In my quest to make more space for God in my life, I’ve read books on spiritual disciplines.
Lots of them.
Lots and lots, actually.
Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Ruth Haley Barton, Thomas Merton, Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, and Charles Ringma have all shaped my theology and practice.
So when my new friend Michael asked me to review and advanced copy of his new book, The Sacred Year, I was honoured to have been asked, eager to see what he would add to what is already a rich conversation.
Working as I do with emergent leaders in our city, most of whom are in their 20’s and early 30’s, I am always on the lookout for resources that can fuel their heart for the Person and the mission of Jesus. This is one such resource, and I plan to use it for our New Monastic Internships and as a key equipping tool for local churches.
Michael is a lyrical writer. With his wit and candour, he draws you into his journey to explore the deeper life. He is a thoughtful practitioner, not a mere theorist, and many of his practices (some of them a little zany, truth be told) took him and will take his readers out of their comfort zones and into new spiritual territory. He is honest. He is courageous. He is contagious.
This book is the spiritual journey of everyman. It is easy for us to elevate the “professional pray-ers” or the “vocational mystics”, our modern day Desert Fathers and Mothers, and disqualify ourselves from a deeper life of devotion and obedience to Christ. But Michael is just a regular guy, like the rest of us. If Michael can do it, I can do it. You can do it.
In our context here in Hamilton we are seeing lifestyles of prayer, mission and justice becoming more prevalent – normal Christian living, if you will. Michael lives that lifestyle and calls others to join him in a way that is compelling and infectious.
The book isn’t out yet, but you don’t have to wait long! You can pre-order here or read more about it at www.thesacredyear.com.
Something was rattling around inside, like, hmm, how to describe it? Indigestion of the spirit maybe?
“I’ll go to bed early. I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning.”
Come morning however, it had only intensified. A groaning and rumbling deep inside, like a bear in a cave waking up from hibernation.
Finally, I clued in. I was burden bearing. I’ve written about this before in my blog, here and here.
I was in the kitchen alone, making pancakes for the house. Mindless work. So I went on pancake autopilot and attended to the groaning.
To His groaning.
I didn’t try to figure it out. I just tuned in to the rumble and sat with the feelings. Grief, pain, sadness. I prayed in the Spirit a bit. The closest I could get to articulating anything was ‘come, Lord Jesus’.
By the time we sat down to eat pancakes, it had passed. Whatever it was, it had been prayed through.
After pancakes, our housemates check in and pray with each other. I told them about my morning groaning, and in our intercession time, they prayed that I would have insight into what it had been about.
I realized though, that I don’t need to know what it is about. My modern, Western mind would like to be able to articulate and categorize things. But sometimes there are groans too deep for words, and sometimes it is enough to attend to the murmerings of the Holy Spirit, deep within.
Catholics classify prayer as kataphatic or apophatic. Simply put, kataphatic prayer is the prayer of words or images. Apophatic prayer is inarticulate, wordlessly attending to the Presence of Jesus within. We as Western Evangelicals are much more familiar and comfortable with the former. I am discovering in my journey in prayer, though, that with greater frequency I’m being drawn to a place beyond words, into the place simply of His Presence.
And sometimes His groanings. As He grieves over all the calamity in this world, is it not surprising that He would invite us to groan with Him? To accompany Him in His grief?
in the third century, devout believers fled the cities and set up camp in the desert. There they pursued lifestyles of extravagant devotion, characterized by prayer, solitude, silence, and fasting. Pilgrims would come and visit, seeking the Lord alongside these holy men and women we now call the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
After the vigours of prayer truck, we also fled the city and spent two weeks at Kirks’ sister’s cottage north of Huntsville. When doing urban ministry, especially front line work, it’s important from time to get away from concrete and into the bush.
In early years, I found much to my dismay, that I didn’t do a lot of praying on my vacation. I realized that somehow I had begun to associate prayer with my job. An embarrassing revelation, to say the least. The last thing I want to be is a “professional pray-er!”
It became important for me to find out what the difference between “vacating” and “re-creating” was. It’s easy to vacate, to zone out. Eat too much, bombard our senses with entertainment and media. I would glut on fiction books – lying around and reading 800 pages a day of fluff and nothing. And then wonder why I didn’t feel restored.
What would it look like for me to identify some activities that were truly re-creational? That enliven my heart and spirit, and awaken my heart to my Creator rather than sending myself into a stupor.
I also don’t do well with lots of unstructured time. I start feeling depressed and sluggish. They say in AA, failing to plan is planning to fail, so now I go into my vacation time with a plan.
I took one of my favourite books on Spiritual Formation, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, and started my day reading and doing some of the excellent spiritual exercises at the end of each chapter. The exercises are probing and cause me to dig deep into God and into my own psyche. Cottage time is good time to do some of the deeper inner work required for spiritual health, and Barton is a trustworthy guide into the realm of the Spirit and my own soul.
And I journal. Three pages every day. I call them the morning pages, and it’s a practice I picked up from Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. I can write about anything, even about not wanting to write! But it helps me process life, talk to God in a focused way, and write down what I hear Him saying in response.
In response to a challenge by Barton, I started a daily Examen, where with the Holy Spirit, I examine each day for signs of His presence and work around me, and assess how I’ve come alongside Him or been at cross purposes with Him. It’s an ancient Ignatian form of prayer, and I’m finding it very helpful in my quest to be more alive to His presence in and around me.
I do read as well. Fiction even! But I’m fussy about what I read. I want stuff that is gentle, that feeds my spirit and is full of life. It’s tricky to find good fiction that doesn’t have defiling bits in it, but with the help of friends I’m compiling a list. I also read non fiction in my field, and this year at the cottage read three books by new friends that I made at the New Monastic Consultation last month in BC. Slow Church by Chris Smith, and The Sacred Year and Under the Overpass by Michael Yankoski. Michael has asked me to write a review of The Sacred Year prior to it’s release and sent me a pre-release copy. I loved it and you all need to read it, and I will devote a whole blog to it shortly.
Cottage is time for puttering as well. Cooking, getting wood for the wood stove. Quiet work with my hands. Very soul filling for me. I even did some more felting!
Kirk and I began doing a daily Lectio Divina each day together and we are slowly prayer-reading and meditating our way through the gospel of Mark. He’s not much of a reader, so some evenings I would just read him the highlighted bits of books I was reading, and share my learning.
We did also watch some movies, and we also have a family tradition of watching episodes of Home Improvement at the cottage as well. But I felt that it was in good balance with our other activities.
All said, it turned into a lovely 2 week long spiritual retreat for me individually and for Kirk and I as a couple. We had some good conversations about life, ministry, and the way forward together.
And we also had the opportunity to offer hospitality to pilgrims! Some friends came up, and it was good to spend time together in prayer and then send them off in a canoe to hang out with Jesus.
Silence. Solitude. Wilderness places. Loving pilgrims who came our way.
I could totally live like this – maybe Kirk and I inspire a movement of cottage mothers and fathers!