[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”1632572141″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/41Y0AVpEJ7L.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”216″]The Unique Expression of God
A Brief Review of
Why Daily Devotions Aren’t for All of Us
Paperback: Wesleyan Publishing, 2017.
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Reviewed by Pam Kittredge
Ordained Wesleyan minister, Gwen Jackson, believes that there are a variety of ways people can relate to God. While acknowledging the importance placed by many Evangelicals on daily devotions, Jackson explains and explores other paths to formation. Along the way, she counsels self acceptance and understanding of our own particular needs as related to the formation process.
Many Christians, Jackson writes, struggle under the yoke of daily devotions. “To evangelicals, the practice of ‘daily devotions‘ as become a sacrament.” So important to so many that Jackson has a concern about the ritual as idolatry. While she admits to admiring those who continue the practice and are able to find joy within it, Jackson opens the reader up to many other possibilities.
Sharing her own faith story, Jackson reveals herself as a person to whom daily devotions are a burden. She is inconsistent in her practice. Her mind wanders. She finds herself going through the motions in order to “check the box”. Because a daily practice does not fit her, she suffers from guilt, depression, a sense of defeat.
Jackson shares her own struggles and vulnerability that others may know they are not alone, and to offer them hope—to show that there are other ways to formation—other ways to spend time alone with God, and to grow in God’s image. To grow not only for personal gain, but for the sake of others, and in service to spiritual maturity.
In Part 1, Jackson explore barriers to true intimacy with God: ought and should; measuring up; the daily grind and perfectionism.
Christians ought to spend an hour alone with God every day, and should also keep a prayer list and a journal. Your worth as a Christian is measured by how well you perform what’s expected. Spiritual discipline should be anything but a daily grind. Guilting people into a spiritual practice is exactly the opposite of the path to intimacy with God, Jackson writes. Pleasing God is not about practice alone. Practice leads to perfectionism and circles back to concerns about measuring up. Pleasing God comes through humility and grace.
A life changing awareness for Jackson occurs when she encounters “Life Rhythm Theory” in an article by David Drury. Learning that each of us has particular ways we do life—patterns of sleep, work, scheduling and decision making that fit and feel right—opened her up to considering how spiritual practices or disciplines work to nurture or exasperate us. While some people thrive on a daily rhythm, others work best with a weekly/monthly, or a seasonal/yearly, rhythm.
In the section, “Finding Your Rhythm”, Jackson devotes a chapter to each of the three types of rhythms. Included is a quick guide that lists characteristics, issues, spiritual parallels and cautions. For example, the characteristics of daily people include: a love of routine tasks and a dislike of spontaneity. Weekly/monthly people are goal oriented and may make plans they never act on. Seasonal/yearly people are creative and artistic and find repetition demotivating. There are also questions for personal reflection at the end of each chapter.
In the chapter called “Freedom”, Jackson shares stories from friends and families who have learned their life rhythms. Making a change in their practice or perspective has allowed them to become less guilty, and more attuned to which spiritual practices work best for each of them in their quest to become closer to God.
Jackson’s book will help readers to release the guilt that may be experienced when they find themselves unable or unwilling to sustain the recommended daily devotional practice. Knowing there are other ways to formation that better suit their particular path and rhythm, they can abandon self loathing and know true connection with the divine. Discerning a life rhythm unique to them frees them to become more fully who God has created them to be. Allowing each person to relate to God according to what is most nurturing for them actually leads to more time spent in God’s presence, Jackson writes.
Unforced Rhythms: Why Daily Devotions Aren’t for All of Us, honors the unique expression of God that is each person. It celebrates difference as a place to grow in faith and to find God’s love and grace. It honors many paths and practices, and the all of the seekers who walk them.
Pam Kittredge received her MDiv. from the Earlham School of Religion in 2016. She is in discernment with the United Church of Christ. Pam blogs and reviews from an island off the coast of Maine where she lives with her partner, Hal, and her cat, Penney.
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