Maybe you saw that adult Sunday school video I had at my Facebook a few days ago where I talked about the creative side of life, being artful and the call to be culture-makers. It’s a nice introduction — somewhat informed by Calvin Seerveld’s Rainbows for the Fallen World and Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. I don’t view myself as terribly creative, but I’d like to think there is an art to book reviewing. But yet, my work here is more often than not something less than reviewing, certainly not serious criticism. It is more akin to announcing; I’m like the town cryer of old, clanging a bell, hear ye hear ye. I’m promoting, which, granted, can be done crassly with mere self interest or with some generous joie de vivre.
I am a bit sad that these days I do not have time for more serious writing about remarkable books. Each that I am mentioning in this column, for instance, richly deserve a longer, more careful and detailed review but I simply do not have the time or bandwidth, as we say, to do more than tell you how very much I believe in these works, assure you they are well worth reading, describe too quickly why that is. This BookNotes has some very good books and I salute these authors and publishers for offering such fine fare.
I hope you enjoy these generous announcements. These are books you should know about. I want to promote them, and I hope you’ll buy them from us. Order them today at our BookNotes 20% off discount.
Click on the order link at the end of the column which takes you to our secure order form page. Enter your info and we’ll take it from there.
THREE BOOKS for EMOTIONAL WHOLENESS. THREE BOOKS for SPIRITUAL GROWTH.
The Soul of Desire: Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community Curt Thompson (IVP) $27.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $21.60
For Beth and me, this was one of the most eagerly anticipated nonfiction books of this season and once we held the hardcover in our hands, we realized just how very good it really is. We have admired Curt for years and have sold a good number of his first title, The Anatomy of a Soul and his second, the must-read The Soul of Shame. We have sold books with him on several occasions and heard him do key-note talks and all day workshops. Dr. Curt is a thoughtful, evangelical, Board certified psychiatrist with a keen interest (and knowledge of) neurology and brain science. He’s one of our favorite people.
If Thompson’s first book gave us a good introduction to basic neurological stuff to help with basic Christian living — sort of the neuroscience of spiritual formation and discipleship and healthy relationships —the second brought a remarkable overview of the unfolding Biblical story (from Genesis to Revelation — from good creation to radical fall to effective redemption and cosmic restoration) showing how God’s supreme enemy and the forces of evil have used shame to damage our lives and frustrate our human flourishing. Again, he frames this story by and through the lenses of a Biblical worldview but he is also doing some useful teaching about neuroscience (how different parts of the brain register trauma and shame and what can be done.) Dr. Thompson is a working counselor, so there are lots of stories and case studies, well-told and vivid but with a reasonable, reliable tone.
This brand new one which we have for sale now, The Soul of Desire does in greater detail what the Soul of Shame hints at. It offers us new ways to find healing and wholeness; drawing on solid theology and spiritual practice and Biblical insights, Thompson also shows which part of the brain does this or that, and how various sorts of hurts and relational struggles need to be addressed in which ways. He’s a scientist, after all, and a doctor. Although he loves literature and theology and the humanities, he roots his visionary proposals in careful research and sold faith-informed thinking.
And what does he teach? What does he come up with, then? This is brilliant, yet — for those paying attention to many important conversations these days — it seems less surprising than it might have a few decades ago. Part of the answer for broken marriages and hurting individuals and fearful folk of all kinds is to re-orient ones deepest longings. Yes, it was the early church father Augustine who is often cited (see James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love or On the Road with Saint Augustine or the late David Naugle’s Reordered Loves, Reordered Lives) because, Saint A so clearly reminded us about our restless hearts, about how our desires are more indicative of what is in our souls than what we claim we believe. We live more out of our hearts than our heads might be one way to put it. We have to get under the hood (to use an automotive metaphor) and delve more deeply into what’s making us tick, or tick in ways that aren’t altogether healthy. This comes less from our ideas about things, even our theological convictions, and from something more below the surface.
I do not remember much of my college psych courses but I think that with Thompson’s ancient Augustinian orientation (and his 21st century neuroscience) his argument that we need to examine our deepest yearnings, dreams, desires, is not what the Freudians mean by delving below the surface. Getting deep down to the root of our internal problems is nothing new, of course, but in The Soul of Desire, Thompson is tweaking that lingo to show what might be most generative. Believe me, this “going below the surface” is not just psychobabble.
And you know what that exploring below the surface discovers? A longing for beauty.
We needn’t make an idol out of beauty (a la Ode to a Grecian Urn where Keats says “beauty is truth and truth is beauty and that is all ye need to know) or fall for the overstated charm of that Dostoyevsky line that “beauty will save the world,” but there is something deeply true here. Curt sometimes asks those he counsels who are mired in pain and expecting simple formulas for managing their lives what they would like to create. Further, he sometimes shows them paintings — his description of standing before a Mark Rothko work is riveting— and invites them to gaze at beauty, not as a cheap technique, but to invite them into a deeper story, to put them in touch with yearnings they didn’t even know they had. This is deep evangelism, wholistic spirituality, embodied artfulness, allusive goodness, and, apparently, has the latest brain science behind it.
This is so central to Thompson’s proposals in The Soul of Desire that this glorious hardback has several glossy pages included that have full-color reproductions of vivid, abstract works by Makoto Fujimura (who wrote a very nice foreword, too.) The book makes good use of them and Thompson invites readers to participate in a bit of the therapy he offers some of his clients. The chapters “Dwell” and “Gaze” and “Inquire” are very moving and I think will be greatly appreciated by most readers.
Another thing which is central to Thompson’s approach is the formation of what he calls “confessional communities.” These are not ordinary church communities nor are they merely clubs for group therapy. You can read about them and see how this innovation has proven helpful in his own practice and take his guidance about the need for such trusted communities of authenticity and growth in all of our lives. I love one of the chapter titles about all this — “Imagine That — Over and Over And Never Alone.”
Not to spoil much or to make this book of artistic nuance and scientific insight sound overly pious, but the last chapter is truly wonderful. It is called “Practicing for Heaven” and is nothing short of spectacular.
We recommend this very highly — it is doubtlessly one of the great books of 2021. I’m not alone in saying this, though. Listen to these trusted, fellow-promoters:
In his previous books, The Soul of Shame and Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson integrated neuroscience and theology seamlessly, cheering us on in a hopeful, unhurried journey toward healing. In Curt’s new book, The Soul of Desire, he brings it all back to the start, setting us right in the path of God’s beauty. With the skillfulness of a therapist and the earnestness of an evangelist, Curt Thompson implores us to see how God desires for us to create beauty in the context of confessional community–that our lives would be authentically generative, like works of art. –Sandra McCracken, singer-songwriter and author of Send Out Your Light
This is an extraordinary testimony to the power of beauty in a broken and fragmented world. It is extraordinary not simply because of its unusually direct and winsome style, but because of what the author brings to his theme: a professional expertise in neurobiology. More than a testimony, it is also an invitation: to have our deepest desire set alight, our desire for the One from whom all beauty springs. –Jeremy Begbie, Duke University
Curt Thompson’s previous work on shame has been life-transforming for numerous readers. Here he continues his interdisciplinary exploration of one of the elemental human experiences that founds our sense of self–the desire to see and to share beauty. Disarmingly self-disclosing, deeply in touch with Scripture and classic Christian sources, and engagingly conversant with the advances and insights of current neuroscientific research, this book beckons us to a deeper, healing knowledge of ourselves and, ultimately, of God. –Wesley Hill, associate professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary
Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True Calling Dan Allender & Cathy Loerzel (Zondervan) $28.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19
After the introduction — Dan talking about our deep longing for peace, for some imagined journey back to Eden and Cathy’s description of childhood anxiety (including being a clueless guest at an Episcopal church that nearly did her in) — I was hooked. Then, after one of Dan’s characteristically honest, raw stories of coping with a fairly low-level snub, I was really hooked. As with his other many books, Allender honors our hurts and pains, knows the difference between real but not terribly consequential stresses and lasting, awful trauma. No matter what sort of heartache you’ve endured — and hardly any of us have been spared — this new book will bring new insight, new passion, and hopeful ways to embrace hard stuff in your life.
Allender co-founded (with Ms Loerzel) the highly regarded Allender Center at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology (the graduate school in Seattle) and has long been an author and person we esteem. I’m sure in the last few years as I’ve reviewed his latest titles that I have said much about how important several of his older books have been (certainly The Wounded Heart and Healing the Wounded Heart.) By studying and helping those who were sexually abused, he has become deeply sensitive to all sorts of trauma (and the footnotes show how he and his-coauthor know well the state of the literature on trauma, from the work of theologian Serene Jones to Bessel Van der Kolk (who coined the phrase PTSD) to Peter Levine’s magisterial Trauma and Memory. Although this is passionately written and not academic, the footnotes are wonderful, again illustrating their exceptional awareness of the lay of the scholarly land on this topic.
For what it is worth, I really valued Dan’s counter-intuitive book on leadership called Leading with a Limp. His book To Be Told: God Invites Your To Coauthor Your Future is a Hearts & Minds fav and we often recommend it. The one on playfulness in the sabbath (Sabbath in the Ancient Future series edited by Phyllis Tickle) is great. Most of us could use the book on emotional life as shaped by the Psalms (The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God.) I often report that I was blown away by the three chapters on faith, hope, and love, in the book The Healing Path. A recent one was written by his Bible scholar pal, Tremper Longman called God Loves Sex: An Honest Conversation about Sexual Desire and Holiness. This quick listing of even some of his many books illustrates that Dr. Allender has walked with people through a lot of tough stuff and that he is eager to offer hope and healing, without at all minimizing the muck of the messy world we live in. He and his co-writer are not being over-dramatic by calling the fist chapter “The Shattering.” Allender knows about, as chapter three puts it, “Trauma’s Ongoing Cost.” He gets it. We trust him a lot.
Redeeming Heartache: How Past Suffering Reveals Our True Calling has lots of solid information and lots of stories and lots of honesty and lots of hope. There are plenty of books offering encouragement for those facing hard times and this is, certainly, a big cut above most. I think you’ll agree.
(And, yes, they, too, write a bit about interesting brain functions — mostly in the end notes — and they quote Curt Thompson, who has a beautiful and rousing endorsement on the inside.)
One of the unique features (other than it is the first book Dan wrote with a female colleague — a woman younger than he who is now, interestingly, his boss) is that there is a three fold structure they use to get at some of the nature of heartache. This is great!
We hear over and over in the Bible about God’s love and fierce desire to protect the trifecta of vulnerability, the “orphan, widow, and stranger” and they then relate those to the common theological trio of Christ’s roles as “prophet, priest, and king.” So they use the three types of outcasts to illustrate three types of pain, if you will, and then pair those three hurts with three matching redemptive resolutions. Those six chapters make up the strong center pieces of the book. Wow.
The final portion is called “Restoring Shalom.” It looks to be very strong although I’ve not yet gotten there. I think this is particularly where they show that last phrase of the sub-title, where we start to most deeply inhabit our truest callings as humans.As the late-night TV advertisers shout: there’s more! Next, they offer a pretty extensive ‘application guide.” While this could be used for conversation as a discussion guide in a book club or reading group, it seems these personal and poignant questions might be best done in personal reflection or with a small group of intimates. Redeeming Heartache is a great read, but I’m not sure those questions, with their pathos and candor, are the sorts of therapeutic questions your typical book club or even small group will be prepared for. These “application” reflections, though, really do look useful, making this book that much more of a useful resource.
There are two important appendices in the back, appendices sharing two interesting documents. One is called their “Statement on Allender Theory” and the other is “The Enneagram and Allender Theory.” Fascinating.
Listen to PhD Jay Stringer (author of Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing) who studied with them and knows them well:
Every single person has a story of heartache. While we tend to accept that these stories wound us, we don’t always know how trauma shapes the quality of our life and relationships. Dan Allender and Cathy Loerzel are pioneers who have joined to give us this life-altering book. Blending honesty, biblical wisdom, and brilliant guidance, Dan and Cathy offer a framework for understanding how unresolved pain shapes our fears and can cultivate our deepest desire. Redeeming Heartache is a watershed book written to all of us who seek truer, fuller, answers.
The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied Living Hillary McBride (Brazos Press) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99 NOT YET RELEASED — PRE-ORDER releasing October 12, 2021
I can’t say too much about this as I have only skimmed an advanced reader’s review copy, but I can tell you that this looks to be is really substantial stuff; important, considerably so. That we are embodied creatures, who (we must say) believe in a God who became embodied (that’s what we mean by the incarnation) and remained so after a grueling death and physical resurrection, is absolutely foundational for thinking, believing, and living well in our good but fallen world. Don’t you love that old C.S. Lewis quip that God sure must love matter, because He sure made a lot of it? Creation and incarnation and physical matter is very important to Christian faith. God loves stuff.
God must love bodies, too. Our bodies. I think that it is fair to say that McBride is inviting us (as are many others these days) to ask ourselves if we do? This is more than a question regarding our self-esteem, as important as that may be. It is a profound question, wondering if we are comfortable in our own skin. Do our faith and theology and church and spirituality honor our embodied nature? That we are truly physical people, made in God’s image, not souls? An orthodox Biblical theology and lifestyle is centered in the person (that is, the physical person) of Jesus Christ who is Lord of the cosmos. Do we get the implications of that? Do we think that Biblical holiness develops as God’s Spirit makes us into new kinds of human creatures, in the image of Christ, that are fit for a new creation. Which ends up, if the Bible is to be believed, really more of a (re)new(ed) creation, restored, not destroyed. The physicality of all that is often not pondered but it is undeniable. It is not odd that a conservative evangelical thinker such as Dallas Willard had a chapter on the body in his classic The Spirit of the Disciplines.
Well, all that incarnation and bodily resurrection and new creation stuff that I love writing about isn’t the burden of McBride’s important forthcoming book, but it helps us here, BookNotes readers, to be reminded of those foundational theological/spiritual truths; that is the context for why I value a book like this. The creation is real (and “good” according to God), our embodied natures as real creatures is how it is meant to be. God said it was good. Our bodies matter. We are, after all, sons of Adam and daughter of Eve; humans — from the humus. Earthlings.
As a counselor working with some punchy, feminist insights, Hilary McBride does more than begrudgingly name the body as sort of important, but, rather, eagerly honors it, robustly so. She shows that the body can be wise. We can find, as the sub-title puts it, “healing, wholeness, and connection” through embodied living. As the very first chapter puts it, we are to be “Fully Alive.” Right on! This carries a very different tone than a number of “body books” that evangelical men have written this season (and there are several, such as Sam Allbery’s What God Has to Say About Our Bodies published by Crossway and John Kleining’s Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body published by Lexham.) The Wisdom of Your Body is a very different sort of book. Kudos to publisher Brazos, always a publisher to bring us intriguing, even surprising books.
There is some big picture, incisive diagnostic work that McBride is doing here. The second chapter is on how we became so disembodied, looking at “lies about our bodies and finding our way home.” Some will be a bit surprised by this, I think, and it is provocative and vital. The powerful third chapter is called “The Body Overwhelmed: Healing the Body from Stress and Trauma.” Yet another chapter explores how we tend to see our bodies, about appearance and image and demeaning outside influences. You know that’s some heavy s-h-i-t right there, right?
(By the way, for evangelical women with garden variety body issues, helpful stuff keeps coming out. The popular Christian blogger and podcaster Jess Connolly just released Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good on Zondervan and it will be a blessing to many — it has great blurbs on the back from popular names in those circles such as Ruth Chou Simons, Jennie Allen, Katherine Wolf, Rebekah Lyons, and Jamie Ivey.)
Throughout Hillary McBride’s The Wisdom of Your Body, this therapist and critical scholar with an activist tone cites important theorists — Carol Gilligan, say, and popular advocates for body positivity (like the stunning The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor.) McBride is not particularly writing about Biblical teaching or even developing a comprehensive “theology of the body” (the way, say, Gregg Allison does in his recent Embodied: Living as a Whole Person in a Fractured World or as Stephanie Paulsell does in her lovely Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice; it is a far cry from, say Nancy Pearcey’s important Love Thy Body which affirms traditionalist views of gender and sexuality.) No, McBride is writing as a therapist and invites us to pay attention to what is going on in our physicality. Wisdom of Your Body is heavier and perhaps more intense than the gracious and wonderful Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bones by Tara M. Owens, a book I love, but, like that good book, it is inviting us to undo the unbiblical and unhelpful “spirit body divide.” In the words of one of McBride’s chapters, she is helping us realize that we inhabit “holy flesh.”
At the end of each chapter there are conventional study questions (“Some Things To Think About”) and there are also more embodied experiences (“Some Things To Try.”) Although informed by contemporary philosophy (not every self-help book has footnotes about the self suggesting Sartre’s Being and Nothingness) it is designed to be helpful, a balm and guide for those with commonplace shames and pains — she knows a bit about massage therapy and the like — and for those who are socially and politically oppressed or who have been cruelly violated. McBride knows about liberation theology and thinkers on the more progressive side of the faith community. (You may know her as a co-host of The Liturgist podcast.) She is deeply skeptical of the dehumanizing forces of some expressions of Christian faith and how some modern secular and religious ideologies legitimize violence, especially against women and people of color. She is prophetic in drawing on Arthur Waskow and Andre Lorde and Rosemary Ruether, and inspiring when citing the lovely Grounded: Finding God in the World-A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass. Much of the book is full of practical guidance and helpful ideas. McBride helps us (and I know this sounds cliched) get in touch with our feelings; her stuff about “feeling feelings” and “getting to know the emotional body” will be very, very helpful to many and is rooted in some important research on the connections between the body and our emotions. There’s a reason we talk about feeling something “in our gut” and she helps learn to pay attention to that.
(I wondered if she knows about the brand new Body Connections: Body-Based Spiritual Care by pastoral counseling prof at Wesley Theological Seminary Michael Koppel, who is a teaching elder in the PC(USA.))
I want to re-read the chapter “You Are Not Broken: A New Perspective on Pain, Illness, and Injury.” I love that she quotes several times one of my favorite memoirs of last year, the fiesty and fun and very moving Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig. I know McBride is candid not only about her own eating disorders and physical injuries, but about pain and illness. I think we need more books on this. (One I recommend that is less scholarly and more intentionally written out of a Biblical spirituality is the excellent Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness by Liuan Huska published by IVP.)
There are a few chapters on sensuality (and there is reading pleasure here — she is a good storyteller and fine writer) although she also teaches a bit about brain studies and our gloriously complicated anatomy. There are chapters on sexuality and, yep, on sexual pleasure. She is wise in inviting us to consider desire and longing and delight.
The Wisdom of Your Body is a heady, serious book loaded with deep scholarship and practical application, with delightful (and sometimes, horrible) stories and healthy guidance to help us live as the embodied persons we are. There is some creation-based spirituality — think Richard Rohr, for instance — but it isn’t chatty about faith, discipleship, or Biblical principles. For some, that will disqualify it but we want to commend it to be read discerningly, talked about with others, taken seriously. The topic is important, Dr. McBride’s passion is palpable, and this is a major work. If you pre-order it we will gladly send it when it arrives in early October, at our 20% off discount.
This one is brand new and we are simply delighted to tell you about it — it has a bit of a backstory but the short version is that Katie is a seasoned spiritual director, deeply rooted in the evangelical world but increasingly drawn to the spiritual rhythms of the liturgical church and the quiet nudges of the Spirit discerned in contemplative practices and the resources of the Ignatian tradition. Sound familiar?
Katie told me that she did not set out to write a book; she knows the creative life well and has been involved in plenty of artistic and social justice projects; she has a busy schedule of leading retreats and being soul friends with bunches of spiritual directees. She’s a mentor and life coach (and a certified Enneagram coach as well — what fun!) As you probably know, most spiritual directors are not too directive as they guide others but they learn to ask good questions of those they are helping; they are comfortable sitting with silence, are deeply prayerful and earnest in discerning God’s guidance. I suspect Katie is not the first one certified in offering such spiritual guidance who eventually realized that maybe God was speaking to her, too. Yes, yes, we can invite others to use tools like the ancient Examen prayer to discern God’s daily action in our daily lives. But what happens when the director gets some Divine direction? Hence, All the Things: A 30 Day Guide…
So, when a humble and gentle spiritual guide admits she didn’t set out to write a book, let alone seek fame as an author, but felt compelled to pick up her pen, and when I believe such a testimony (as I do with Ms Haseltine) I take notice. Such projects are the real deal, not driven by a desire for fame or fortune. Beth and I studied this book a bit and concluded not only that Katie was led by God to offer this resource, but that I needed it myself. Okay, that may be TMI, but there you have it. All the Things is a book I’m not going to peruse just so I can describe it to customers, but read for my own life and my own times. Do you ever worry about the state of your soul? I worry about myself sometimes.
(That Katie starts out this book saying that “praying the Examen rescued me” is almost jarring. But yet, I get it. As she tells a bit of her harried life a few years back, facing burn out and how her “head was full but her heart was empty”, I realized that there are probably a lot of good folks who need to join her on this road to discovery of a better way. Part of that, she mentions early on, is the shift from being merely right to being loved. As we all continue to face hard times in these complicated days, we need this shift.)
This brand new book, All the Things, is a simple guide to that one part of the spiritual direction of Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish Catholic scholar and pastor and almost mystic who lived in the 1500s — that generative time when the Protestant Reformation was moving through Europe — and help found the order known as the Society of Jesus, or, more commonly, the Jesuits. His guide for pastors is complex, but the part of it — “praying your highs and lows” as she puts it — called the Examen prayer is increasingly recognized as an effective tool to help us reflect on God’s presence in our lives. It invites us to see where God showed up, where we’ve failed to notice, and how we might find God’s glory anew. It is at once profoundly God-centered and also simply practical for real-world folk. Despite its older reputation, it involves more than confessing sin and asking for forgiveness (although that is obviously a part of anyone’s daily piety) and in recent years has been increasingly celebrated as a keen way to help us attend to God’s guidance in and through the ordinary.
One of the great little books we’ve sold in the last few years that inspires us to creatively use this simple formula of Ignition prayer and “The Examen” is Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day by Mark Thibodeaux, published, of course, by Loyola Press. I’ve read and re-read the great introduction several times… Katie herself wisely commends Margaret Silf’s book, The Inner Compass: An Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality.
While there are many books on the Ignatian practices and several that focus on the Examen, we can happily now add Katie Haseltine’s All The Things to the list of most helpful resources which show us how to appropriate the ancient treasures of the Examen Prayer.
Allow me to note just a quick thing or two: All the Things is not a heavy treatise on Jesuit theology or Ignatian spirituality or even a fully detailed study of the Examen. It is nearly a workbook, delightful and useful, practical and inviting, by an energetic and practically minded guide. It would make a great introduction to this tradition and practice and it would be also good for those who have done this spiritual stuff for a while. It is fresh, simple, upbeat, and helpful. She tells stories and invites us to try things that will help us day by day by day.
Also, it is — as it should be — finally, all about love. In fact, in the summary of the book on the back cover it says that Katie is inviting us, as her readers and fellow-participants in this prayer practice, to “lay hold of love— love of God, self, and others.” Isn’t that finally what you hunger for? Isn’t that much of what true spirituality is about? If this daily devotional type resource can help you experience this ancient prayer which can help you love and be loved, isn’t that nearly immeasurable?
There is another thing that the Examen helps with and it is exceptionally important. As many have noted, one of the brilliant aspects of (and fruits of) this old prayer habit is that it helps us discern God calling to us in the mundane stuff of daily life. Who doesn’t want to “practice the presence”? Who doesn’t believe that God is with us 24/7, even as we live all of our lives in and through and for Christ? From the ancient Celts who found God in the creation to modern, reformational worldview scholars that insist all of life is being redeemed, from the monks who “pray the hours” to the recent interest in (as Tish Warren puts it) “the liturgy of the ordinary,” there is a hunger for faith that breaks into and transforms our seemingly mundane moments. Who doesn’t want to connect Sunday and Monday, faith and life, God and the quotidian? Ignatius hungered for that and it is through this prayer habit that Katie started to more clearly “notice God’s presence, attention, and activity in every day life.”
Here are just two of many who have endorsed this great little book:
If you’ve ever wondered where to find God in your mundane moments and groundhog days, All the Things is a good place to start. Katie Haseltine will teach you to pray in a forgiving, inviting, and flexible way. She doesn’t offer easy answers, but her battle scars make her a trustworthy guide.” —Steve Wiens, Pastor, Genesis Covenant Church, author of Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life and Shining Like the Sun
Sometimes we simply know. The first time I met Katie Haseltine, we were sitting together in the Art House in Nashville, and I listened, intrigued by her thoughtful passion for all things that should be. And now, over many years, my respect has only deepened as her life has deepened. She has worked hard to form her heart after the heart of God, and I have watched with affection and respect as she gives herself away to others, for others. I pray that this new book will bring her commitments and love to a wider world, a hope I have long had. All the Things is for everyone, everywhere, who longs for what should be, for what someday will be. — Steven Garber, author, The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good
7 Ways to Pray: Time-Tested Practices for Encountering God Amy Boucher Bye (NavPress) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
We have known of Amy Boucher Bye for years (we crossed paths decades ago when she worked with author and public speaker Os Guiness.) Over those decades she has moved to the UK, has studied Christian spirituality, earned a serious degree from the University of London, has published books and articles and devotionals, and has worked in evangelical ministry while raising a family. She is beloved and respected around the world.
This book is one that fills a certain kind of niche and we are very, very pleased to tell you about it; t us the kind of book that we are always on the look-out for but (to be honest) is harder to come by than you might think. It is almost counter-intuitive that such a basic, clear, earnest, spiritually-minded book written with chatty storytelling and nice testimony would be such a stand out. Isn’t there a whole industry of evangelical self help books, of pious and Biblically-based inspiration? Yes, but few that are as rooted in the broad and wide Christian communion and the ancient teachings of church history. And that, dear readers, makes 7 Ways to Pray nearly an anomaly. It is about the most clear-headed and basic (and I mean that as a compliment) guide to ancient prayer practices you are ever going to find.
Those that follow BookNotes or browse here at Hearts & Minds know that we love this whole genre of the literature of spiritual formation. Celebration of Discipline remains an essential read, one of the best books of our lifetime. We stock a lot of books like this, from heavyweights like the desert fathers and Orthodox mystics to Thomas Merton to the lovely and wise Henri Nouwen, from ancient classics like Theresa of Avila (and Theresa of Lisieux) to the more modern evangelical channels of this stuff such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Ruth Haley Barton) and to the fiesty and progressive appropriations (see, for instance, Mirabai Starr’s Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics.)
But yet, as Godly and deeply spiritual as most of these authors are, they are often just too deep for many of us. (One friend joked that he gets lost in hallways of the Interior Castle.) And for those raised with the passionate and intimate language of evangelical revivalism and devotional piety of that sort, hearing about even the Examen (let alone prayer beads or icons) just doesn’t work. Sure, some make the effort and have a trusting heart so they forge into deeper waters with guides that sound a little odd to them. (I can’t tell you how often traditional, serious Protestants have looked askance if I suggest Richard Foster since he knows the Catholic monks so well.) What we need is a translator, a clear writer who can simply tell of her own walk with the Lord and how these older, deeper saints can help us in our own discipleship.
And, as I suppose you can guess, Amy Boucher Pye is just that woman. Did I mention she writes for Our Daily Bread? She has this knack for telling a nice story to serve as a nice illustration, dropping into these accesible sermonettes, rich, thoughtful quotes from Bernard of Clairvaux or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Madam Guyon or Teresa of Avila or John Wesley. What a combo, lovely storytelling prose, Bible teaching, and intellectually solid spiritual guides to give it gravity.
There have been others who have introduced ordinary evangelically-minded folk wanting to deepen their devotional lives to the practices of the ancients. I’ve mentioned Richard Foster, an evangelical Quaker, who is nearly charismatic, so full of the Holy Spirit’s joy of the Lord. The founder or Regent College in British Columbia, James Houston knows these older writers well and introduced many a conservative, Reformed thinker to their sweet mysteries. The upbeat marriage and family writer, Gary Thomas, has written nicely about spirituality drawing on the monks and mystics but writing as a popular, evangelical communicator. One of my favorite books along these lines is heavier — maybe too meaty for some — is by Gary Neal Hansen, who wrote Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers in which he shows how to practice the various styles, techniques, and approaches from church “giants” from Luther and Calvin, Benedict and Theresa, Ignatius and Andrew Murray, and more. It is a masterpiece of a book, but not every young Christian wanting to learn to pray is willing to read about Puritans and monks and priests.
Which, again, is what sets 7 Ways to Pray apart. Even the title might appeal to those with formulaic instincts, moderns who want to be offered simple and orderly ways to proceed. And she is a great teacher, a fun storyteller, a tender prayer warrior. But she is rooted in these ancient thinkers and contemplative practices. She indeed does what Gary Hansen says to do: she kneels with the giants. And comes back to tell us all about it, plain as day.
Amy starts this book with a very relatable story about an adolescent hurt experienced at church camp. I was hooked. A caring counselor wrote her a letter and decades later she realizes that this invited her into a more intimate relationship with God and called her to want to nurture that relationship. She began to wonder just what prayer really was and how to have a conversation with this God that she believed loved her.
Have you been there, wishing for just a little more connection with God, a little more meaning (and, let’s face it, success) in our halting steps towards praying? She has been there. Like many great books about prayer, she is honest about that. In this life-long work there are no simple answers.
But there are practices that have been taught and that have endured and in each of these seven chapters she nicely explains one of them. She is sharp and a fine writer, but I don’t commend this book mostly for luminous prose or for ruminations of deep mystery. This is just good, solid, spiritual guidance about how to pray, drawing on various classic themes.
For instance, she explains, firstly, how to pray with the Bible. (And her evangelical love for the Word is evident.) Next, she moves to how to pray with the Bible and nice guides us through experiences of Lectio Devina. She has a great chapter on “practicing the presence of God” and another on listening prayer.
Not every book on prayer has a chapter on lament but she offers good wisdom about crying out to God. Further, not every evangelically orthodox book on prayer invites us to “pray with your imagination.” That chapter (called “Entering the Story”) is very good and many will be inspired, I’m sure.
The last chapter called “Remembering in Prayer: How to Move Forward by Looking Back” is wonderful, a lovely and plain lesson on (you guessed it) the Prayer of the Examen as taught by Ignatius of Loyola.
There are some other stories and afterwords inviting us to this kind of prayer that is, as Amy puts it, “an adventure with God.” One of the great features is the “For Further Reading” section where she has brief and spot-on annotations on a couple of the best books for further study in each of these seven classic ways to pray. Her book is a lovely invitation, almost a manual; and she does give guidance complete with bullet points, and instructional suggestions and application bits and Bible lessons galore. It will whet your appetite and drive you to pray and to want to read more, I’m sure.
There are, also, alongside the prayer ideas for individual readers there are unique group prayer guides for those using this in a small group setting.
Congrats to Ms Pye for these “time tested practices for encountering God.” It fills a need for a very simple read, conversational and warm, down-to-Earth but so solidly informed by really sophisticated stuff. We are happy to suggest it to you or your group.
A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for The Goodness of Limits Ashley Hales (IVP) $17.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60
Again, like most of the above books, this new one by Ashley Hales has been on our list of the most eagerly anticipated books of the season. I was so thrilled when it came, I almost didn’t want to open it — I wanted to be in a calm and special place so I could savor it. That cover, that open window, made me just want to go further up and further in.
I’ll admit that one of the reasons I looked forward to A Spacious Life is because I just adored her incredibly nice book Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much. I loved that sort of sociology of place coupled with seeking an intentional and aware style of discipleship cultivated in light of the obstacles and pressures of living in suburbia. I’ve reviewed it a time or two and highlighted why I think it was so wise and so rare — a nicely-written spirituality book with a sense of place; a critique of the ethos of American suburbia that had as its goal the formation of a holy sort of way in the world. A book fully aware of how the story and ideals and practices of the suburbs (and the American Dream more generally) needed to be counter-balanced by a different sort of story, a gospel story. Anyway, I admire her grit and grace and her accesible but thoughtful writing. I’m glad that she is increasingly known as a writer, podcaster, speaker and advocate for real-world faith.
Which brings us to this new one. Maybe it is inspired somewhat by some of the insights from her suburbs book, but this one is, again, about our creatureliness, how our faith develops as embedded in a place. And (see above) it is unavoidably embedded in a body. We are creatures with — news alert! — limits.
Hales is not the first to write about this, but I trust her spiritual instincts (and her theological chops; she has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh.) In this sense, perhaps A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry… is somewhat in the same ballpark as Mandy Smith’s splendid The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry or maybe about submission to “the givenness of things” for which Wendell Berry is known.
I can tell you this: I have not read this yet and am waiting for that bit of time to open up for me so I can savor it. I need a spacious life and I am not sure I can get rid of hustle, let alone hurry. I know that our creaturely limits are part of the reality of our beloved embodiedness in the world as God made it. But still… this is going to be hard for workaholic me and A Spacious Life will be a grace. Maybe it could be for you, too.
There are plenty of books about slowing down. John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry was a big one this past year (and next week the sequel, Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace, will release and we already have a bunch of pre-orders for that.) Bethke Jefferson two years ago wrote To Hell with the Hustle: Reclaiming Your Life in an Overworked, Overspent, and Overconnected World. But Hales is a writer of great insight and craft and hers will be worth pondering. And what great citations in the footnotes (always the mark of a good writer who is a good reader.) She helpfully draws in Leslie Newbigin and Steve Garber, Tish Harrison Warren and Walt Brueggemann, Fleming Rutledge and Jamie Smith. This is certainly going to be one of my favorite books of the year, even if I have to read it twice to learn to live even some of its wisdom. I want to slow down and try to create some — or, better, receive from God — some spacious bit of life. Why don’t you order it, gaze at the invitation on the cover, and when the time is right, take it up?
There are discussion questions for A Spacious Life and the 13 chapters (each with the subtitle of “An Invitation to…” would make a great small group read.
Listen to what these other good writers are saying:
In this book, Ashley offers us a glimpse of the steady beauty that a small life can provide. Interspersed with descriptions of everyday beauty that we so often overlook, she invites us to slow down and savor the fullness of Christ manifested in every moment. She invites us to find respite from the noisy, squawking world that so often distracts us–to find rest (and purpose) in Jesus. Reading her writing is a wonderful first step to the restfulness of which she speaks. It is a balm for a weary soul. –Jasmine Holmes, author of Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope
Most of us in the West are trying to do too much. We wear ourselves out with our mad dash to make something of ourselves and secure a sense of significance. In A Spacious Life, Ashley Hales shows us a better path of flourishing by meditating on the goodness of creaturely limits and the wise way of Jesus. Her theologically rich and pastoral invitation to slow down is a needed tonic in our culture of ambition and excess. –Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night
From limitations to flourishing, Ashley Hales takes us by the hand and walks us forward into a new freedom that is really an old freedom. She offers the good news that the good life is not what we expected, but it’s right here in front of us, waiting between the boundary lines of our limitations. A Spacious Life is a welcoming invitation to consider that a smaller life means bigger love. –Sandra McCracken, singer-songwriter and recording artist, author of the forthcoming Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song
Nearly every other voice in our culture calls us to defy and detest limits, which is why it is so important for us to understand the different ways proper limits are not only good but essential to human flourishing. Dr. Ashley Hales has written a welcoming, biblically rich, and well-researched book that invites us to live a spacious life. Her painfully relatable stories of life in the contemporary world are paired with insightful cultural analysis, scriptural wisdom, and beautiful prayers to help readers see the goodness in embracing God-given limitations. — Alan Noble, author of Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age and the forthcoming You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World
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