Alydia Smith is the editor of the new United Church Lenten devotional, Why I Believe. She was interviewed by Tilman Lewis, an Editor/Resource Coordinator at the General Council Office.
You’ve edited the last half-dozen of our Lenten devotionals. What stands out for you about this one?
I love the diversity of perspectives and voices in this book—and that even in such diversity, we are all a part of the United Church community. I love that. I also love the honesty and candour in this collection. I am truly grateful to all of the contributors; it was a real joy to work with such amazing United Church folk.
In the Preface, you talk about the power of personal testimony. What is so moving about intimately sharing our faith?
I often find myself fighting stereotypes of what people (like my non-church friends) think church folk are like. It’s annoying because no one is two-dimensional. Personal testimonies challenge the preconceptions out there about what it means to be a Christian. Our faith stories are gems that are multifaceted and unique.
One of this year’s writers, Amir Hussain, is a Canadian Muslim with a long association with the United Church. What does his perspective add?
I appreciate that Amir speaks about the importance of Jesus from his perspective as a Canadian Muslim. I also respect how committed Amir is to interfaith dialogue and I think his devotions, as well as his work, reflect his passion for learning across faith traditions.
The Sunday prayers all start “God of the Journey…” How would you describe the Lenten journey?
I believe that the people of God are to be revolutionary, counter-cultural, rebellion leaders. Think Princess Leia (Star Wars) or Morpheus (The Matrix). Lent is the quest of self-discovery that all great heroes take to prepare for what they are to become, so that when the time is right they are ready to resist and persist wherever necessary for the sake of Christ’s ministry. On this quest, God goes with us, because God is with us: God is the journey. The closer we journey to God, the more revolutionary we become. Every year, the Lenten journey is a mini-revolution.
Each weekday presents a scripture passage, a personal reflection, and then a short invitation to Prepare, Ponder, and Pray. Is there a significance to that rhythm?
I do like alliteration—but there’s more to it than that... Rhythm is the perfect word. Rituals and routines have a natural rhythm that we can either fight or embrace. The rhythm of Prepare, Ponder, and Pray is one that flows naturally out of my prayer life. For instance, sometimes the preparation is physically preparing a space to pray, maybe making a cup of tea, lighting a candle, putting my phone on silent. Pondering could be thinking about my day, what I need to pray about, and what the most effective type of prayer might be for where I am at. Maybe I need to journal, draw, or just sit still. And finally, prayer is just that.
When I include such rituals in my prayer time, I find that I am able to focus more intensely on my prayers. I hope this structure will help people build their own ritual or routine around daily devotions that fits with the rhythm of their lives.
One way to approach this book might be to read a chapter every evening, at your bedside. Another could be to use the study guide to steer some group discussions. What do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?
Ultimately, I hope that thinking about faith and prayer will become a part of the reader’s daily routine, and that this book will help to support a spiritual practice of daily prayer and reflection. I also hope that readers will be able to imagine themselves in this book. How would you answer the weekly themed questions, such as “What am I looking for?” or “How has faith changed my life?” What scripture passage would you have selected? What personal story would you share about your faith life?