A book for Lent

Toward What We Can Scarcely Imagine and Scarcely Refuse

We’re really pleased to let you know that we now have copies of a new book for Lent in hand and available for sale for just $10.  “Toward What We Can Scarcely Imagine and Scarcely Refuse” is a collection of eight meditations  – one for Ash Wednesday and seven built around the “seven words” or seven sayings Jesus uttered from the cross –  written by James Snyder with illustrations by our own Helen Lyons.  What follows here is my preface to the book, which offers something by way of a context as to why we’ve done this project.






n the summer of 1998 while on a vacation in Nova Scotia, I attended worship at St George’s Anglican Church in Halifax with my sister and brother-in-law, who were active members of the parish.  I had hoped to hear the rector Gary Thorne preach, as he was someone of whom my "Jesus Prays in the Garden" ©Helen Lyonssister spoke very highly, and so was a bit disappointed to discover that on this particular Sunday the sermon was to be preached by James Snyder, a parish honorary assistant.  While we waited for the liturgy to begin, my sister explained that Snyder was a Lutheran pastor currently taking a break from full-time ministry and working in the social services field with troubled youth.  “Oh great,” I thought, “a burned-out pastor limping along as some sort of counselor, not even able to function within his own denominational structure.”  But then, just as the liturgy began, my sister leaned over and added, “He’s very fine.”

She was right.  The sermon was one of significant depth, yet had about it a kind of appealing earthiness.  Much of it revolved around a story of how the preacher’s extended family had ended up holding a big festive dinner (and here my memory fails a bit… I think it was Thanksgiving) in the dining room of some small town Minnesota hotel, a great carved Viking boat hanging on the wall above the table.  The sermon was ultimately a proclamation of grace-which, as you will discover as you read these meditations, is the theme for Jim Snyder-but it was all wrapped up in the oddities of family, the intricacies of small town culture, and the importance of keeping the feast.  It was lovely.

A couple of years later, my sister sent me a photo-copied booklet of eight reflections by Jim Snyder called Toward What We Can Scarcely Imagine and Scarcely Refuse: Divigations on the Seven Last Words. With the exception of the first meditation, which was a sermon for Ash Wednesday entitled Ottla, the reflections were meditations delivered at St George’s on Good Friday 2000 on the “seven words” or the seven sayings which the four Gospels report Jesus to have said from the cross.  What I encountered in that booklet was very much what I had heard that day in the sermon:  material of substantial depth, delivered with a bit of grit and with a story-teller’s eye to detail, all offered up in the service of the proclamation of grace.  In spite of the fact that these addresses were originally delivered on the two most solemn days of the Christian year, they were not without their touches of humour.  It was-and is-more than a little clear that Jim Snyder is rather thoroughly, even audaciously, committed to a perspective that says that in Christ the grace of God has trumped all else.

I have been so taken by these meditations that over the years they have become part of my own annual Lenten reading.  In fact, one year I preached almost verbatim the sixth meditation as the core of my Good Friday sermon at saint benedict’s table, taking care to give credit to the original preacher.  Several times over the course of the years, I have thought that I would love to find a way to make these reflections more widely available, and now thanks to the publication and recording ministry of saint benedict’s table this has become a reality.

What you will find here are modestly re-written and edited versions of the original St George’s meditations.  Some have resurfaced and been preached in other congregations, and since Jim calls himself “an inveterate editor,” and claims that he is never entirely happy with any sermon, there are bound to have been some shifts and developments over the years.   Some editing has also been done to help make the transition from preached sermon to written text, though every effort has been made to maintain the original cadence.  On the whole, then, these are the reflections that first caught my attention and imagination almost a decade ago.

The illustrations are from a series of aquatints of the revised Stations of the Cross, done a few years back by Helen Lyons during the course of her Fine Arts degree.  We are fortunate to have Helen as a member of saint benedict’s table, and to count a set of these limited prints as our own.

As is the case with all resources made available through saint benedict’s table, this is a labour of love and a gift to the church.  Both Jim Snyder and Helen Lyons have donated their work to us for this project, as has the editorial team of Bramwell Ryan, Sharon Jones-Ryan and John Berard.  Our goal is to make these resources available at cost, with any profits being put back into our fund for future projects.  We are grateful for the work of all of these contributors.

Jamie Howison

Lent 2009

Toward What We Can Scarcely Imagine and Scarcely Refuse is available at the church for $10. For an additional $2 to cover mailing costs, you can also order a copy by contacting us.

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