75 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Beyond Beautiful - or - It's Wednesday - But Sunday's A Comin'
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has said, "Theology is not best understood as a system -- narrative might have something to do with theology."[i] Narrative is fine Stanley - but I'd like some tools that have practical application to my life, and those around me, as a person of faith. I'd also like some boots on the ground authenticity from the real life experiences of a fellow sojourner.
Enter Brian McLaren - Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words Here's the honest truth about the impact this book had on my life:
I had just finished Chapter 20 "Why - When You Have Come to Zero." My wife arrived home from work. She began to prepare dinner and I wandered into the kitchen to catch up together on the day's events - an uneventful Wednesday.
As we stood there chatting, the phone rang. It was our daughter Liz calling from her home in Utah. Liz and her fiancée Aaron had buried Aaron's mother on Monday - just two days ago. They had just received a phone call - Aaron's father had been killed in a car crash.
We concluded the tearful call with our daughter. I went into another room and sat silently - questions, remorse, sorrow, anger, dismay, confusion - ricocheting throughout my being. We ate half our dinner and adjourned to a couch. Jacki looked at me - sorrow and befuddled are two words that were embossed on her facial expression. We were both at zero - in shock - wounded - naked and fully exposed to the unconscionable in life. I leaned forward, grabbed my reading glasses and Brian's book. I turned to the first page of Chapter 20 and read the chapter aloud to my wife.
I looked up and closed the book. "Beautiful?" I remarked, gazing at my wife. - "Beyond Beautiful," she replied - as restorative waves of soothing, healing truth rolled through our souls.
In Naked Spirituality - A Life With God in 12 Simple Words Brian McLaren gets real with God, with life, the seasons inherent within human existence - sharing his boots on the ground experience as a fellow sojourner. Another formulaic, step-by-step, overly simplistic, bogus promise-laden landmine from an over-caffeinated evangelical Christian? Not Hardly.
At this stage in life, I need to learn from the experience of others...others who live in my world...the real world - the world of faith that Brian McLaren lives in. I'm worn out on opinions, perspectives and narrative nonsense of people trying to sell books - suggesting that "if you do this, you'll be fine."
In this book, Brian shares his own personal life lessons that are raw, real and uncut. McLaren's dance with language provides hues of color that I had overlooked in the life of. He provides vistas and vantage points where the reader can stand side-by-side with him gazing beyond what we are presently able to visualize. There's no artificial ingredients in the flavors McLaren serves up.
Take a seat with Brian McLaren - at his table - The table of life with the living God. Enjoy the feast that Naked Spirituality provides - one course at a time. Savor the tender, succulent, mysterious seasonings contained in each course: Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, Yes and Silence.
No, this is not another fast-food systematic theology or another bland narrative. For us, Naked Spirituality is a unique and nutritious innovation from Brian McLaren - as he continues to evolve his craft in delivering fare for the faithful. There's one thing that separates Brian from the rest of the authors in faith and culture - he has eaten his own stuff before he allows anybody else to sample it in print. He readily identifies the faith dishes he has dined on, admits the tastes he has worn out, the spices that have turned out to be bland, the sinew of life he has choked on - the wards of people he has encountered, hospitalized after being poisoned with the fare of faith served up with a seal of God attached to it.
"Beautiful?" - "Yes - Beyond Beautiful."
For us, this book was, and shall be, both a timely and enduring blessing. For us, it was It's Wednesday - But Sunday's a Comin'.
Forgive me Tony - Thank you Brian!
Please pray for our daughter Liz, son-in-law Aaron and their daughter Rebekka.
This book is precious - so is life - so is the privilege of relationship with the living God - here - today - in any and all circumstances - even when you're at zero....or not.
[i] Hauerwas, Stanley Hannah's Child - A Theologian's Memoir, Wm. B. Eerdsman Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI, Cambridge, U.K. Copyright © 2010 by Stanley Hauerwas, p.63. --- Please don't misinterpret my quote from Dr. Hauerwas. His life, and the book from which this quote is excerpted - are distinctly admired by me - and many others.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2011
Naked Spirituality is for anyone who wants to strip away the clutter of traditional religious trappings and dive into a deeper, purer, and more meaningful spirituality. Reading it feels like a quick dip in a cool pond on a hot day. For those of you who didn't grow up on a farm, that is a good thing! Totally refreshing.
Let me allow McLaren to introduce the book. In the Preface of Naked Spirituality, he says, "This book is about getting naked - not physically, but spiritually. It's about stripping away the symbols and status of public religion - the Sunday-dress version people often call 'organized religion.' And it's about attending to the well-being of the soul clothed only in naked human skin" (ix). Then, in an interview on my blog, McLaren said: "In a single sentence, I hope the book helps a wide range of people become more vulnerable to a genuine and transformative experience of God's presence in their lives." Indeed, it does that. Naked Spirituality invites people to leave behind the masks and pretences that most of us drag around. It then helps us to find practical ways to enjoy a better, more authentic, and more spiritual life.
Naked Spirituality is focused around twelve meditative words that serve as spiritual practices: here (opening to God's abiding presence), thanks (expanding our sense of gratitude and enoughness), O (soaking up the joy of life and God), sorry (living honestly and transforming wrongs), help (empowering ourselves to ask for help from God and others), please (relying on the support of God and others to get through difficulties), when (aspire after a better life and world), no (allowing ourselves to acknowledge pain, lament about our troubles, and refuse a problematic life and world), why (allowing ourselves and others to ask God the difficult questions that arise from pain and doubt), behold (mindfully noticing and appreciating the indescribable goodness of God and the world), yes (joining and engaging in the sacred mission of God) , and [...] (enjoying moments of silence and contemplation).
McLaren weaves together pithy writing, evocative Scripture, powerful stories, intriguing quotes, enriching poetry, thoughtful song lyrics, etc. in order to help the reader dive deeply into these spiritual practices. Straight up prose would have been too dry - and boring. Thankfully the many different kinds of writing that McLaren uses keeps the spiritually thirsty reader both satiated and engaged. He also provides an appendix with suggestions for group practice, body prayers, and spoken prayers.
This book is not a cheesy self-help book that provides the 10 easy steps to spiritual enlightenment. Those books are a dime a dozen. Instead, Naked Spirituality provides 12 meditative concepts to consider, and then allows each reader to develop the spiritual practices that will best help them embody the spiritual ideas. In other words, McLaren dignifies the reader for having a brain, heart, and context that might be different from his own - and other readers. Instead of spoon-fed religiosity, McLaren invites others to dive in and explore the waters with him.
To conclude this review, here is a taste of how McLaren describes the spiritual life:
"There is a river that runs like a song through this world, a river of sacredness, a river of beauty, a river of reverence and justice and goodness. I know that some people have only rarely seen or barely sensed it. But I also know that you and I are learning to live like green trees along its shore, drawing its vitality into us, and passing it on for the healing of our world. Its waters are clear, refreshingly cool, and clean, and if you care, you can strip naked, dive in, and swim" (237).
Naked Spirituality is full of quality writing like that quote. If you want to connect more deeply to God and your own authentic self, treat yourself to this refreshing, rejuvenating book. It will help you strip off the rags of tired religion and dive into the Healing River of God.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2011
I loved Brian McLaren's latest book, Naked Spirituality - A Life With God in 12 Simple Words. It was sent to me by The Ooze Network as part of their Viral Bloggers program. I am not required to write a positive review so know that these are my honest thoughts.
In truth, the book caught me my surprise. There wasn't a lot of attention surrounding it, not much praise, no criticisms, not even a "Farewell Brian McLaren" tweet. In looking back on it, I think we all know why. Which in some way, it made the reading experience a little more satisfying to me.
The point of the book is about getting naked - not physically, but spiritually. It's about stripping away the symbols and status of public religion - the Sunday-dress version people often call "organized religion". There is a number of audiences this book could work for. The obvious one is anyone interested in spiritual formation. Second is the over-churched or those that are very discontent with the idea of "organized religion". In the intro, Brian says he is also writing to the "Spiritual but Religious". And I'll agree, especially for the "intelligent unchurched and seeking" (Check out his video below).
Good books begin well (they should end well too) and I appreciated his introduction of why he incorporates the term "naked". Frankly, I wince any time the term is mentioned in public, especially in a Christian setting. But Brian echoes Jesus here and says when the Lord taught his disciples to pray, he said go in your closet, where you are naked, and when you pray be "naked" before the Lord. Naked = void of all pretense, absent of all self-righteousness, completely baring your pure, soul to your Maker. In this sense, not only is the imagery not awkward, but the idea of soul to soul with God is quite beautiful and appropriate for prayer..
I was fortunate enough to hear this material on one of our Biblical Seminary retreats last year. Speaking for so many of us, we loved it. His insights on spiritual formation are fantastic. Years of pastoral ministry, his more recent work in traveling and writing and his personal seeking of the Lord offers so much wisdom that it's a joy to read and reflect upon. It was interesting to read some of the points and illustrations he used during our time together.
Most people know Brian as a postmodern type who is vague and objectively elusive but in this book, he is reflective and very transparent. In fact, I'm interested in seeing the feedback here. My hope is that some of his critics will be moved by his God-fearing heart.
Anyway, here's a summary of what I liked:
Among the reasons I appreciate Brian is his humility. I've seen him speak a number of times and read his books - even when I disagree with his points, I always appreciate the way he intelligently articulates himself with such humility.
The "12 Words" are pretty solid (wasn't sure I would but It resonated very much with me). I'm rarely satisfied with any book/subtitle that claims to have "10 Steps for Better-living" but this worked for me. What I really liked were the double chapters that looked at each word from different angles. This not allowed for shorter chapters but allowed the reader to really appreciate the two angles on the same word. The twelve words he uses are Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, Yes and "..." (which is a cool idea).
He also divides the 12 words into the "4 Seasons of Life". Thinking about these words with the backdrop of these seasons of life was an added feature as opposed to seeing the words "Part 2".
His sources - Kempis, Rohr, Merton, Bruggemann, Lewis, Yancey. Need more of some, can't have enough of others.
An excellent appendix too that includes a section on Group Practices, Body Prayers, Simple Prayers and Discussion Guide.
Appreciated his diverse inclusions from different religions but his central emphasis on Jesus. Brian is gifted at showing the reader God's goodness found in not so obvious places. For those who appreciate the idea of natural law/grace, there's some great anecdotes here.
For people who pray, this is a must read.
His reinterpretation of the Prayer of Jabez. Seriously, it's about time someone wrote about this prayer that Bruce Wilkerson hijacked and made millions from.
I loved the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. He even articulates a great case for Pentecostalism. Now I'm not persuaded to be Pentecostal in the "traditional Pentecostal" sense but I did appreciate where he was coming from.
What I wasn't sure about:
Brian always throws me a bit with his love for evolution. I'm all for micro-evolution and he always depicts God as the Creator and the Divine Hand behind it all but as an honest reader, I wonder if he credits too much to the theory of evolution (It's still a theory, right?). Brian loves nature and I appreciate his insights but sometimes I find the evolution commercials to be distracting.
Only 12 words? I'm sure he had a list of 50 and many of these words were probably synonymous with each other. I would have been interested in seeing the words that didn't make it - is there a B-sides project here?
My most critical point is I think he took it a little easy on "The Season of Spiritual Surviving" section. I found myself wondering if he was avoiding controversy or just a much godly person than me. Don't get me wrong, it was honest, it was pastoral, it invoked hope, etc. but if I had to narrate my inner monologue, I think I was looking for some more anger and emptiness. I'm also a big Radiohead fan so maybe it's unfair to project my presuppositions here.
For Gen-Xers who were moved by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, I think this book is perfect for you. It's fresher. In comparison to Celebration of Discipline, one of the most influential books of my life, Naked Spirituality does an excellent job in reminding you that you are naked in your closet before the Lord. Your closet is still connecting to your home, your neighborhood, your world. You're naked but in some sense, so is everyone else - they may just not realize that they are before God. This is my favorite feature of the book and I highly recommend it.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2011
I enjoyed reading Brian McLaren's "Naked Spirituality". I also enjoyed reading "A New Kind Of Christianity". Actually, the two books compliment each other. In "A New Kind Of Christianity" he shares his concepts of Christianity and Dogma and the need for change inorder to meet the challenges of the modern world. In "Naked Spirituality" he shares with us his spiritual consciousness and the ways he has changed through the years. He tells us of his high and low points in his spiritual experiences and how the ever changing realities of life has impacted his walk of faith. Although he uses 12 simple words to describe a life with God, he makes it crystal clear that it's not really so simple after all. These simple words that he uses are guideposts or road markers along the way that can help us get our bearings. He shows us that there are "seasons" in ones spiritual life, and each season has it's own unique atmosphere as it unfolds. In effect he is saying, you can't jump from Summer to Spring, you must pass first through Fall and Winter. Regarding our spiritual progression he says, "We must celebrate the rich heritage of our religious traditions, but those traditions are now the foundation on which we build ,not the ceiling under which we are trapped". As he speaks of listening as we wait before God, he says "Let God be God to You". I take that to mean, He is different in the way He expresses Himself to each of us, according to our individual needs and circumstances, as well as our capacities to understand. He also says "you are loved nakedly, and grace is the warm blanket that enfolds you" pg,232. Brian has done a great service to the church, and Christianity at large in the writing of this book. He has beared his heart to us, and I hope thousands of people read this book. Thurman L Faison, Author "To The Spiritually Inclined"
19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2011
I recently completed the book Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren for the Viral Bloggers web site. I feel that it is best to admit that I generally do not consider myself as being in the emergent camp, but I do like to follow the conversation that they are involved in. I am a believer in Organic Christianity and that is sometimes in contras,t in my opinion, to what I find in organized religion. With that being said though, I do love all my brothers and sisters in the Lord despite our differing views and opinions on how one worships the Lord.
This book was a challenging read for me, as I am a huge fan of the premise. There is a need in our current culture to strip back everything that has been piled on top of Christ into this entity that we call religion. It is for this reason that I selected The Naked Gospel previously from the Viral Bloggers to read. This review is not a compare and contrast though but rather a look into what motivates me in selecting the books that I review. It was hard for me to read this book and put some of the rumors that I had heard about Brian McLaren on the back burner. Since I have not read his previous books, including his A New Kind of Christianity, I did not want to let the review be tainted. As I read the book, I found that there were many chapters that I enjoyed. I also enjoyed the attempts of the author to put much of his life and his journey into the pages of this book.
With the 12 words for his book established (here, thanks, O, sorry, help, please, when, no, why, behold, yes, and silence) Brian takes us along a journey with him to how he ended up where he is today. And I loved this. I enjoy the journey, but I must be honest with everyone and say that I felt like many of the chapters were broken down into two sections. One section dealing with Brian's journey and another that dealt with the word. I freely admit that could be my reading of it and even been influenced by some early perceptions. The problem that I had with this dynamic was that much of the time, I felt that they were set up in such a way that they words were not meant to be unique to the Christian faith or the Christian reader, but rather the book was structured to have universal truths with Brian's underlying story being one that included Christ. I felt that the words were to anybody reading the book. The non-personal narrative seemed to reference "God" but not necessarily Christ. Christ was a part of Brian's story, but Christ's story was not central to this book as a whole.
For me reading this through my Christian eyes made things very difficult because I do believe that Christ needs to be intertwined into each and every of the twelve words and not a footnote in the examples of each word.
With that being said, I was able to push beyond that and complete the book. I actually enjoyed the insight that the book provided and I would even walk away from the book and recommend it. If you will struggle with the same things that I did, most of the time Brian would refer to "God", I would replace it with Christ and push along. While, I might have violated the author's intent with the book by doing so, it allowed me to complete the book and gain some valuable insite into my own personal story and walk with the Lord.
If the author's intent was for this book to reach many of those that fall into the "unchurched" category or those seeking, then I can commend him for that attempt and hope that many of them will pick up the book with an open mind. Brian does a good job of peeling away many layers and starts one on a journey to get back to something more basic and far more enriching than what many find today in organized religion.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2011
This is not at all what I expected. This is my first official reading of a Brian McLaren title. I have read tidbits of different books here and there, but have mostly heard about his provocative writing through other people. Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words is good. And pastorly. And [fairly] uncontroversial. Basically he sets up (and revisits) some spiritual practices that can help us at different stages to really connect (stand naked before) God.
McLaren writes this book as a way of addressing all people, but particularly to those who are self-described as "are spiritual, but not religious." He writes the book in 4 parts- as 4 stages that faith development typically moves through- and each part, I think, will grab different people because of where they are at with God.
Parts I especially love:
1. He sets up his book by helping the reader see the need for spiritual practices (i.e. discipines, but don't worry, he doesn't use the word disciplines). He describes them as a way to stand naked before God- "doable habits or rhythms that transform us, rewiring our brains, restoring our inner ecology, renovating our inner architecture, expanding our capacities." He goes on. It's good stuff.
2. His chapter on worship. One thing he suggests is that it is not for God's good, but for our good, to engage in worship. You'll have to read the whole chapter ("O: Not Just a Word- A Way of Life) to find his whole line or reasoning ;) .
3. His writing. It's not technical or filled with Christian jargon (but it certainly includes its). McLaren writes really well- he uses imagery that actually makes me stop and think about the richness of the words. He writes in a way that makes me feel and experience God. I read a lot of Christian non-fiction. But I haven't came across many people in that genre who have the talent of McLaren to create space for God to work in a book.
I do think that if you don't like McLaren's writing, you might not like this book because I'm sure you'll find things that will make you question his theology or intention (but you will have to take it out of context in order to do it). This book is very well-written...it's an easy read, but it's dense in terms of the places it takes you to in your own heart.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Having just finished Rohr's Falling Upward, this was the perfect follow-up. Usually I'll devour books about which I'm passionate but this one is different; I haven't wanted it to end. It has been so rewarding to dine on the riches herein, take it slowly and savor every little bit. Almost two months later, having really taken my time to dwell on the messages I find myself revelling in that of which Mr McLaren has been the willing messenger.
A big part of the beauty of this book isn't just the truth that it contains, but the simplicity with which the author captures everything.
Challenging, stretching, thought-provoking (and how! I just *love* his definition of "de-ligion") and conversation prompting. A watershed for me - the right message at the right time from which comes growth and being better equipped to serve my God. A great book!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I read this book as part of my Sabbath discipline, one chapter per week. I found it so fruitful that I now use it as a training tool for new member sponsors at the church I attend.
The premise is simple: McLaren has chosen 12 words to reflect on the seasons of the spiritual journey: Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, Yes, and [...] He uses three words each as contemplative metaphors for the four seasons of Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony. Because he is using the analogy of the year or cycle, he offers the opportunity for the reader to consider our journeys less as a trip (from point A to point B) and more in line with a wandering (passing the same point more than once, but always in a slightly different emotional-spiritual-psychological space.)
McLaren's reflection on his own voyage of discovery was like having a lively, challenging, and vulnerable companion beside me. There were times when I said, "Finally I have words to describe what I felt during that experience." There were other times when something that had been lurking in the back of my heart snapped into sharp focus.
McLaren's honesty encourages honesty in his readers, and a willingness to move deeply beneath the surface of events to explore the meanings, the blessings, and the shadows.
Having used the book with groups, I would say that literal folks have a harder time with the imagery and metaphors he uses (which, personally, I found enormously helpful -- ) It is also probably not a good book for those who tend toward believing that there is one right answer to questions about faith. Depending on where a person is emotionally, it might be the tipping point book -- inviting her or him into an expansive and divine space. It could also simply be an exercise in frustration when McLaren gently suggests that God is likely larger than any one answer we might believe we "have."
If, however, you are someone who is seeking a companion to challenge your own status quo and nudge you to look openly at your own "givens" and biases...you have found the person in McLaren.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2011
Brian D. McLaren has done it again. In his recent book, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words, he has sought to strip Christianity to its basic core. And for the most part he has done a good work at trying to pull the clothes of much of what we know as the Christian religion in order to get down to basics.
At the outset it should be noted that the title is a little misleading. There is a whole lot more than 12 words. Heck, there's 27 chapters alone, and those are filled with numerous words and ideas, so if you're thinking that by reading this book you'll come away with 12 words that will forever change the way to tackle the task of being a follower of Christ, think again.
That being said, McLaren provides an honest evaluation of those "clothes" that the church has worn for so long that we have lost the sense of what it really means, in simpler terms, to
be a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ.
There is much I appreciated about the book. First, as what seems to be a hallmark of McLaren's writing is his own ability to be transparent to his own struggles and growth. This book was not conceived and complied in the ivory towers of Christendom, but rather on the gritty streets of life. He writes from his own struggles and growth. He has "been there," and yet has also "not arrived." And for a fellow-traveler like myself, this book offers a sense of direction, as well as some ideas about how to best experience and grow from the journey of following Jesus Christ.
There are a few things that concern me in his writings, and those mostly stem from his broader view of spirituality. What I mean by that is that at times it seems as those he is a little more inclusive to other religions and faiths. Every so often I got the sense that Jesus was not the only way...but then he would seem to bring things back around to focus on a more "orthodox" view of the Christian faith. This is nothing new for McLaren considering his previous books like A Generous Orthodoxy and the The Kind of Christian series. This inclusiveness is not a reason not to read the book, just a item to watch for.
There is much I gained from the book, and I would recommend to those who are seeking to peal off the layers of western Christianity and to gain some hope for what it means to follow Jesus closely with all their heart.
The two aspects of the book which I appreciated the most was the format of seeing the journey of following Christ as a series of recurring seasons. Spring, a time of simplicity, summer at time of complexity, fall the season of perplexity and winter a time of harmony. These seasons are recurring in nature, we go through them time and time again, but hopefully with the growing awareness of what each season brings to our lives as Christians. We are reminded to see the strengths and the weaknesses of each of these seasons, and to learn to grow through what each has to bring. McLaren's illumination of these seasons were refreshing to me, and allowed me to see them in my own life, and even to be more aware of the season I presently find myself in.
I must say that his choice of the "12 simple words" could be helpful, if we take time to truly understand their meaning, learn them, and then be able to recall them as we need them in the various seasons of our life. I would venture to say that it will take writing these words down, or reading the book a few times, at the different seasons of our lives in order to remember and apply the spiritual disciplines these words seek to convey.
The chapter that I appreciated most is entitled, "Please: At Least Two Hearts Care" (Chapter 14). It deals with the ministry of intercessory prayer. Being part of a church that has always had a heart and ministry for praying for others (Felton Bible Church), this chapter opened my eyes to seeing intercessory prayer in a whole new light. It was most encouraging, parts of which I have already shared with some of our regular prayer groups. The thrust of the chapter deals with the compassion of God and our joining in that compassion as we pray for others. This past week I shared the following descriptive passage with our weekly prayer group and later with the larger church family through our newsletter. McLaren wrote,
"When we practice `compassion' through simple words of intercession we affirm two profound truths. First, that God cares for all who suffer and are in need, and second that we care too. If we didn't believe God cared, we wouldn't turn to God, nor would we do so if we ourselves didn't care. When we call out `please' on behalf of someone else, we build a bridge between our compassion and the compassion of God. We say to God and ourselves, `Someone is suffering, and at least two hearts in the universe notice and refuse to turn away - God's heart and my own.'"
This chapter alone was worth the read of the entire book. His previous chapter on praying for our own personal needs is worth the "price of admission" as well.
Brian D. McLaren is a man on a journey to discover what it means to follow Jesus and I would recommend this book to any who seek to travel that journey as well. Does he get it all correct? No, but then which of us do. I appreciate his struggles, as he seems to appreciate my own and thus has written this book for fellow struggling travelers along path of following Jesus Christ, the Son of God, so that we can know Him and glorify through all of life.
!2 simple words? Hardly! Worth the read? Most definitely! Just remember, a naked spirituality may leave you a little self-exposed, thankfully we can be clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2011
There's a cycle to all of life. We cannot stop it; we can only embrace it. We see it in gardens but we also see it in our spiritual lives. There are seasons we pass through as we grow spiritually--predictable stages of growth.
Naked Spirituality that is set up around this progression of the spiritual life. Drawing from his own experiences, author Brian McLaren discusses the characteristics associated with four seasons of the spiritual life--simplicity (spring), complexity (summer), perplexity (fall), and harmony (winter). He also details three spiritual practices that go along with each season and suggests a simple word to go along with each practice.
Just like the seasons on the calendar, the boundaries of spiritual seasons and practices are fluid and it is hard to define where one begins and another ends.
There may be unseasonably cold days in spring, or a period of Indian Summer following a killing frost, but climatology tells us we should expect certain weather conditions during certain seasons. We know, for example, that in the mid-latitudes, on average, summer will be warmer than winter. Likewise, there is a typical "climate" that accompanies each season of spiritual growth. I found that McLaren's descriptions of what to expect during each "season" were quite good and, in many cases, matched with my own experience.
McLaren brings years of experience as a follower of Christ to the discussion. One gets the strong sense that he does not simply regurgitate someone else's experience; he has practiced what he is preaching in this book--he has lived it. (He was also my pastor for many years and I got to know Brian personally, so I feel that I can vouch for his authenticity.)
With that, I offer a short summary of the book's content below but I highly recommend reading the book--particularly to learn more about the spiritual practices discussed. (Each practice mentioned receives two chapters in the book.)
In the season of simplicity, the spring flowers are spreading, spiritual life is bursting out all over. Every day, more buds break forth into blossom. We're awakening to what has been there all along; we're becoming aware of God's presence in our lives.
* Here: The practice of invocation and presentation--awakening to the presence of God.
* Thanks: The practice of gratitude and appreciation--awakening to the goodness of God.
* O: The practice of worship and awe--awakening to the beauty and joy of God.
In the season of complexity, our garden is in full bloom and a lush carpet of green covers the landscape. During this season of the soul, we experience our maximum "aliveness" and our connections to God and one another are strengthened.
* Sorry: The practice of self-examination and confession--strengthening through failure.
* Help: The practice of expansion and petition--strengthening through weakness.
* Please: The practice of compassion and intercession--strengthening through empathy.
In the season of perplexity, the Sun gradually begins to wane and the nights become longer and darker. The greenness of our garden begins to fade; the flowers stop blooming. We begin a time of hunkering down, conserving energy, and surviving.
* When: The practice of aspiration, exasperation, and desperation--surviving through delay.
* No: The practice of rage and refusal--surviving through disillusionment.
* Why: The practice of lament and agony--surviving through abandonment.
When the season of harmony begins our garden appears dead and dormant. Snow and ice cover the surface but beneath the ground God is still working--the cycle of life never stops. We find that what does not destroy really can make us stronger; sometimes simply surviving has a way deepening us.
* Behold: The practice of meditation and wonder--deepening by seeing.
* Yes: The practice of consecration and surrender--deepening by joining.
* [...]: The practice of contemplation and rest--deepening by being with.
Of course, just like the seasons on a calendar, harmony isn't the end--it's really a new beginning! Just as spring will inevitably emerge from winter, achieving harmony will naturally lead us into a new season of simplicity. New growth springs forth in the garden of our lives but, seasoned by life, what emerges is now hardier and more robust than ever before.
We are created to enjoy communion with our Creator. Our lives proceed along a spiraling track that leads us closer and closer to God. Practices such as the ones McLaren describes are intended to help us keep moving along that path.
The "seasons" are somewhat arbitrary divisions and the list of practices is by no means exhaustive, but overall I enjoyed reading Naked Spirituality. I found the descriptions of the practices very helpful. Some I had more personal experience with than others, but McLaren was a good guide in the places where I was less familiar. (Knowing him personally certainly helped me feel like I could trust the authenticity of the source.)
Overall, I think this book was well worth my investment of time to read it and would be worth yours as well. I think you would find your pursuit of spiritual growth enriched as you learn about and begin to incorporate these kinds of spiritual practices into your life. Perhaps Naked Spirituality would even be worthy of a group discussion in your church or small group? Reading a book on our own is good, but I find it even more impactful when I study a book with a group. Something to think about...