Westminster John Knox Press, 127 pages | September 22, 2020
Trigger warning: mention of suicide.
‘Tis the season for Advent devotionals. More than ever, considering Advent and Christmas in the midst of the upheaval and uncertainty we are experiencing seems impossible. Who wants to wrestle with tinsel and trees when we are barely holding on? How can we celebrate when we are grieving so many losses? What is the point of presents when we can’t be present with each other?
The most wonderful time of the year? Yeah, no.
A Weary World by Kathy Escobar gives voice to those for whom this time of year is anything but joyful. Drawing on her own awful loss of her son to suicide, Escobar makes space for all who are suffering this time of year, those who are longing for hope, those who are seeking peace, those who are feeling the heavy weight of the world upon their hearts and souls.
In her easily readable and profoundly personal reflections, she invites the reader on a journey to travel the road of Advent to Christmas Eve, to find hope and strength and encouragement in the hard and heavy places of life.
Escobar explores the themes of honoring reality, practicing honesty, embracing paradox and borrowing hope. She precedes each week’s short, daily lessons with an essay in which she explores the practice of the week. These essays are well-written, but are longer and at times read like sermons. Throughout the book, Escobar includes Scripture references as well as quotations from well-known writers such as Maya Angelou, Parker Palmer and Jan Richardson. For those who journal, these selections would make excellent starting points for reflection. While the daily devotions are much shorter, they are no less rich or meaningful. Because they end with a question, the reader is invited to look inward. At the conclusion of each week is a prayer for the practice. The tone of these prayers is intimate and conversational. For those who might be finding it hard to pray, or are too tired to pray, these offerings are a gift. Finally, each week offers a few practical suggestions for action.
And A Weary World not only works as a personal devotion, but also as a four-week book study for groups. She also includes a discussion guide for each week with both group questions and journaling prompts, including fill-in-the-blank discussion starters. Readers and learners of all types and levels will find this book accessible.
It is important to know that the writing about her son’s death by suicide is honest and raw and should be considered deeply before reading or using in small groups. Reading Escobar’s personal experiences around her son’s death could be triggering for some and would require a tender approach by a leader. At the end of the book, she provides some very clear practices for family and friends and ministers as they come alongside those who are experiencing a Blue Christmas. She also offers list of resources for offering a Blue Christmas service.
Easily adaptable for personal or group use, this book creates space for those who aren’t quite ready to sing carols and offer merry greetings, but offers a meaningful word to all who are “holding on by a slender thread, who are grieving and crawling their way through pain and loss and who are longing for hope.” Escobar’s Advent devotional provides a place for any weary soul to rest.