Brief Reviews, VOLUME 3

Brief Review: A 30 Day Retreat by William Mills [Vol. 3, #24]

A Brief Review of

A 30 Day Retreat: A Personal Guide to Spiritual Renewal.
William Mills.
Paperback: Paulist Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee.

Once while peering at the pitiful waves upon a Scottish coastline, I heard a voice from a Minnesota friend cry out, “These waves are huge!”  Huge?  These little ankle-biting waves couldn’t even push a turtle into shore, let alone a surfer.  But my friend did not have the luxury of growing up by the pounding waves of the Northern California Coast, where a bad day displays a series of four foot waves.  She instead marveled at the waves that “towered” over the ones that she had ever seen in the Great Lakes.

My experience with A 30 Day Retreat, by William Mills, reminded me of that coastal experience in Scotland.  I wanted to get a rush and ride the big waves of spirituality, but instead, I found myself wondering how anything could even get propelled.  Yet, despite my lack of enthusiasm for Mills’s book, perhaps one who’d never seen the giant waves of God’s spiritual life would take this book for something amazing.  Mills did, after all, write for a searching audience, not a twenty-something seminary grad.

One of the most exciting aspects of this book for me was that it is a daily devotional written by a priest of the Orthodox Church.  Other than the work of old eastern saints, I have barely dipped my left toe into the Orthodox sea, but how I want to.  I looked for the mystical perspective, letting God wash over me like a swell.  There I could float, riding the waves of life and let the swells of God carry me as they may. It seemed to be a low-surf day as I began to delve into the book, and I just couldn’t get any deeper, nor did God’s nature wash over me with a fury; not even a gentle swell could submerge me.  There I sat, as usual during my devotion time, shallow and on top of the flat ocean.

Aside from a few mentions of the Orthodox Church, I barely felt a hint of the richness of Orthodox devotion and mysticism that is so necessary to inform the Evangelical world.

I confess, I did not complete this book, A 30 Day Retreat, in thirty days.  I could not even quite finish the book.  My interest waned after week one, and I hung up the towel with a few days left.  I felt it better to stand on the shores than to float on shallow waters with no swell of spirituality to speak of.  The book lacked the “substance for the long haul” for which he had hoped.

Mills is not to blame for my inability to appreciate it.  I blame some seminary, which taught me how to analyze and how to do so critically.  Mills wrote this book to answer the “hard questions” that people were asking and pining for in their journey of faith.  As such, it is a decent introductory devotional.  His core purpose is to put the reader “in touch” with the scriptures, and despite the disjointed themes, the extensive scripture reading does a decent job in acquainting people with the Bible and how to use it to deepen their spiritual walk.

While the book could use better cohesion, I like that it does not take a flowery approach to spirituality.  The waves of the Orthodox faith went flat in this book, but for others it could be a good introduction to the ocean of the Christian life.

The effectiveness and power of daily devotionals are rather subjective.  Perhaps, like my Minnesota friend and me speaking of the Scottish waves, one’s experience and expectation with a devotional can truly hinder its perception.  Again, I never felt the rush of riding the spiritual wave, but perhaps for the one curious and searching for a deep spirituality, the little swells of Mills’s book would be the perfect and amazing introduction.

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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