Experience the liturgical seasons of Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide in the company of poets and novelists from across the centuries.
This third literary guide compiled by Sarah Arthur completes the church calendar with daily and weekly readings for Lent and Easter from classic and contemporary literature. New voices such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Benjam’n Alire S‡enz join well-loved classics by Dostoevsky, Rossetti, and Eliot. Light in the darkness, illuminating the soul. This rich anthology will draw you deeper into God’s presence through the medium of the imagination.
Praise for Sarah Arthur’s literary guides:
"A rich feast." — Lauren F. Winner, author of Still
"I may just be a bit smitten with this book." — Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts
"What a delight, to find so extraordinary a collection." — Kathleen Norris, author of Dakota and Cloister Walk
"A thing of beauty!" — the late Phyllis Tickle, author of The Divine Hours
"A creative re-envisioning of the traditional devotional." — IMAGE Journal
"Once again, Sarah Arthur has provided rich and enriching resources for the recovery of a life of prayer. More difficult, perhaps, than any other truth we may glimpse in the midst of what we know as ’the time being,’ is the efficacy of penitential prayer; most elusive is the ’bright sorrow’ that couples our repentance with joy. With this book, many will find their way to this inestimable blessing." — Scott Cairns, Author of Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems
Other Literary Guides by Sarah Arthur:
At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time, and Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany
What a gem of a book, a great resource for preachers, pray-ers, or anyone who likes such intelligent devotional material. "A thing of beauty" said Phyllis Tickle, "What a delight to find so extraordinary collection" says Kathleen Norris. Highly recommended.
Byron Borger, Hearts and Minds Books
Between Midnight and Dawn is an imaginative collection of poetry and prose that reveals what great literature is at its core: a psalm, a cry against the darkness, a prayer.
This work is meant to lead readers who celebrate these liturgical seasons through a collection of great literature that explores themes of darkness and light—themes many of us experience deeply in the dead of winter, when spring is on the horizon, but still feels so far away.
This book is a literary treasure trove all about the turns. It is also about the long nights in between them—the still points that are not always peaceful. Between Midnight and Dawn contains excerpts from beloved classic writers and poets such as George MacDonald, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Christina Rossetti, yet there are many selections from contemporary authors, too: Luci Shaw, Scott Cairns, and Wendell Berry, to name just a few. If any of these names are familiar, then you will surely appreciate the encounter with old friends, but be prepared to make new ones as well.
I can’t be alone in thinking that, when Dorothy discovers that her ruby red slippers have (and always have had) the power to take her home, it is one of the most profound theological insights in American pop culture. Or that the death of Stringer Bell was a moment where the ability of the TV series The Wire to plumb the depths of the human condition was most on display. I like my piety with a little artistic license. “Tell all the truth,” as Emily Dickinson said, “but tell it slant.”
Sarah Arthur, who compiled the great new Lenten and Eastertide literary prayer guide, Between Midnight and Dawn, is a kindred spirit in this. She introduces her collection by comparing the movement from Lent to Easter with night to dawn and winter to spring, but don’t believe her. She’s got far more tender and terrifying territory to cover in this beautiful, bountiful book.
It is too much really, and therefore a relief that the cycle of liturgical seasons will come around again next year so that the riches herein can be explored at more leisure – particularly during Holy Week when there is a selection of poems and prose for each of the eight days from Palm Sunday to Easter. “It is nearly impossible to read a poem both quickly and well,” Arthur warns, and so she advises the reader to go slow, savoring the psalm and scripture passages she offers for each section, extending the readings over several days. Which means, of course, that you will not be able to finish the sections before it’s time to move on. ‘Always leave them wanting more,’ I suppose.
As in her previous collections, At the Still Point, (for Ordinary Time), and Light Upon Light, (for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany), Arthur has drawn upon the old and the new. She stretches back to St. Patrick’s Breastplate and the Anglo-Saxon “Dream of the Rood,” and offers liberal doses of contemporary poets from Scott Cairns to Luci Shaw. She has her favorites (George Herbert, John Donne, and Fyodor Dostoevsky to name a few) but her reach is broad and her selections wise.
What is most jarring is the contrast between Arthur’s introduction and epilogue and the content itself. She hints at the most conventional of understandings of the resurrection: “When it’s our time to physically enter the tomb of our own mortality, we know that if we have been buried with Christ, we will rise with Christ. We’ll ride on his coattails, so to speak.” (11). “As Eastertide turns to Ordinary Time, as spring turns to summer, let us be, to paraphrase novelist Katherine Paterson, ‘spies for hope’” (243).
These summations are too glib for what we encounter in this guide. Arthur collects her sections around themes that hint at genuine struggle and hard-won joy. The readings take us on “The Way of Negation” and “Secret Terrors,” before emerging into “The Place of Consolation” and “Undeserved Deliverance.” On this journey Amit Majmudar compares God’s absence to the tensed silence of a music chamber: “Have your hosannah, I prefer the hush./Check the acoustics in this empty hall./Not the faintest echo when you call.” On Holy Saturday, poet Emily Gibson shares the wonder of a baby born without a brain who gives up her grip “on a world she would never see or hear or feel to behold/something far more glorious, as I gazed/into her emptiness, waiting to be filled” (154). And in Eastertide the Iranian poet Said compares God to the animals “who watch us from afar/with their unadulterated hunger” (213).
Perhaps Arthur knows that we often have to be seduced into seeing the depths of the darkness, and thus she eases the way with a framework that looks like a traditional devotional book – opening prayer, scriptures, readings, personal prayer and reflection, closing prayer. But in those readings are the weight and wonder of the ages. This is explosive stuff Arthur has brought together – again, too much to be absorbed in the sittings of a single Lent and Easter. But for those who see God’s hand in the devastating beauty of art and human word, this guide is a balm and a window to a deeper experience of the season.
Alex Joyner, Englewood Review of Books
READING FOR HOLY WEEK AND A CONVERSATION WITH SARAH ARTHUR
This week holds Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday. Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Holy Saturday, then, finally, Easter. Holy Week. I’m reading Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, gathered and edited by Sarah Arthur. It’s Sarah’s third devotional guide. I wrote about another, At the Still Point, on this blog last summer.
On these pages Sarah brings together Scripture, poetry, and literature for the purpose of prayer, for the purpose of Word informing word and visa versa, for the purpose of sparking imagination in service to truth.
I’ve jumped ahead to the readings for Maundy Thursday with its title “Accused,” the day of the last supper and Jesus’s arrest and midnight trial. From Psalm 35: “Ruthless witnesses come forward…” From the prophet Isaiah: “He was opposed and afflicted yet he did not open his mouth.” From Mark 14: the narrative of the first hours after Jesus’s arrest. From Revelation: an angel delivers judgment. From a poem by Hannah Faith Notess: the images of the blood sacrifice of Passover startle the soothing comforts of bread and wine and a well laid table. From a poem by Jill Peláez Baumgartner: Jesus’s silence before Pilate is “the silence of termites. / It is the silence of the vein of silver / underneath the mountain’s / grimace….” From a poem by Luci Show: “fallen knees / under a whole world’s weight….” From the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: an excerpt from the epic and genius scene of the Grand Inquisitor, a fictitious story of Jesus being brought to trial again during the Spanish Inquisition and challenged for his responses to the three temptations of Satan.
Recently I asked Sarah some questions about the book and her process.
What do you say to readers who have never before considered listening to God through literature, such as fiction or poetry, or who have never thought of integrating literature into their devotional practice?
SA: Well, if they’ve read scripture as a devotional practice, then they’ve already been in the habit of listening to God through literature. The psalms are ancient Hebrew poetry, after all; and meanwhile Jesus’ parables are stories he invented, brilliant little fictions that point to truths about the nature of human beings in relation to God. I sometimes picture Jesus lying on his mat at night gazing at constellations, the campfire burning low, the sounds of the disciples slumbering nearby; and his imagination is playing around with metaphors—seeds and birds, a luminous pearl, a banquet. Or he’s inventing characters: a father with some sons; make it two sons; and make the father loving and gracious, because that’s what our Father is; and the youngest son says…. So that by the time Jesus’ friends are stirring the next morning and have eaten breakfast around the dying fire and set out groggily for the next town, the entire story has unfolded in Jesus’ mind, complete with details like the pigs and the angry older brother and the father running, running hard. All of this to say, that if Jesus could engage in the practice of imaginative storytelling as holy work, then so can we; and so have many, many Christians over the centuries. To ignore that vast spiritual library is to impoverish ourselves as a people.
Within the broader themes of Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, what specific themes will readers encounter? And how did you select the readings, poems and prayers that are compiled in this book?
SA: Lent is rather famously a penitential season, so as I researched poetry and fiction I looked for works that seemed to speak to the human experience of spiritual poverty: simply stated, we need God. Maybe the main character is terrified of death. Or maybe the poet has sinned, and knows it. Or maybe the author has looked inside himself and found nothing: no reserves of strength or virtue, no therapeutically helpful insight, just the bald awareness that apart from Jesus, he can do nothing. After Easter, however, the themes make the turn toward redemption and healing, restoration, recovery—but not cheap grace: I made sure of that. There’s a long road ahead, and our healing has cost God everything.
When writing this book, what pairing of literature and scriptural theme brought you the biggest sense of surprise or excitement, and why?
SA: When I was in 9th grade my English teacher read aloud to us, over the course of several weeks,A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens—but right in the middle of the story my family moved to a different state. And for some reason, though I remembered key details and guessed what was probably going to happen (I figured Dickens didn’t create two nearly identical characters for nothing), I never finished it on my own. So when I began my research for this book I thought, “I wonder what ever happened to Darnay? Did that other guy take his place at the guillotine?” It sounded like an appropriately Good Friday-esque sort of theme. But what I didn’t realize was how powerfully Dickens deals with themes of rebellion and sacrifice and resurrection hope throughout the entire book. When the blood-thirsty crowds of the French revolution treat Darnay like a celebrity one day and call for his execution mere days later, I knew I had my fiction excerpt for Palm Sunday. It’s a harrowing insight into the kind of collective madness that could make both Palm Sunday and Good Friday possible. And we’re all in the crowd. All of us.
In what practical ways do you suggest readers use this book during Holy Week?
SA: It’s tricky because for the rest of the season (Lent, Eastertide) there’s a batch of readings for each week, whereas during Holy Week each day of the week has it’s own selections: four or five poems plus a fiction excerpt. Which means each day you’re going to be doing a lot of reading—good reading, I hope, enriching reading, but a lot. It will require some extra discipline, some intentional chunks of time. Maybe read a little in the morning, a bit more on your lunch break, and the rest before bed. In any case, perhaps you can think of yourself like the disciples in the garden on the night of Jesus’ arrest: you’re being prompted to keep awake, to pay attention, to concentrate. Which is good practice for the devotional life all year round, actually.
The book’s [Between Midnight and Dawn] front cover and title page claim she [Sarah Arthur] “compiled” it, but she’s done more than that. She has carefully and lovingly curated this collection, arranging a treasury of poems and excerpts from fiction in ways that spotlight each contribution’s beauty, both as its own piece of art and in relationship to others. This book leaves no doubt Arthur reallyis well-read. She has not only read and reread but also lived with and loved each of these texts for a long time before sharing them with us. Like a scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven, she brings out treasures new and old to illuminate the mysteries of God’s saving ways.
Overall, Between Midnight and Dawn is a beautiful contribution to the church’s devotional life, and I look forward to spending more time with it over the next several months. Thank God (literally) there are well-read lovers of the written word in our midst, who really know how to sift literature’s riches for much more than mere illustrations—who can train us to hear (as Arthur writes in her introduction) voices calling us to raise our eyes and look to the east for God’s dawn.
Michael S. Poteet, The Sci-Fi Christian
As I turned the first few pages of Sarah Arthur's Between Midnight and Dawn, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. This newly releases, rich compilation of poetry and prose excerpts is structured as a devotional for the liturgical seasons of Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, though its meditations can also be recognized as paralleling the journey of a life: we are born into dust (Ash Wednesday), journey through seasons of mourning (Lent) and seasons of uplifting (Easter), until finally we anticipate resurrection into eternity.
Unlike other devotionals, this is not a collection of five-minute “devos” formulated by an encouraging verse, often taken out of context, and a following “gear up for the day” paragraph loosely based on the short biblical quote. Instead, Arthur’s selections work together to press into each week’s subject from multiple angles by grouping together passages from the five main sections of the biblical cannon (Psalms, Prophets, Letters, and Gospel) along with five literary readings. Since the ambition of these selections is to fuel reflection and prayer, the reader is given the freedom to read them all at once, one a day, or to flip back and forth out of order. I found myself reading them all the first day of the week, then returning to contemplate them more slowly in subsequent readings.
Amanda Rogozinski, Book on a Crag