Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski

The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My LifeThe Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life by Michael Yankoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Father Solomon spoke again, and the shaking of my foundation continued. "The God who called you into existence ex nihilio—out of nothing—is the same God who holds you in existence this moment and every moment. Were he to withdraw his hand, you would vanish wihtout memory. All things would. No, you can't make God love you. You can't make God like you. But nor do you need to; he already does. Never forget that is why he made you—because he wants you to exist. He wants you to live life in all its fullness."
Now this is interesting. What happens when a Protestant motivational speaker realizes he is in perpetual inner turmoil, goes to a monastery to rest for a week, and takes a monk's advice to explore spiritual practices for a more authentic encounter with God? Is there a way to live intentionally that shapes us so we can better catch God's wind in our sails and "allow Him to move us?"

Catholicism has a long tradition of various disciplines designed to help believers do this. Not every Catholic practices such disciplines. It just depends on the person. Yankoski's dive into different spiritual practices is a bit more extreme than the average Catholic, I'd say, because he's meeting every few weeks with a spiritual director and their conversations lead him from one discipline into another.

This is interesting me both as a Catholic and as someone who too often skirts the shallow end of the pool. Which is probably why the Patheos book club began soliciting Catholics to read this book.

Right from the beginning this book is compelling. I'm more or less familiar with most of the practices that Yankoski engages with. Some are part of me, like lectio divina, and keeping the Sabbath. Others I dance around, trying and leaving, then returning to again occasionally. Yet others I have sampled and found not to be helpful.

Every chapter in the book had at least one moment that made me more aware. I've practiced keeping the Sabbath for several years now. And so while I was nodding my head at some of Yankoski's realizations on that topic, he also had some wonderful moments like this one which opened my eyes.
One thing this Sacred Year is beginning to show me is how each of these spiritual practices can work like an antidote to some of the more poisonous aspects of our culture today. Tey are refreshing and life giving, whereas so often the habits and methods I've developed in my frenzied, stressed-out life are deadly poisons. The spiritual practices work like balm on wounds,healing even if painful at first.

Thus silence counteracts noise. And contemplation counteracts commodification.

Might Sabbath counteract the idol of the self-made man?

No wonder I mocked Sabbath at first: idols always die hard.
I have to say there are some practices that I had a hard time accepting that the author was coming to completely unawares, such as being aware of how our lives often affect those who are less fortunate (think Chinese children working in shoe factories sort of situations). That is, after all, one of the cries of conscience of our secular society, to be aware of how privilege comes at such a cost. However, perhaps it had never occurred to him to connect it with faith somehow. However, even these chapters had moments that were valuable for me.

This book is inspirational for any Christian who struggles with how to be "in the world" and yet not "of the world." That is a line that both Catholic and Protestant struggle with. If we read enough history, we know that it is also something that not only modern people have struggled with. Michael Yankoski discovered that turning to these spiritual traditions eases the way to help us "live life in all its fullness" ... and he shares that discovery with us.

I really enjoyed this book and will be rereading it.

Note: I wish they'd have included an appendix briefly explaining how to do some of the traditional practices (like the Examen).

The review copy was provided by the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for Patheos to feature their books. My review is my own based solely on the book's merits.

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