For my Sunday Sabbath reading, I spent some happy hours with a book we have raved about since it came out last year, re-reading portions, and some time with a new one I highlighted in my last post. Fighting over melancoly and exhaustion and a persistent cough, this time of reflection and reading was wonderful. It was my inclination to blog yesterday, but I was resolute not to “work.” And so, here’s my quickie reviews of two great resources for the journey.
The “something old” was last year’s Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton (IVP;$16.) Her first chapter about the yearning so many of us feel, especially those of us active in church life or Christian ministry, for “something more”, is worth the price of the entire book, and I’ve read it several times. Despite our hectic pace and numerous obligations, we foolishly try to pack one more spiritual activity into our already wheezing schedules. We think if we read one more book or participate in one more workshop or log on to one more cyber-prayer site, we will gain serenity. Ruth writes in wonderful prose, clear and helpful, inspiring and gentle, about her own spiritual burn-out and the need to find a “rule of life” that was life-giving. Yesterday, I was once again struck by her wisdom about how to wisely disengage from noise and email and technology from time to time. You can read some of her stuff at www.thetransformingcenter.org.
Ruth weaves together her fluency with the best writers (like Ronald Rohleiser’s The Holy Longing or M. Robert Mulholland) with standard insights about the practice of the disciplines, but her style is her own, and her stories from her own lived experience of growing into practices that are faithful and helpful. She moves from profound ideas to very practicial suggestions, written with winsome care and yet an authoritative voice. She knows whereof she speaks.
I’ve read plenty of books on spiritual formation, over decades, and we stock many, from all sorts of publishers. From Thomas Merton to Gary Thomas, Richard Foster to Richard Baxter, from ancient saints to PunkMonk; we love this stuff. I will say without a doubt that this book is one of the best that I’ve read. We commend it to you, happily, one more time. Also, the one that preceded this is called Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Tranforming Presence (IVP; $16). It, too, is extraordinary for its clarity, charm, ordinaryness and honesty. I think it is very important (and I will re-read it again, soon.) Happily, an older book she wrote years ago on being a Godly woman is now available again. (It was first called Becoming a Woman of Strength, which she expanded and re-wrote and re-titled as The Truths That Free Us upon learning more about spiritual disciplines, as she was being mentored by Tilden Edwards and the Shalem Institute.) It’s has now been re-issued under the title Longing for More: A Woman’s Path to Transformation in Christ (IVP; $16.)
I mentioned that I started a brand new book last evening. I announced it in my last post but now that I’ve read much of it, I can say I am absolutely thrilled and cannot recommend it highly enough. It worked for me on several levels, as it was motivational and inspiring, but also educational in that it taught some new stuff. The God Of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism and Justice is co-authored by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling (Jossey-Bass; $21.95.) It is a winner and reading it touched me ways for which I am, yet this morning, grateful.
I know that not all of our readers are as committed to promoting Campolo’s work as I am. As I read his portion of the book, it reminded me why I love him so, and why I’ve been blessed to know him a bit: he combines an unashamed interest in leading others to Christ. He does altar calls, for God’s sake! (Read that sentence again if you need to.) He is outspoken for peace and social justice, but he invites us to be empowered by the Spirit (can you hear him as he says it in that faux-British way that some older evangelicals use, and how he cites from memory the old King James?) I love a guy that still talks about personal evangelism even as he draws on secular sociologists about power structures and uses his storytelling abilities to remind us to be true to Christ and active in the worlds of culture, society and politics. Here, in a way that isn’t surprising, but is refreshing and exciting, he brings together stories of evangelism, conversions, evangelistic preaching, and the need to learn from ancient saints and older spiritual practices. This isn’t new ground for him, really, but it is explicit and fascinating and motivating.
(More needs to be said, I think, on the relationships between evangelism, spirituality and justice. Authors as diverse as Harvie Conn and Richard Foster and Rene Padilla and Becky Pippert and Tom Sine have weighed in over the years. This isn’t the first word on that, nor the last. But it is a very, very good place to keep that conversation going, and I hope it is widely discussed.)
The long middle part is mostly penned by a woman who was raised in a fairly typical—that is, legalistic and pietisitic—evangelical worldview. Her simple faith was very sincere and personal but rarely equipped her to think deeply about the world or experience God in ways other than in the most superficial and dogmatic ways. As she grew into an interest in spirituality, she found herself also moving outward—-think of the story of Catherine of Genoa, if you know it: her obsession with her inner life shattered as Christ called her to the poor and social reformation. Mary Albert Darling does one of the best jobs I’ve seen in describing the methods of St. Ignatius in ways that those not schooled in his complex theology can absorb. That she writes as an evangelical with a growing interest in social justice work makes her an able guide for many BookNotes readers, I’m sure. Darling teaches spiritual formation classes at Spring Arbor college and is especially fluent (as is Campolo) in the Welsyan revivals, his methods of reading spiritual classics in small groups, and ways to incorporate political action iniatives and evangelism, and all things soaked in prayer and an experience of the Spirit’s leading.
Do you long for greater solidtude, and a life that is sane? Are you feeling wiped out this summer, stressed, as I am, overwhelmed even as you hunger for more depth? Ruth Haley Barton is an ally and guide. Sacred Rhythms can help.
Do you, again, as we do here, long for God’s Kingdom to be seen in greater ways in our post-Christian culture? Do you want relevant engagement, prophetic ministry, political and economic reformation? Do you often consider the ways in which the whole creation is groaning—land and animals, too!—and eagerly await, like Romans 8 says, for the whole Earth to be renewed? Perhaps the clear teaching of spiritual methods that can fund and energize your call to action explaining in The God of Intimacy and Action will help. I can’t wait until next Sunday when I can pray and read and reflect more on these two books. May you can order them, and join me in the journey of rest, renewal, revival and reformation?