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This article was published 13/10/2018 (467 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After decades of criss-crossing the continent for concerts, Winnipeg musician Steve Bell invites his fans to join him on a yearlong journey that begins and ends right at home.
The longtime student of Christian Scripture, mystics, saints and theology releases a series of books on the Christian liturgical calendar, titled Pilgrim Year, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18, at the CommonWord bookstore at Canadian Mennonite University, 2299 Grant Ave.
"I’m not trying to be an expert. But the things I choose to write on are the things that intrigue me," Bell says of the books, which include personal stories, historical references, poetry, reflections on the seasons and references to his large catalogue of songs.
The series also include poems by English priest Malcolm Guite, who frequently collaborates with Bell on songs and performs with him in concerts.
Along with the books, which are available separately or as a boxed set, the 57-year-old singer-songwriter is also releasing a companion two-disc album featuring 37 seasonal songs from his catalogue.
Published by the Catholic-owned Novalis Publishing, based in Toronto and Montreal, the series of books introduces Bell to a Catholic audience, as well as exposing his fans from the evangelical Christian world to the beauty and rhythm of the liturgical seasons.
"There’s a deep hunger for a more historical faith and practice, especially among the younger generation," says Bell, who was raised Baptist but now attends an Anglican church.
"It’s meant to use the church calendar as a structure for reflections that take you through the Christian story."
The seven books each run to about 60 pages of original material, plus an introduction repeated in all volumes. The series begins with Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, and follow the church calendar through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Ordinary Time.
"Steve’s approach is very personal. He picks those scriptural episodes during a liturgical season that have particular meaning for him," says Joseph Sinasac, publishing director of Novalis, the country’s largest bilingual religious publishing house.
"For Catholics, who are familiar with these stories, it offers fresh ways of looking at it and new insights."
Novalis approached Bell after seeing a previous incarnation of his thoughts on the liturgical year in an online format, and asked Bell to rewrite and expand the material. Sinasac says the publishing house may release the books in electronic form in the future, but finds short books on spirituality remain strong sellers, and expects the Advent, Christmas, Easter and Lent books to be most popular.
"They are meant to be picked up and have someone read a passage before they go to bed," he says.
The liturgical seasons provide richness and rhythm to Christian faith, but can also become routine after many years, says Rev. Jamie Howison of St. Benedict’s Table, an Anglican congregation based at All Saints Anglican Church which describes itself as "a worshipping community rooted in an ancient future."
"The risk is it can be so familiar it can be somewhat rote," he says of the yearly repetition of the calendar.
"Then the challenge is to keep reminding ourselves of the symbols and maybe new ways of engaging ancient seasons."
Excited about adding the title of author to his already long list of accomplishments, Bell remains humble about his books, calling them an introduction to the liturgical year for those outside of the tradition.
"I’m not a scholar, I’m a lay theologian," he says.
But this lay theologian already has a large following for his music and stories, and plans to share his insights into the liturgical year as the basis for a series of upcoming two-day retreats in cities across Canada.
He held one in Winnipeg in late September, attracting about 100 people for an evening and day filled with songs, stories and reflections. That early success motivates him to continue singing his songs, telling his stories and inviting people to share the journey.
"I’m hoping to reanimate people’s interest in the broad Christian story and world view," Bell says.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
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