Streams of Contentment:
Lessons I Learned on My Uncle’s Farm
Robert J. Wicks
Reviewed by Karen Beattie
About 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in cities or suburbs. Yet as most of us flock to crowded, fast-paced urban areas, there’s a longing for nature and the simplicity of rural life.
All around us, we see signs of this longing – from the popularity of magazines like Real Simple, to well-known blogs such as The Pioneer Woman, which depicts life on an Oklahoma ranch, and A Holy Experience, the blog of farm wife and best-selling author Ann Voskamp [Editor’s Note: Click here to read our review of Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts].
This longing isn’t necessarily new. Christian classics like Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, depicted nature and rural life as somewhat of a monastic experience. But as life gets more technological and complicated, the yearning has become more intense.
Robert J. Wicks’ small book, Streams of Contentment: Lessons I Learned on My Uncle’s Farm, reflects this continued longing for simplicity and nature.
Wicks, who holds a doctorate in psychology, is on the faculty of Loyola University Maryland and who has authored more than forty books, grew up in New York City. However, he was deeply influenced by the summers he spent on his family’s farm in the Catskill Mountains, and now believes that it was that foundation that gives him the wisdom to find contentment in today’s fast-paced life. In Streams of Contentment, which is part memoir, part self-help book, and part devotional, he shares with readers what he learned during those summers and how it applies to his life today.
Haunted by a quote in Walker Percy’s novel, The Second Coming, “Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?” Wicks set out to discover how to not “miss his life.” Each chapter focuses on a lesson, such as “Be Clear about What is Truly Essential,” “Practice a Little Faithfulness,” and “Make New Friends with Failure,” and contains nuggets of wisdom and insight.
While the book is filled with stories and anecdotes about the farm, readers may find themselves wanting more. The reader never quite gets a sense of place. Wicks could have used more description and stories about the characters, animals, wildlife, plants, crops, the sky, and the sounds and smells. Instead, he briefly tells poignant or humorous anecdotes, and then jumps right into the psychological and spiritual insight.
To hammer the lessons home for readers, and to help them incorporate the insights into everyday life, Wicks concludes the book with 30 daily readings for what he calls “In the Country” on Retreat.
While not in the same league a Dakota or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, this small volume contains much food for thought for people who want to slow down, stop tweeting, log off of Facebook, and not miss their lives.
Karen Beattie is a writer who lives in Chicago.