Digging In: new books on spiritual formation

I have written, in the April monthly column, and the last blog post or two, about creation-care, food, ecology and such. I have an op-ed piece appearing next week in our local Sunday paper about urban sprawl (more on that later.)
I want to segue into mentioning some books on spirituality, a move that might appear to be—to those who don’t follow BookNotes carefully—an altogether different subject. Yet, we are convinced that there are connections between our inner and outer lives (even saying it that way makes me uncomfortable), the things of the heart and things of the feet. Rejecting the harsh body/soul dualism of neo-Platonism and the Gnostics, of course, or the individualistic pietism of much of recent evangelicalism, leads us to a gritty and wholistic worldview, and a style of discipleship that is truly “in the world.” So my applauding the Barbara Kingsolver memoir and that list of books about the ethics of eating is related, deeply so, to the sorts I mention today. I hope you agree!
You Gave Me a Wide Place: Holy Places of Our Lives by Paul E. Stroble (Upper Room Books; $15) I quickly mentioned this in last month’s column. I note it again because it is very much about a spirituality of place. It is a dear book, actively calling us to reflect on God’s presence in our places and ways the sacred appears in those places that we care about. The title comes, by the way, from Psalm 18:36. Although not an instructional book on how to pray, care about place or garden, the lovely little memoir by Robert Benson, Digging In: Tending to Life in Your Own Backyard (Waterbrook; $12.99) was a sheer delight, well written and plain, even as he tells of caring for his little plot of backyard, and the people who are part of his story there. Wonderful.
Hidden in Plain Sight by Mark Buchannan (Word) $17.99 This is a gem of a book, one I am dipping into occasionally and enjoying much. You may know how we love his other good stuff, especially the previous one (now out in paperback) called The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath (Nelson; $14.99). Here, he shows that finding more of God may be redundant: his text in 2 Peter 1 tells us it has already been given. What a great, practical and visionary view of daily spirituality. Read Mark Buchannan, you will not go away uninformed or unaroused.
PunkMonk: New Monasticism and the Ancient Art of Breathing Andy Freeman & Pete Greig (Regal) $14.99 You may have heard of Greig from his work with the 24-7 Prayer movement, or for writing Red Moon Rising and God On Mute. Here, they reflect, in a postmodern, hipster way, on the daily disciplines of attending to the presence of God in the ordinary and living faithfully in that Spirit. The book tells of new “desert fathers” and “monastic communities” around the world. From Moravians to Franciscans, from Celts to charismatics, these new radicals are making a difference in the world, growing in deeper faith and action, and, as they put it, creating “greenhouses of shalom.” Prayer, mission, justice. Quotes from Francis Schaeffer on the arts and Ian Bradley on celtic models of church and, of course, Shane Claiborne, Bonhoeffer, etc. It’s a whole new world out there. Thank God.
Spirituality Old and New: Recovering Authentic Spiritual Life Donald G. Bloesch (IVP) $18 My goodness, this is a stunning work, a deep and reflective book connecting the earliest spiritual insights of the church fathers and applying it today, in rich and theologically orthodox ways. Gabriel Fackre (emeritus prof at Andover Newton) says, “Here is a biblical and churchly spirituality so needed today as an alternative to the new age nostrums that crowd the mall bookstore shelves.” David Gill says that this book “has to be put on everyone’s all-time top five list of books on this topic” and John Armstrong says it makes it case “with exceptional clarity and ecumencial irenicism.” Serious and important.
The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life
Robert Webber (Baker) $16.99 What a shame that Bob Webber has passed away, as he was such a beloved and helpful saint. Here, he tells of the history of spirituality—something those who are reading recent popular writers like Foster, Nouwen, Barton, Nouwen and such—should do. And, he shows, in very thorough and compelling ways, how the Christian story and full-life gospel got truncated and reduced, turned inward and self-centeredly pious (there is that dualism, again!) This is at once a guide to passionate faith and deeper spirituality, formation in the ways of Christ that are “inner and outer” and a very wise and helpful warning about how such longings for the things of God can go wrong. His working metaphor of the Divine Embrace is a good one, and he argues for a spirituality that opens up our daily lives as we respond to God’s embrace of God’s good creation. What a helpful and informative work.