Friday, February 11, 2011

Finding Our Way Again review

Brian McLaren had a profound impact on my faith about 10 years ago when a friend recommended I read A New Kind of Christian.  Since then, I haven't agreed with all he's written but I still find him worth paying attention to.  When I received the opportunity to review his latest book through the BookSneeze.com program, I knew I couldn't pass it up.

Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices sets the tone for the Ancient Practices Series, which explores early spiritual disciplines.  It seems important to discuss why we practice spiritual disciplines in the first place before studying specific ones more in depth.

Chapter 2 alone made the book worth reading, a good sign for what portended. 
"Well tended, your character will be a fragrant garden, an artist's home, with walls and halls full of memories and beauty, a party with live music and good jokes and pleasant conversations in every corner. You'll be good and deep company for others and yourself. That's why, through the ages, people have tried to find ways to tend themselves, to do for their souls what exercise does for their bodies or study for their minds. Through these character exercises, they give birth to the person they are proud of becoming, the person they are happy to be, the one who is trying to be born in them every day- a hero, a best friend, a loving beloved, and a beloved lover." -p. 12
In the reading, McLaren shares a few reasons for the importance of practicing spiritual disciplines.
1. Spiritual practices help us narrow the gap between the person we are and the person we want to become.
2. They help us be people who see, hear, and experience the world around us.  They help us rediscover the beauty of life and living.
3. In these two things, we are drawn to God and more alert to His presence.  "Becoming awake and staying awake to God," as McLaren puts it.
4. Spiritual disciplines shape us into people who practice peace, joy, self-mastery, and justice.  And this makes all the difference in the world.

The book goes on to clarify how spiritual disciplines are classified, whether contemplative, communal, or missional.  Still, the specifics of the disciplines themselves are saved for the other books in the series.  This truly is an overview.  You might not find it valuable to read this precursor but I found it to be helpful to explore the heart and faith behind this movement.

The examination of via illuminativa was most intriguing of all to me.  The final section of the book devotes itself to the ancient practices.  This served as both a lesson in church history and in awakening my spirit.  Via illuminativa sees everything, all of life, in the light of God.  This light tells us that God is everywhere and reveals the magnitude of His character, or at least as much of His character as we'll ever understand.
"Light, like God, relativizes time and space and thus renders us part of something big and beautiful and fast and timeless and mysterious and wonderful and colorful...and spiritual" (p. 163.)
I found the discussion on via illuminativa to be utterly beautiful.  And then came the passage on the other side of the coin.  Where there is light, there has been darkness.  When we experience a dark night of the soul, we long for light ever more.  When we've recovered, we see that there are gifts in such an experience, even if only that we have a greater appreciation for light.  Having experienced such a time in my life, it was helpful to read about via illuminativa and frame that period in another way.

Perhaps that is what spiritual disciplines become: a way of reframing our lives.  It helps us remember who we were and Who we are striving toward. 

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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