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The Mystery of the Cross: Bringing Ancient Christian Images to Life Paperback – November 28, 2009
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"We can read most books and put them back on the shelves and go on. Judith Couchman's The Mystery of the Cross will not be one of those books. We will return time and time again to this beautiful book which is more than a book. It is a guided journey with a narrator to help us see what we could not see alone. We need Judith's voice to help us see, once and for all, the mystery. Outstanding! Beautifully written! Inspiring! Through story and art, Judith weaves a tapestry in this book that will do more than merely inform us. We will be inspired by the mystery and transformed by the message!" (Stephen W. Smith, author of The Lazarus Life and compiler and editor of The Transformation of a Man's Heart)
"Carefully researched, The Mystery of the Cross . . . [allows] us to see this basic, simple symbol of crossed wooden beams as both analogy and actuality. The cross stands for all that Jesus did and does for the faithful--a theme emphasized in this outstanding book." (Luci Shaw, author of The Crime of Living Cautiously and writer-in-residence, Regent College)
"Prompted by the author's own discovery of the cross in Christian art, these short devotional essays will help others to encounter and better understand the complex and fascinating history of this powerful symbol--throughout history and in their own lives." (Robin M. Jensen, author of Understanding Early Christian Art and professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School)
"Judith Couchman has compiled a challenging historical record of an earlier church integrating the cross, both symbolically and sacramentally, into worship, into daily living and into personal devotion. If the measure of a book is how much it impacts our thinking after the pages are closed, The Mystery of the Cross has caused me to reconsider how I can better employ representations of this iconic image every day in every way." (Karen Mains, author of Open Heart, Open Home)
"Judith Couchman uses various art images from the past two millennia to tell stories and teach truths about the cross, many of which were entirely new to me. But more, she not only informs but also inspires the reader. Her book is both fresh and refreshing, new and renewing." (Gerald L. Sittser, author of A Grace Disguised and Water from a Deep Well)
"With our imaginations being blasted by advertising brands and erotic innuendo, we need this book's authentic images of faith. A treasure in itself, it documents how centuries of brothers and sisters in the faith have bound their thoughts to our self-giving Christ." (Jan Johnson, author of Spiritual Disciplines Companion)
"You hold a jewel in your hands. In this book, Judith explores through the ages and the arts the beauty and mystery of the cross. This will not be a one-time read but a book that I believe will enrich your devotional life for years to come." (Sheila Walsh, author of Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God)
"Nourishment for the mind as well as the soul . . . . Mystery indeed; this book reveals truths on multiple levels." (Marshall Shelley, vice president, Christianity Today International)
"Judith Couchman has given us a remarkably rich tour of the history of the cross. She traces the journey of this centrally important Christian symbol from its earliest pre-Christian origins to the present in a series of short, engaging chapters. Through this the reader is drawn into the transformational power and glory of Christ's death and resurrection. The result is a book I highly recommend." (Juliet Benner, Conversations Art Director)
About the Author
Judith Couchman is the author/compiler of more than 40 faith-based books. She also teaches art history part-time for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Her books include The Mystery of the Cross, The Shadow of His Hand and Designing a Woman's Life.
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You will be excited and surprised as I was at her vast knowledge and research on this subject. An excellent book for a gift or home study. Check her out on FaceBook as well.
That incident came to my mind as I've been reading The Mystery of the Cross: Bringing Ancient Christian Images to Life by Judith Couchman . Each short devotional is so rich it makes you feel like you've had a full meal of eating in the Lord's presence. Judith's book is a unique one. It has 40 fairly short devotionals about various aspects of the cross throughout history and especially of the cross of Christ. Although this book would be a particularly impactful one at Easter time, don't wait until then to feast from its richness.
I don't think I would have ever thought about someone writing a book about the history of the cross or that it could be so meaningful, but Judith succeeds in bringing out rich textures about the cross. And if you're one who loves history, you'll love this book. I appreciate history but I'm not a fanatic. This book makes me want to enjoy the history of many things. She makes you realize how many threads are involved in the history of something and that's how this book makes you think about the cross. There's so much more to it than just the cross Jesus died on. She certainly covers all the aspects of what we know about that cross, but there's so much additional related information. Like the Standing Stones of Callanish in Scotland that are arranged in the configure of a cross. These standing monoliths rival the Stonehenge in England. And theres a photo of the Scotland monoliths.
Here's the section titles which give a good overview of the book:
Part One: Ancient Echoes of the Cross: The Cross in Pre-Christian Times
Part Two: The Pain and the Glory: The Cross and the Suffering Savior
Part Three: Early Signs of Faith: The Cross and the Early Believers
Part Four: The Great Conversion: The Cross and Early Religious Freedom
Part Five: Daily Signs of Salvation: The Cross in Ancient Everyday Life
Part Six: Ways to Worship: The Cross in Early Church Life
Part Seven: Enduring Mysteries: The Cross and Its Eternal Power
I highly recommend Judith's book. I know it will be a blessing to you as it has been to me.
The Mystery of the Cross by Judith Couchman caught my attention by a beautiful, illuminated manuscript-type cover and the promise of exploration of images of the Cross to enhance devotional time.
Having reviewed several books that I was expecting to be great, but did not meet that expectation at all, I went into this book expecting it to disappoint me.
However, this book blew my expectations out of the water. First of all, the format is great. I appreciate that each chapter is quite short, making it easy to read a section when one has just a few minutes (like I usually do) rather than long periods of time to sit and really read deeply. This makes it particularly useful as devotional tool.
I also appreciated that each chapter included an image of the cross considered in that chapter. It helps to really understand what Couchman is describing. I also like that the images were hand-drawn, adding to the human dimension of the history of these images, making them seem more devotionally-focused than an aim for perfection.
The content, though, is where this book really shines. My undergraduate degree was in Religious Studies, particularly focused on early church history and hagiographies (the lives of the saints). Therefore, I really enjoy understanding the rich history behind images, stories, and words that make up our current faith. I find that this really helps me appreciate our tools for worship in a much deeper way.
Couchman does precisely this in each chapter. However, it's not boring or dry. She beautifully summarizes the history of an image and how and why it was used. She does so in an effectively concise way (something I cannot do :) ). This creates a nice balance between understanding the history while making each chapter short enough for effective devotion.
She then ends each chapter with a more devotional reflection. Some images may have a controversial history that may make some people not want to use them in devotion or that may challenge some people's faith. However, Couchman reframes the story in a way that does not negate the controversy, but rather uses it to enhance the mystical nature of Christian faith and the cross.
With these elements, Couchman balances both a cognitive, academic approach with an affective, devotional heart. Readers of my blog know that I look for ways to balance the two, as both are critically important for our lives. It's hard to do using all the spiritual formation resources we have. It's even harder to find in a single resource like this book. I am impressed by it and plan to continue to use it to enrich my own personal devotion. Few books truly have aided my devotion as much as this one has, especially recently.
As you can see, I strongly endorse this book. If you pick it up (and it's 30% off right now at IVP), I do suggest going into it with lower expectations. We all know how if we go into something with expectations too high, we are bound to be disappointed. This is one book I would not want to experience less because of my expectations.