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Chanequa Walker-Barnes – Sacred Self-Care [Feature Review]

Sacred Self CareA Balance of Compassion and Challenge

A Feature Review of

Sacred Self-Care: Daily Practices for Nurturing Our Whole Selves
Chanequa Walker-Barnes

Paperback: HarperOne 2023
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Reviewed by Jennifer Burns Lewis

The season of Lent is a traditional time for those who observe it to give up or take on a practice that invites a mindful stance toward life with God. Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes has written a compelling book that offers a pathway through Lent, or any time, toward better stewardship of self and an ethic that resists overwork, overconsumption and hyper-capitalism while engaging, potentially, in reparation. It is a slim volume, packed with personal illustrations, scripture and suggested practices that enlighten and inspire the reader.

A relevant initial question to ask is: “Why another book on self-care?  What makes this one stand out?”   Sacred Self-Care is distinctive because it is a work grounded in theology. The layout of the book encourages either a seasonal (Lenten) or a selective practice. While the author provides excellent suggestions for how Sacred Self-Care can be used as a Lenten devotion and source of spiritual practices, she also generously suggests that the point is “to challenge yourselves, but to make it work for you and the demands of your life, including any physical or emotional constraints that you have. Change the practices whenever you feel the need. Just try to do something for your own benefit each day” (12). Another beautiful addition to this work is the inclusion of the seventh day reviews that include worshipful reflection, scripture, and hymn selections from the African American Heritage Hymnal. 

Walker-Barnes includes useful appendices that should not be skipped or overlooked.  The spiritual self-care inventory invites a non-judgmental look at the spiritual practices one approaches consistently and the areas that may need more attention.  The second appendix, the self-care rule of life planning guide assists the reader in mapping out a plan that is individualized and helpful in fostering one’s spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, and relational wholeness. Finally, the author offers a third appendix that allow this book to be an effective Lenten devotional, filled with thoughts and suggestions and a rationale for self-care that ends where it began, in Lent, reminding us in the author’s words that these practices can guide us, as Lent does, not toward death but toward resurrection.                                                                                   

Dr. Walker-Barnes writes of the influence and impact of the pandemic on her book.  She reflects upon all that the pandemic took away, and all of the limits it had and continues to place upon our lives. “I am an American living in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she muses.  I need a practice that ushers me into resurrection” (5). What continues to resonate in the author’s writing is the foundational idea that sacred self-care instructs and reminds us that we are stewards of the gift of life, and that self-care is a strategy for undergirding and fueling the work to which God calls God’s people.

The ideas of self-care as soul care, as a mandate, and as counter-cultural and as subversive form and shape the core of this thoughtful book. Walker-Barnes writes with eloquence about how our culture promotes overwork and really supports everything that contributes to burnout.  She writes, “A hyper-capitalist economy is disinterested in the survival and well-being of anyone beyond the utility of their workers” (29). She rightly points to this reality for clergy and church workers as well, and encourages creative, intentional observance of sabbath. Through suggestions, stories, devotions, and exercises beyond the usual “take time to be holy,” she offers practical advice and data that supports the importance of rest, not only for physical and spiritual health, but as resistance of a culture that does not support moderation and wellness, and also as reparation for the harm done to the ancestors of so many. Quoting Audre Lorde, Walker-Barnes notices that “Overextending myself is not stretching myself”  (29) and, as a survivor of US chattel slavery, “I practice self-care as a reparative strategy to heal pain and trauma that I have not directly experienced but that flows through my body in the form of elevated stress and inflammatory responses” (32).

Without question, a goal of the author is to provide comfort and challenge for those who serve God. The demands of ministry and service are real, just as they are for those in helping professions.  While this book pays special attention to the “servants and disciples,” it is a useful and rich resource for anyone who wishes to start or continue a practice of self-care that is rooted in faith and the stewardship of the gifts of life we are given. It is honest in its acknowledgement of the gift and the challenge of anger in the face of injustice, and holistic in its attention to the many aspects of self-care. Laughter, setting boundaries and limits, self-talk and self-judgment, and taking breaks from others’ behest, are all part of Walker-Barnes’s locus of concern. Good pastor that she is, she’s also a good teacher in naming the importance of a total approach to self-care as encompassing body, mind and spirit.  She includes great practical advice, calling it ”automated self-care” that includes planning everything from meals to quiet reflection as a way to prioritize what the world does not.  With so many reminders about making space and time for self-care and adopting it as a rule of life, self-care can become a practice, a habit, a spiritual discipline, incorporating best practices from many areas of life and health.

I cannot imagine anyone who would not benefit from reading this compassionate, wise, and forthright book. It would make a great gift to oneself, particularly because it contains so many beautiful reminders that this is the only day and the only body that we have. 

Jennifer Burns Lewis

Jennifer Burns Lewis is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She serves as the Visioning and Connecting Leader for the Presbytery of Wabash Valley in north/central Indiana. A clergy coach with forty years of experience in parish ministry, college chaplaincy, non-profit executive and denominational leadership, Jennifer is half of a clergy couple, the mother of two adult children, and the deeply grateful grandmother of four grandchildren. She has a lot of hobbies and looks forward to pursuing them with deeper joy when retirement appears one day. 

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