Fortress Press, 306 pages | Published December 19, 2023
Kara Root gives us a great gift: she empowers us to trust in the God who shows up! The heart of Receiving This Life lies in connecting the doctrine of revelation to our ability to receive the life this God offers. Doing so is not easy. We will be injured, and we will wound others. We will know weariness, loss, sickness, suffering, loneliness, fear and death. And yet there will be joy — the energy of being fully alive, connected and awake. Root’s message is this: Receive what is. Receive what is difficult. Receive what God is doing. Receive what God has already done. Receive what will be. Receive it all! Because we know God will show up, Root calls us to “open ourselves to the possibility of experiencing God right here and right now.”
Receiving This Life is a collection of professional and personal reflections; prayers; litanies and spiritual practices that include many wonderful vignettes. In a particularly poignant story, Root describes her daughter’s first day of kindergarten. Maisy took a first step into her new classroom and promptly burst into tears. “I can’t do it. No, Mama!” In a moment of desperation, Root said, “Maisy, guess what? God has a surprise for you today. When I pick you up, I want you to tell me what it was.”
Root, of course, had no idea what the surprise would be. She prayed all day. “(P)lease, please, please God, show up for Maisy today!” And God showed up with a surprise for Maisy every day that first week: a new friend, a shared dessert, a silly song that made the entire class laugh. Root asks her readers, “How will God surprise you today?”
Root’s pastoral imagination often expresses the reflections’ theological themes. Some selections address life circumstances, cultural events and the church year. She includes a back-to-school blessing, liturgy for collecting and turning off cell phones, and new words for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to be sung on Easter. Receiving This Life is full of fresh ideas for personal and corporate worship.
It is equally rich with new ways to articulate Christian faith and doctrine, including clear and profound theological understandings of creation, sin and judgement, Christology, and baptism, to name a few. Root is at her best when she shares rich and energizing theology about the God who shows up: “We want to store away the manna, have our spiritual pantries loaded with Costco-sized stockpiles of trust, even certainty … But instead, God gives us for this day what we need today, what we could never manifest ourselves.”
Most books about church leadership today fall into two categories: hero stories of growing a church into Goliath-sized proportion or desperation stories of deconstructing faith and leaving church. Receiving This Life is neither. It is the story of a pastor who fulfills her calling by showing up, paying close attention to people God brings to her, and anticipating that God, too, will show up. Together, they experience the deepest belonging. As you read Receiving This Life, God just might show up in your life and leadership, too.
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