Archives For Spiritual Disciplines

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the next few months, we will be featuring a cartoon every Sunday by our friend and ERB reader Josh Dease. Let us know what you think of these cartoons. (Apologies, as this cartoon was supposed to be posted yesterday, and is a little late in going live)

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The Quiet Disciplines
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Yesterday, Dallas Willard passed into eternal glory. 

I hadn’t read his books much over the last decade, but prior to that they played very important role in my own formation.  As an aspiring philosopher myself at the time I was really digging into his work, I appreciated that he thought seriously and rigorously about following Christ, and that he was never afraid to ask hard questions.  I’ve appreciated hearing many stories over the last day of his gentleness and humility.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dallas Willard, or who may have only read a book or two of his, here is a brief guide to his seven essential works by ERB editor Chris Smith.

Which books have you read?  Which have impacted you most?

 

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The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God

For me, this is Willard’s masterpiece.  I read it at a crucial time, not long after I had graduated from college, and was in a period of seeking a faith that I could identify myself with.  Willard’s depiction of a vivacious gospel that stood in contrast to the burdensome “gospel of sin management” that I had grown up with, played a major role in drawing me into the abundant life of God’s kingdom. Following in the footsteps of Bonhoeffer’s THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, this book is a clarion call to take the life and teachings of Jesus seriously and to follow in his way. It also paints a compelling picture of the vibrant life we find as we do follow after Jesus.

 

A Brief Review of

Flunking Sainthood:
A Year Of Breaking The Sabbath,
Forgetting To Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor
Jana Riess
Paperback: Paraclete Press, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

By Michelle Van Loon  (www.michellevanloon.com )

There have been a slew of books in recent years where the author tries something new for a set period of time and documents his or her life change in the process. Julie Powell’s 2007 blockbuster book-turned-hit-movie Julie and Julia: My Year Of Cooking Dangerously is a perfect example of this trend.

Writing about the challenges and questions raised by a radical change-up in lifestyle with the goal of seeking spiritual transformation is an evergreen topic in books about the Christian life. Think Henri Nouwen’s 1981 Genesee Diary: Report From A Trappist Monastery or, more recently, Ed Dobson’s The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey Of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do. Dobson’s book was based on Jewish author A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest To Follow The Bible As Literally As Possible.

Part of the expected narrative of these types of stories is an ending proclaiming “See? I am a changed, chastened and wiser human being, thanks to this experience.” But what if an author dedicates a year to seeking life change via the practice of various spiritual disciplines – and no change of note happens in her life?

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A Review of
How To Train a Wild Elephant
and Other Adventures In Mindfulness:
Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices
for Living Life More Fully and Joyfully.

Jan Chozen Bays, MD.
Paperback: Shambhala Press, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by J. Brent Bill.

While “mindfulness” may be a fairly new word in the Christian lexicon, the concept itself is a deep and rich as our ancient faith.  Chozen Bays, in How To Train a Wild Elephant, defines mindfulness as “deliberately paying full attention to what is happening around you and within you.”  In Christian circles, mindfulness is similar to a principle articulated by theologian Belden Lane that he calls “paying attention in love.”  Lane explains “paying attention in love” as being a state where:

One begins to suspect that the contemplation of any ordinary thing, made extraordinary by attention and love, can become an occasion for glimpsing the profound.  Lewis Thomas finds hope for the human species in the accumulative intelligence of termites, the thrush in his backyard, and a protozoan named Myxotricha paradoxa. He simply attends with the eye of a biologist to what passes beneath our senses every day.  G. K. Chesterton once suggested that ‘‘it is a good exercise, in empty or ugly hours of the day, to look at anything, the coal-scuttle or the bookcase, and think how happy one could be to have brought it out of the sinking ship onto the solitary island’’ (Orthodoxy [Fontana. 1961]. p. 63).  Such an exercise can be no small aid in attaching true value to the most commonplace of things around us.

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835430: This Sacred Moment: Becoming Holy Right Where You Are

This Sacred Moment:
Becoming Holy
Right Where You Are

By Albert Haase, O.F.M.
Paperback: IVP Books, 2011.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Douglas Connelly.

I’m not a Christian with a particularly strong mystical bent.  I easily get lost when people start talking about connecting with God in hours of solitude or after an entire night spent in prayer.  I tend to have my feet planted on the solid ground of everyday experience.

I guess that’s why Albert Haase’s new book This Sacred Moment spoke so directly to me.  Haase is a spiritual director and retreat leader and he could probably talk a lot about the more mystical aspects of the Christian experience, but his direction in this book is firmly grounded in the present moment.  Holiness is not some ethereal goal to be reached in the future.  It is obedience and submission to God’s call in the present – in the sacred moment we are in.

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“Good Things Come to Those Who Sit

A review of
God in the Yard:
Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us.

By L. L. Barkat.


Reviewed by Denise Frame Harlan.


God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us.
L. L. Barkat.
Paperback: T.S. Poetry Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

“ …we disquiet our minds by I don’t know how many devices;
we give ourselves a world of trouble…to attain a sense of the Presence of God.”
Brother Lawrence, as quoted by L. L. Barkat

GOD IN THE YARD - L.L. Barkat“There’s a part of me that feels pinched in this life,” L.L.Barkat says in God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us. She remembers finding solace in the woods, to help her survive a difficult childhood. But she doesn’t live near the woods in her adult life. She craves a pilgrimage, citing Annie Dillard’s life-changing journey to the Galapagos—but the pilgrimage Barkat finds begins on a red plastic sled going nowhere, in an unkempt urban backyard. She sits. Perhaps she chooses the sled because she is just that desperate. She proposes a spiritual practice for those who need respite—for people who feel busy and a little crushed. For people like me.

My church school classroom houses a 30-foot long history of the Jewish people. Each time we unroll the timeline, I note how much biblical history passed before the written word, before written scripture was available to the common person. How did they worship, before these stories could be read from a page? They built altars from the stones they found, as a way to say thanks to God, and they talked through the stories by firelight, under the open sky.

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“Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love”

A Review of

The Good and Beautiful Community:
Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love
.
By James Bryan Smith.

Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee.

The Good and Beautiful Community:
Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love
.
By James Bryan Smith.

Hardback: IVP Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

THE GOOD AND BEAUTIFUL COMMUNITY - JB SmithLess and less does the term spiritual formation conjure up a mental image of an aged monk or nun, and the Quaker, quiet and contemplative in a still room.  Less and less does spiritual formation seem to be an individualistic me-and-God pursuit over and above one’s place in a community.  James Bryan Smith, in his Apprentice Series, follows the Renovaré movement (of which his biography describes him as a founding member) creating three work books about the “good and beautiful.”  His most recent book, which rounds out the series, is The Good and Beautiful Community, touching directly on one of Renovaré’s crucial values – spiritual formation in the midst of community.

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“A Vibrant Contrast to
the Madness of our Hypermobile Culture

A Review of
The Wisdom of Stability:
Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture
.

by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.


The Wisdom of Stability:
Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture
.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
Paperback: Paraclete Press, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove THE WISDOM OF STABILITYTransience is a major curse of our age.  From those who are always on the move to avoid their creditors to the upwardly mobile who are always seeking greener pastures, it seems that everyone is on the move.  In our urban neighborhood, it is a fairly common practice for renters to move into a new place, paying the first month’s rent, and then forego paying the second month’s rent, and then at the end of the second month when their account is 30 days past due, the eviction process is started and the renter then has 30 days until they are evicted.  Thus, crafty renters can get three months worth of housing for the price of one month, and force themselves into a cycle of moving every three months (or more if they are able to scrape together more than a single month’s rent).  These habits have larger cultural implications; I have heard of a public school in our neighborhood that has turnover rates as high as 95% from one year to the next (i.e., only 5 % of the students who started in a grade one year were still at the school a year later).  Lest I get too critical, it occurred to me recently that I myself have, in the last 15 years (since the summer before my senior year of college), lived at a staggering twelve  addresses in four different states!  Thankfully, I have been fortunate to live in the same house for the last six years, and have no intention of moving any time soon, and am slowly learning here about the historic Christian practice of stability.

Given the great mobility of American culture, it is not surprising that stability is virtually unknown in our churches today.  In the historically Black Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and the Rutba House community have been growing roots over the last decade in that place and re-learning the practice of stability.  Hartgrove has reflected on these experiences and on the Christian tradition of stability in his excellent new book, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture.  This new volume features a foreword by Kathleen Norris, who herself has reflected eloquently on stability in her most recent book Acedia and Me (which was our 2008 Book of the Year).  The book also features narrative “Front Porch” reflections interspersed between the chapters, in which Wilson-Hartgrove captures vignettes from his own life that cut to the heart of the “craft” of stability.

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“For Those Who Have Tried Church
And Found it Wanting”

A Review of
Giving Church Another Chance:
Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices.

by
Todd Hunter.

Reviewed by Jeff Romack.


Giving Church Another Chance:
Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices.

Todd Hunter.

Hardback: IVP Books, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Todd Hunter - GIVING CHURCH ANOTHER CHANCEGiving Church Another Chance is a book, according to author, Todd Hunter, “for everyone who has tried church and found it wanting, but somewhere deep within they still desire a spiritual life in the way of Jesus.”  If his publisher has a solid marketing plan they could do quite well considering the size of the target market.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  Actually, they have their work cut out for them considering the number of recent books in the genre of spiritual practices and/or the genre of ‘they love Jesus but not the church.’  Still, the number of people who have tried church and found it wanting must be enormous and growing larger each week if you believe the word on the street.

Hunter has written for us a book intended to stimulate our thinking toward fresh vision for what he terms the repracticing of traditional forms associated with the church.  A worthy introduction counsels us that repracticing the familiar forms is not an end in itself but best understood as a key move in forming and empowering us for the sake of God’s purposes through us and for the world. So far so good. Hunter’s mindset is missional and his concern that people be brought to faith and discipled is clear.  He, by his own admission, is not emerging, describing the theology of the emerging church as “fuzzy” and the concern for evangelism as limited.  Hunter comes across as a generous evangelical that has landed in the Anglican Mission in the Americas (related to the Anglican Province of Rwanda), at least for this part of his journey, and wants to tell us how it works for him and how it might work, perhaps, for you and me.

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A Review of

835324: The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting On the Character of Christ The Good
and Beautiful Life:
Putting On the
Character of Christ

By James Bryan Smith
Hardback:
IVP Books, 2010

Buy now:
[ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Josh Morgan.

The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith is the second book in his Apprentice Series. The focus of the series is “to draw people into the divine conspiracy of love and transformation” (p. 10). The first book focused on God and the nature of God. This book explores the work of God in our individual lives. The final book, available later this year, emphasizes how to bring all of these lessons and transformations into the larger community.

I personally was excited by this particular entry into the series as my much of my personal and professional passion is in the area of spiritual formation, particularly on the individual level. Smith is also a founding board member of Renovaré, one of my favorite spiritual formation organizations. He also got excellent endorsements from respected people, including one from Dallas Willard, stating this series is “The best practice I have seen in Christian spiritual formation.” I’m not sure I would agree with that statement. I say that primarily because I’m not convinced spiritual formation practice can be fully conveyed in a book. It is a lived-out, incarnational and relational experience.

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