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Book Review: Clanging Halyards

Written by Donald D. McCall and Reviewed by Eric Wendorff

Covenant member, and retired PC(USA) pastor, Don McCall celebrated his ninetieth birthday recently by publishing his fifth book, Clanging Halyards, which is now available in the Covenant library.

Don’s book is a collection of forty-seven short poems he wrote at different times during his life. Often inspired by Bible passages, the poems reflect on the author’s life experiences from the perspective of his Christian faith.

Photographs complement many of the poems. There are photos of Don and his grandchildren, a photo of a younger McCall beside his motorcycle in the Sahara Desert, a photo of sailor McCall aboard a naval destroyer during the Korean War, a photo of the sixteen-year-old Donald tinkering on his 1926 Model T Ford, and a photo of the author with his grade school soccer team in Lebanon.

The poems demonstrate how Christian scripture and doctrine give meaning to one’s experiences, and they invite the reader to reflect on his or her own life from the perspective of Christian faith. A few examples will have to suffice.

In “Who is My Neighbor,” the author repents his failure to recognize a former lawyer/neighbor, “my own now incarcerated neighbor,” in the prisoner he counseled as chair of the Nebraska State Board of Parole: “I began to realize that I was the one the parable was written for . . . He was a lawyer who knew who his neighbor was; / I was the one Jesus was trying to convince / To be equally magnanimous.”

“The Sahara of the Soul,” written while motorcycling across the Sahara Desert, recalls a spiritual journey:

The desert transforms itself . . . by itself, every night

Through shifting winds and shifting sands;

Then it wakens anew at dawn’s earliest light,

To face whatever challenge a new day demands.

That’s the transformation I was seeking in my spiritual life,

While sifting through all it was my heart was feeling;

Trying to sense the shifting winds in life’s stormy strife

That winnows the spirit from the chaff in all my being.

“Sursum Cordu,” recalls a moment in worship when the congregation was invited to lift up their hearts in prayer and the author noticed, after his wife “placed her right hand in mine,” “Her left hand doing something I could hardly believe. / She was deftly lifting up lint from my sport coat’s sleeve.” Applying Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 23:25, he concludes: “That it’s not what’s on the outside of the sleeve or the cup /But the inside of my errant heart that needed a bit of cleaning up!”

I wish there was space to share more examples. Suffice it to say that Clanging Halyards fulfills Dr. McCall’s expressed hope that this book of spiritual reflections on moments in his life will “bring some of your old memories back to your mind as you read it.”

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