At 118 pages long, Park Benches, Bishop Kay Ward’s latest book in a series of four, is an engaging and quick read. Comprised of many short stories, some only a page long, it is the perfect choice for someone who only has a few minutes each day to spend reading.
Each story begins with a verse from the Psalms. In her first story/chapter “Psalms,” Kay says: “I have enjoyed studying and using the Psalms, both for personal devotional reading and also in worship. The Psalms have stood the test of time.” These statements paired with her list of things she likes about the Psalms shed light on why she chose psalm verses for epigraphs. I believe she wanted her readers to more fully experience the emotions and thoughts running through her mind as she carefully chose the stories for Park Benches as well as give the reader an opportunity to ponder the Psalms through more relatable and relevant stories for the 21st century human.
Just as every story begins with a psalm verse, every story ends with a reflective prayer. The prayers tie the stories and verses together, giving each chapter unity, and also serve to end the chapter on a note of contemplation. By ending with prayer, Kay calls out to the reader to take all that they have just read, mull it over, internalize it and consider how it might apply to their own life.
In this way, as a reader you feel yourself compelled to compare your own life with Kay’s, to make your own connections and to reflect on the psalms and prayers written for each little episode. There are many reasons someone might read Park Benches. What keeps you reading it—keeps you engrossed in the book—is the way in which Kay wraps you into her life. Her stories are honest, true and relatable. When you come across a story outlining an event you have never experienced, you wonder, briefly, “How does this pertain to me?” Then Kay slides from pure narrative to reflective storytelling, and as you start to read her reflections you find yourself sympathizing and agreeing with her statements, thinking along the lines of, “Wow, that is so true. What an apt statement. That’s an interesting take on a situation and I wonder why I’ve never thought of it that way before?”
Another reason you might keep reading Park Benches once you’ve started: it is a well-written and entertaining book. Some autobiographical books can be boring and dry, some books written by pastors are too much like a lecture or a bad sermon, but Park Benches differs from other books. When you read it, it does not feel so much as though you are reading a book with psalms and prayers to contemplate. Rather, it feels as though you are sitting next to Kay, drinking tea or lounging on a sofa, listening to her tell you stories about her life. She invites you to respond, to smile, to nod, to think in her prose and in her prayers.
As a 21-year-old, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Park Benches for all of the above reasons. Despite the age gap, I felt as though I could relate to most of Kay’s stories. When I couldn’t, I found myself challenging the way I perceived the world. For example, in Kay’s two “Fire in the Woods” stories, I found myself considering: “What do I hold dear? What do I have that I cannot live without?”
In “Garbage Men,” I was faced with Kay’s own conclusion, “They were finding joy at the back of a garbage truck. Surely, I should be able to find joy in my clean, organized life,” but found myself applying it in different ways. That application manifested itself as such: “Others have lives so much harder than mine. I have a happy life. Others struggle to survive each day. I don’t have to. What is my hardship compared to theirs? What is my daily frustration compared to theirs?”
Similarly, I found myself sympathizing with Kay in “Retirement Goals.” No, I am not retiring; I am only 21! However, many goals that we set out to accomplish in our lives frequently don’t happen the way we envision. Many things that we want to do don’t happen because we put them off time and time again.
On the whole, Park Benches made me contemplate my life and where I stood in regard to others and myself. It made me question what I could achieve if I only took that first step, what would happen if I took a little time each day to calm my mind and say, “You aren’t in any rush. Nothing is more important than living in the present.” What happiness I might receive if I took a little more time to stop and take in the world around me. Kay discusses frustration, impatience, grief, laughter and more in Park Benches. It truly is a book that encompasses the season of summer, because like how summer has its crazy weather with its ups and downs, Park Benches has its myriad stories and emotions.
Park Benches, along with Kay’s other books Of Seasons and Sparrows, Heading Home and Hoping for Spring are available from the IBOC at store.moravian.org.
Review by Anna French, former IBOC intern and East Hills Moravian Church member.