Spiritual Rhythms in Community:
Being Together in the Presence of God
Reviewed by Peter Stevens.
As a drummer, I understand the importance of a good steady rhythm in music. It isn’t very hard to see how the metaphor can carry over into life. Just as a steady rhythm holds together songs, so a steady rhythm in life can keep us on the right track. Keith Meyer uses dancing to describe life rhythms. In the book’s introduction, he describes spiritual disciplines as similar to dancing, both are a “series of engaging and disengaging rhythms” (13). First we disengage from normal life activities in order to be with God for rest and renewal, and then we engage with life in order to live so that we can love God and others. Meyer suggests that, “we learn to take spiritual disciplines as our means or steps in a Trinitarian two-step dance of disengagement and engagement in order to live as God meant us to live” (14).
Within this two-step dance, there is a three-part rhythm. Meyer, using Jesus as an example, shows how this dance of engagement and disengagement forms a rhythm of formation, community, and mission. Jesus would spend time in prayer, then be in community with his disciples, and then was on mission teaching the crowds. Our practice of the disciplines should also lead to formative time with God, community time with Christians, and time spent living out the mission of God. This rhythm is cultivated by the two-step dance of engagement and disengagement, and Meyer uses these dance steps to structure the rest of the book.
The first part of the book focuses on disengaging. Meyer defines disengaging as disconnecting “from all that keeps us from a life with God and others in order to hear God’s call to become apprentices” (21). The main goal of disengaging, as Meyer describes in chapter 1, is to be alone in order to be with the Father. Jesus, the primary example in each chapter, even though he is one with the Father, was intentional about spending time alone in order to be with his Father. We, too, need to be intentional about disconnecting from the world so that there is nothing to prevent us from being with our heavenly father. The rest of the book’s first part is dedicated to ways of disengaging from the world in order to be with God. Meyer encourages readers to create retreat centers in their hearts, find deserts and other sacred spaces to meet with God, and to go off-line. All of these are ways of getting away and getting with God. Meyer is we have to have a space, in our hearts, in our lives, or somewhere in this world, where it is just God and us. The world does a good job of keeping us busy and distracted and often times we need a getaway in order to have rest and quiet. When we find those places, Meyer challenges us to do nothing besides be in God’s presence and to be silent before God. It may seem weird to some, and difficult to most, but doing nothing and remaining silent are ways for us open ourselves to what God wants us to see, hear, and do. After we encounter God, we must reenter the world and engage it with God.
The second half of the book focuses on engaging. Meyer broadens the focus of his writing to now look at all of life and how to engage the world as a Christian. He opens the second part by discussing friendship. Part of reengaging with the world is building Godly friendships that allow us to encourage one another and sharpen each other. Meyer believes that friendship is important to spiritual formation, but “we don’t often see friendship…as a discipline to cultivate” (112). Meyer also encourages readers to see the rhythms of daily life as “opportunities to fill our lives with God’s presence” (130). The times when we eat, clean, wake, or go to sleep are all times when we can acknowledge God’s presence and build him into our daily lives. In this second part, Meyer also discusses the importance of forgiveness and service. We need to repair broken relationships by asking for forgiveness. Meyer also stresses the importance of engaging the poor, and not just to serve them but to spend time with them and get to know them. Meyer’s final two chapters are good reminders about the Christian life. First, God works through our weaknesses. Meyer reminds us that God uses us, “as cracked clay jars that show off the glory of Christ through flaws and weaknesses” (164). Then, he wraps up the book by encouraging readers to look to those who have gone before. We are not the first to follow God and we should look to those who have gone before as guides for the journey that lies before us.
Keith Meyer has done an incredible job in describing two sides of spiritual formation that rarely get put together. Often people write about the importance of either disengaging from the world or engaging the world. Meyer, however, has done both. He also has done it in a way that challenges Christians to get out and do something about what they read. Meyer has written this book as a group devotional. Each chapter is preceded with a Psalm reflection and is followed by an application for a group to go and do. He has done this so that the book would help to create a rhythm of formation, community, and mission. Spiritual Rhythms in Community is a challenging read and help to cultivate growth. This book is not intended to be read alone. Although it could be read that way, it will lose much of its value.
The only real weakness of the book is the second half. The first half of the book is easily connected and united around disengaging from the world and connecting with God. This theme is easily understood. The second half, however, since it is discussing engaging the world has more ground to cover. Because of this, each chapter seems at times to stand by itself instead of with the rest of the chapters in the second part. This is understandable, though, each chapter is meant to be read and then followed by the activity at the end of the chapter. Some may find the second half somewhat disconnected, but I believe that Meyer is doing his best to reach into many areas of life.
I would recommend Spiritual Rhythms in Community for any small group trying to stretch themselves. Meyer’s book is encouraging and challenging. The chapters are short and easily engaged. If you really do commit to follow through on each application, I think that this book will be a great aid in your group’s spiritual and relational health.
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