by Jonas Hayes (illustrated by Anna McDonald)
Shook Foil Books, 123 pages
REVIEWED BY CASEY FITZGERALD
In a culture driven by images and attuned to the power of storytelling, “The Eternal Cycle of Life” is a well-timed, innovative approach to sermon delivery. The book is exactly as its title describes: a collection of sermons set in the style of the graphic novel, focused on birth, life, death and resurrection. Readers unfamiliar with the graphic novel genre should not be fooled by its brevity or the style of the illustrations. There is much depth to be found here, and multiple readings are merited. According to author and Presbyterian pastor Jonas Hayes, the four sermons contained within the book are “purposefully disjointed because, like life, our stories are also sometimes disjointed, unresolved, unfinished.” What undergirds the entirety of the book is Hayes’ deep understanding that our stories connect us to one another, that faith is formed in community and that God is in the midst of all of our stories.
The sermons are stories themselves — stories of suffering and perseverance, stories of mystery and wonder, stories of God and God’s people interwoven — and display the powerful illustrations of the talented Anna McDonald. In their collaboration, Hayes and McDonald often achieve what the best sermons seek: to lay bare the realities and complexities of life, to point to God in its midst and invite others to find themselves therein. McDonald’s wise and space-giving art is a wonderful pairing with Hayes’ use of Scripture, story and theology. The words and illustrations not only leave room for the reader to find herself in the narrative, but at many points I found myself lingering in the story set before me, remembering my own stories or those of loved ones.
This book is for everyone. I imagine an adult reading a section and then sharing it with a non-reading child — telling the story as he remembers it and inviting the child to consider what she sees drawn out before her. People of all ages will appreciate the invitation to consider their own lives as witnesses to the power and struggles of faith. Though at 123 pages the book can be read in one sitting, it would be best taken in more deliberately.
The creation of “The Eternal Cycle of Life” was itself an exercise in community. At the time of its writing, Hayes was pastor to the community in which McDonald was a member. Their collaboration has born great fruit and impressively manages to invite the reader in as fellow collaborator. My hope is that this book will also be offered in print someday. (Its publisher, Shook Foil Books, generally publishes only e-books.) I would love to be able to leave my copy out — on a table, in the narthex, in the church library — ready to be shared when the stories need telling. Until that time, this book is worthy of the download and of the time spent sitting with word and image, story and wonder.