Talking with God: Prayers, Meditations and Conversations for God-seekers by Henry Baron '60, Calvin English professor emeritus, Bellingham, Wash.: Exxel Publishing, 2011, 244 pp., $12.99.

Talking with GodTalking with God is a simple title, but most apt for this devotional book, according to author Henry Baron. “These are conversational prayers,” explained Baron, “not the pietistic prayers of Brother Lawrence. They are a down-to-earth kind of prayer that looks around you, struggling to see it all through the eyes of faith.”

The 104 meditations first appeared separately as a regular column over a 30-year period, from 1978 to 2008, in Baron’s church newsletter, Neland News. Over the years, church members encouraged Baron to collect the writings and circulate them outside of the congregation, but he kept dismissing the idea—until about a year ago.

“I started going back and reading and rediscovering what had been there,” he said. “The feeling grew that maybe this is something I should share.”

The collection touches on seasons of the calendar year and church year, but more on seasons of life and even more specifically on events, both trying and celebratory: divorce, the death of a child, graduation and travel.

“My writing grows out of a conviction that we are placed in this world to pay attention to what’s going on around us, with longing and faith that God is paying attention to it, too,” he said.

The pieces are honest reflections on experiences that Baron, his family and congregational members have encountered. “I write them in as honest and searching a way as I can muster,” Baron explained. “That’s what strikes people—they’re from the heart. One of things I imposed on myself was that you have to go deep, you have to feel it and then you find the words for it.”

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Though written about past times and people, the themes are timeless. “People have many of the same feelings about things; I just assumed the discipline to try to articulate that,” he said.

One of Baron’s favorite pieces, “Letting Go,” contemplates many of the instances in life where one gets “practice” at this: watching children grow and go off to school, dreams fade, relationships end, and summer turns to fall and winter. The prayer, though, is offered to help us let go when we must of youth, of others and even our own life.

The use of “God-seeker” in the title was intentional, too, Baron said. “I’ve always seen myself as a person of faith, but it’s about seeking God in the messy and confounding and sometimes inexplicable things in this world. How can you see God in a messy divorce or death of a child or people living in poverty? These prayers are about keeping an awareness of God close when the more immediate feeling often is the absence of God.”

Still, the darker moments are tempered by celebratory ones. “There’s a balance in the book and in life,” he said. “The mystery of goodness is just as profound as the mystery of evil. It’s just as moving, and it’s all around you, too.”

Baron said he was the original intended audience for his writings. “Yes, for people at church, but that was secondary. I wrote them for myself because I needed to articulate something.” What he has found, though, is that the message and themes are universal.

“The rewards come when people pick it up and read it and tell me that it touched them,” he said. “I’ve heard from a whole range of people, from Calvin students to the very old; all seemed to be blessed by it."

Dog-Kissed TearsDog-Kissed Tears: Songs of Friendship, Loss, and Healing by Lambert Zuidervaart, former Calvin philosophy professor, Eugene, Ore.: Resource Publishers, 2011, 88 pp., $12.

Many people form deep attachments to their pets. Yet we wonder how to celebrate our friendships with them and how to grieve their deaths. Dog-Kissed Tears is a meditative memoir woven from life with Rosa, a remarkable 15-year-old retriever. In stories that are funny, sad, moving and honest, Lambert Zuidervaart links his attachment to his beloved dog and his love for human friends. Familiar songs help him trace his personal journey through the adoption, life and death of a canine companion. As Zuidervaart works through grief and longing for Rosa, he connects memories of childhood with self-discoveries in middle age.

Praying God's HeartPraying God’s Heart: Prayers That Make a Difference by Alvin VanderGriend ’58 BD’61, Terre Haute, Ind.: PrayerShop Publishing, 2010, 188 pp., $14.99.

Praying God’s Heart is for anyone who wants to be more effective in intercession—praying for others and for God’s kingdom to advance. Its 30 short chapters offer a thorough treatment of important issues related to intercessory prayer. Among the topics are the role of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in intercession; the listening side of prayer; praying kingdom prayers; the relationship of obedience to answered prayer; the power of praying scripture; and the prayer of faith.

Hearing the CallHearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church, and World by Nicholas Wolterstorff ’53, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011, 450 pp., $30.

For more than 40 years Nicholas Wolterstorff has been engaged with issues of liturgy, justice and how to live faithfully as a Christian in the world. This volume unites a choice selection of 39 articles that he has written throughout his career. The book includes an interview with a Christian Palestinian exiled from his homeland, perspectives on the controversy over women’s ordination and a discussion on whether Christians can be patriots.