, you are sure to find a community whose journey is one of “discipleship in fits and starts.” Faith is surprisingly evident even in the characters’ doubts as they are challenged with the trials of suffering that come their way as a result of death, addiction and difficult pasts that never cease to rise to the surface.
We are introduced to the congregation by one Rose Harris, a winsome octogenarian whose musings are sometimes pious, other times sassy, but always authentic. Rose claims that “despite our best efforts, examples of imperfection in communal life abound” and yet admits the wonder and joy of a congregation that “on any given Lord’s Day includes quite a variety of saints/sinners and a potpourri of reasons for being there.” Just when you think Rose is the quintessentially sanctimonious church lady, she challenges traditional theological claims and opens herself to the changing world around her. The younger set may say that Rose is “hip.” Combine that with her empathy, insightfulness, candor and independence, and you’ve got one intriguing protagonist.
I am especially grateful for two of Rose’s tendencies. She has a knack for pointing out the sublime that is embedded in the mundane experiences of life (and unabashedly credits the Holy Spirit for providing such recognition). Second, Rose is exemplary of one who “prays without ceasing.” Out of moments of action and reflection comes a sudden need to speak to the divine. And so she does. Interspersed in her weekly musings are tender and direct prayers to a God who, she trusts, is listening. Rose appropriates other elements of the liturgy (e.g. engagement with scripture, hymns, confession) into the liturgy of her own life. We can learn from Rose.
Of course, behind Rose Harris is the ecclesially savvy author, Cristy Fossum. Fossum is a lay person in the church who impressively does her biblical exegetical work and then does the homiletical work of translating the text’s trajectory of meaning for the immediate context. The result is a narrative that insists that God and the Shippensforgians you are about to meet are working together. With the development of sensitive relationships, regular cameos of wit, and a picture perfect representation of how spiritual convictions are never picture perfect, Fossum adeptly presents the possibilities when scripture, individual and family life situations, congregational life and world events converge.
This final novel in the series of three that arises from the appointed texts for Sunday morning worship is an invaluable conversation partner for congregations that follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Here, life’s salient theological questions are contextualized in a way that invites any reader to enter the conversation. Because the story is especially attuned to the rhythms of the every Sunday preacher who has the challenge (and, of course, opportunity) to help church members understand the connection between their lives and God’s Word, this will be a helpful addition to the preacher’s library.
Delve into the lives of these characters and their joys and challenges as Christian disciples. Doing so is sure to cause you to move beyond their lives to your own as you explore the ways God’s Word transforms your thoughts, your moments of living, your journeys of discipleship. You will be blessed as you join Rose in “finding the divine most readily in the details of life.”
SHAUNA K. HANNAN
Assistant Professor of Homiletics
Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary
Columbia, South Carolina