Book Review: Sacred Rhythms
For my Spiritual Experiments small group this semester, I built my own curriculum using a number of different resources. Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton was a book from the new Formatio line of InterVarsity Press that I picked up to use as a reference/resource. Barton has served at several churches, including Willow Creek Community Church, and I have enjoyed listening to her conference talks on spiritual formation.
Barton opened the book with the story of Blind Bartimaus and Jesus' question, "What do you want me to do for you?" That was really exciting because I love that passage and preached on it about a year ago. But then, the chapter became very difficult for me to "get." I just had a problem understanding and relating to the author and the topic as it was presented. The language seemed very distant from my experience and rather inaccesible to me.
My academic background is engineering and my personality is ENTJ with pretty high energy. I get all weirded out and insecure around contemplative types because they seem so holy and I seem so...well...spastic. So when I read stuff like, "When we pay attention to our longing and allow questions about our longing to strip away the outer layers of self-definition, we are tapping into the deepest dynamic of the spiritual life," my initial reaction is, ..."huh?" Granted, that probably shows just how much I needed to slow down, recognize my own shallowness, and read this book. But it was still rather difficult for me.
Once the book got rolling, I really enjoyed the individual chapters. Maybe it's because they were a little less touchy-feely and a little more practical. Maybe it's because I was beginning to understand the languauge of the author a little better. Maybe it's because I was actually getting in touch with my "longings." Who knows.
I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Self-Examination: Bringing My Whole Self Before God and A Rule of Life: Cultivating Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation. When I ask people how they grow spiritually, I am amazed at how often the responses involved things like self-assessment, goal setting, etc. Barton introduced the Ignatian Examen in a way that is palatable to modern-day readers. Rhythm is important for leaders, and establishing a rule of life, a spiritual formation strategy, or a spiritual rhythm, is absolutely critical.
Barton's chapter on Sabbath was honest, transparent, and very challenging.
The chapter on Honoring the Body was especially challenging and extremely important for our generation and culture.
Her explanation of Lectio Divina was very helpful, and I will actually be using some of that material in our Journey small group.
My favorite part of the book was Appendix C: Choosing Spiritual Disciplines That Correspond to Our Needs. Barton lists sins or negative personality traits and patterns with corresponding spiritual disciplines that can be implemented to help us grow in those areas. This table is extremely helpful when crafting a spiritual development plan or rule of life.
I guess this was the bottom line for me. It was good for me personally, but I didn't use it a lot within the group setting. Every time I read it, I thought, "This is why we don't see more men involved in contemplative spiritual life." I felt like John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted fit more with my personality and leadership style. However, it was good for me to read because it stretched me and forced me to look at my complete inability to slow down and just be with God without thinking about small groups, sermon series, leaders, etc. There were very contemplative types in the group who would love this book, and I recommended it to them. So here's my final recommendation:
If you are a man, read John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted.
If you are an extravert, have trouble sitting still, have lots of energy, have trouble praying, etc., read John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted.
If you are all of the above and have read Ortberg's book, read Barton's Sacred Rhythms to stretch yourself.
If you are a contemplative type, read Barton's Sacred Rhythms.
If you long for silence, solitude, and a slower pace of life, read Sacred Rhythms. You will most likely find it a breath of fresh air and be thankful that someone "gets" you and your needs and gives you permission to be exactly how God has created you.