My appreciation for Lent made me jump when I was offered a chance to receive from Accordance a gratis copy of Holy Solitude, by Heidi Haverkamp, in exchange for an honest review. And that is what I offer here.
The Book: Preparation
Solitude is not a subject with which many Westerners are familiar, much less comfortable, but Haverkamp does an excellent job preparing her readers for the journey. She realizes how she could be communicating with people who have either never encountered, or been properly instructed, in the discipline of Lent–and so writes in a gentle manner. I have a deep appreciation for her prose, and the care she demonstrates for her reader. During her introduction Haverkamp offers invitation rather than commands–reminding people that the practice of this discipline is about falling into God’s grace, rather than demonstrating our strength. Her encouragement to continue with the discipline laid out in the book, even when readers may stumble, is an example of good pastoring.
Haverkamp’s wise and gentle approach to teaching this discipline make this a book I would be happy to recommend to others. And everyone who picks it up needs to read the introductory material. Not only does it give a theological rational for the work, it lays out practical ways to prepare for Lent. This is a step many overlook–Lent is often referred to as a “Spiritual Journey” by folks who recognize the season but, like any journey, preparation is a key component.
The Book: Structure
Holy Solitude is set up like many devotionals. Each day begins with a reading from Scripture, followed by a matching quote from a luminary of Christian spirituality. This is followed by a short meditation and a few reflection questions on which to ponder.
Certain days, however, add something to the daily practice.
The first day of each cycle, beginning with Ash Wednesday and then each Sunday thereafter, asks readers to chose a practice for the coming week. Two options are given, with one often being a bit more intense than the other. I didn’t read through each of the weeks as I prepared for this review, as I didn’t want to ruin the journey for the coming season, but I did appreciate the balance Haverkamp inserts into these weekly practices. I have a young child in the house, for example, so this can narrow the avenues I have open to me as I pursue solitude.
Fridays are set aside as fast days, following the traditional Christian practice. As such, each Friday’s devotional is focused around a particular fast–each one focusing on a different aspect of our physical nature. Practical instruction is given for each fast, and this will be much appreciated by those attempting to practice fasting for the first time. The reflection questions for Fridays are best answered at the end of the day, once the fast is complete.
Saturdays are devoted to the discipline of almsgiving. Each week those who are following the journey Haverkamp is shepherding are encouraged to give to someone in need. Almsgiving is why minimizing one’s entertainment or leisure spending during Lent is encouraged, it frees up that money to do good for others.
The combination of these practices forms the basis of a traditional Lenten Discipline, and Haverkamp does an excellent job making these seem like invitations, instead of burdens.
The Module: Accordance Integration
Holy Solitude works like any other Accordance module, with all the benefits the application has to offer. It’s laid out well and allows users to change the display just like any other module. Users can also add notes to the text, which is perfect for the reflection questions on each given day. While I am a frequent reader of eBooks, and love the notes features built into readers nowadays, the ability to add notes inside accordance, which grants a user access to all the capabilities of the Application, is rather compelling. Other modules can be linked in and previous answers are able to be referenced with a few clicks of the mouse. Accordance’s feature set makes this module a compelling choice over other digital versions of the text.
On the other hand, I must admit some of the shortcomings of doing devotional reading on Accordance. The scrolling interface in the desktop application isn’t ideal for slow and measured reflection. It would also be beneficial to create a separate workspace for the daily reading. This would allow a user to avoid distractions from other parts of the application, but it does add to setup time. I’ve described those who are interacting with this text in Accordance as users, rather than readers, because that’s the brain space the desktop application puts me in. I love the desktop application, but it’s designed for research rather than reading.
This problem is solved a bit on iOS, where the interface is much different. A maximum of two panes can be shown at any give time, reducing the clutter, and page turning can be enabled to make the reading experience a bit more comfortable.
These benefits, however, come with a deal-breaking limitation. You cannot add user notes to the module on iOS. Nor, in fact, are any user notes created on the desktop application displayed in the mobile application! I don’t understand why this module was developed this way. A mobile device is much more conducive to stepping away from the hustle and bustle of daily life–freeing people to practice the very discipline the book both guides readers into and encourages them to reflect upon! I hope an update is released to this module soon which will correct this disservice to Haverkamp’s text. At present it suffers from an imposed limitation on the very devices through which Holy Solitude could shine.
This is an excellent devotional, and there are many benefits provided by having it as an Accordance module. If you prefer reading materials like this on your iPad and are used to not having your tool choices crippled, however, you may want to look for another electronic version.