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Monday, December 08, 2008

RevGalBookPals: Run, Shepherds, Run

The book "Run, Shepherds, Run: Poems for Advent and Christmas." is a collection of poems selected and presented by L. William Countryman. He is an Episcopal Priest, and is Sherman E. Johnson Professor in Biblical Studies at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. He is also an associate priest at Church of the Good Shepherd in Berkeley. He is a popular speaker, and the author of many books which are listed on the book's cover.

L. William Countryman has assembled this collection of poetry for devotional reading for Advent through Epiphany. His selections include the expected (Christina Rossetti, George Herbert, Emily Dickinson) and some perhaps less expected (Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame, Australians Elizabeth J. Smith and Bruce Dawe). He includes one of his own poems; Going to God with the Shepherds which is used on Dec. 30(page 69). Countryman offers one poem per day and provides a brief introduction for each. He provides Footnotes which aid understanding; for readers previously uncomfortable with poetry, he suggests ways to increase enjoyment. The end material includes brief biographical sketches of the 25 poets whose works he presents.

The title is taken from "The Nativity" by Scottish poet William Drummond (1585-1649). It begins with angelic voices: “Run, shepherds, run where Bethlehem blest appears! We bring the best of news." This poem appears on page 63 for Third Day of Christmas, December 27. The title is enough to draw one in to reading this book and using it on a daily basis.

His thoughtful collection of poems all build on the themes of reflection on the human condition and a deep hope rooted in the birth of Jesus. Through the use of these poems he leads us closer to the real understanding of the seasons – especially as that contrasts with our busyness in life and during this season. And in fact he issues an invitation to read these poems in contrast to what the season has become in order to follow a different more rewarding path as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus' birth.


Some Reviews written by others:

"Here poet/priest William Countryman has forged his two passions into one remarkable volume. He has breathed into Christmastide, from Advent to the Epiphany, an aesthetic reverence that makes of them a sustained whole, a complete oneness of spiritual experience relieved of the emotional ups and downs that all too often distract the heart with the mind's seasonal busyness." -Phyllis Tickle, compiler of The Divine Hours

" This volume contains such a wonderful collection of poems that you're sure to find many to deepen your appreciation and understanding of the Seasons of Advent and Christmas."--Episcopal Life


In the first week of Advent he begins with an old Advent tradition of meditating on the "Four Last Things": Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven---all themes associated with the Second coming. I have to admit, when I read that and started reading the poems, I about choked, and wanted to stop reading the book. Having had the four stuffed down my throat as a child, especially the Judgement and Hell, it was a turn off to me. But since I was reviewing this book for us, I made my way through these poems. He does say "It reminds us that we humans are still far from being in a world of enduring peace, justice, and good will."(page 1) He also in his thoughts on reading poetry tell us to Accept that you'll relate more easily to some poems than others." (Page xi) I will now tell you it was worth pressing on and getting through the titles to read the poems. It helped with my own devotion time and with my sermon prep time.

On page 15 he gives the introduction to week two of Advent where he tell us we will be revisiting again the "Four Last Things". He also says we will turn our gaze a little more to the birth of Jesus. If you are writing your sermon this week on the John passage about John the Baptist, page 24 has William Drummond's poem; For the Baptist. Today's poem is actually a hymn written by Elizabeth J. Smith. It is a very lovely hymn that sings to "the God beyond our Knowing" to come and renew us.

I am glad this book was selected for our book discussion, just for the simple pleasure of reading it. Maybe you are just following through with reading it on a daily basis or maybe you have read it all the way through for this discussion. I invite you to tell us your thoughts as you have been reading this book. Perhaps you are lover of poetry of a writer of poetry, I invite you to express your thoughts as well, maybe even offer your own poem in response.

Here are some questions to begin our discussion:

Which poem touched you the most and why? Which one did you not like and why? Were you glad you bought this book to read and discuss or were you not and if so why?

Did you follow his thoughts on reading poetry? Did you find someone to talk to about what you read? Did you find introductions to the weeks helpful in reading the poems? Were his own thoughts for each day helpful to you or a hinderance and if so why?

Does this book accomplish what he set out as its goal? Would you recommend it to others and if so why or why not?

Is there something in particular you would like to discuss or comment on about the book or poems?


An After thought question came to me this morning; What poem did he not include that you wish he did and why? What poem did he include that you wish he had not and why?


  1. I'm still chuckling over his editorial comment, "Dickinson's punctuation is idiosyncratic." It inspired me to write a poem of my own. :-)
    I'm torn between wanting to read these as a daily meditation and wanting to get all the way through in search of resources. I've skimmed the later pages, and found a poem I love, "Carol" by Kenneth Grahame, that will become part of the service on December 28th. I'll be away and needed to plan the service for lay leadership, and I was grateful for this book and its help.
    Abi, thanks for getting us started today.

  2. Just checking in - didn't bring my book with me today. I'll be back later!!!

    thanks! Abi, for hosting

  3. Ack! I'm still reading last month's book....(sigh) Looking forward to hearing about your faves and least faves so when I get around to this one, I'll be prepared!

  4. I'm with Teri - still working through Borg and Crossan! I have this book, but haven't had much more than a glance through it just yet.

    Also, it's at the church and I'm at home. Sorry!!!

    Abi, thank you so much for taking time in this busy season to host here for this (so far) quiet discussion.

    I'll be back once I retrieve the book from the church (likely tomorrow).

  5. I am reading this too, and disciplining myself not to jump ahead, but like Songbird his comments on Emily Dickinson made me smile....

    Great stuff...


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