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Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Sacred Compass" (J. Brent Bill)

TITLE: Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment
AUTHOR: J. Brent Bill
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2012, (208 pages).

Spiritual discernment is often talked about but rarely lived out. It is about sensing God's presence and guiding hands, rather than forcing our own ideas into a I-know-what-is-best mentality. Using a compass as a metaphor for spiritual discernment, Bill makes us realize that our deepest desires to find meaning and purpose for ourselves, stem from our attentiveness of our inner compass to God. It makes us sensitive to God's direction and to discover not simply a path we ought to go, but to discover God himself. Along the way, we become more self-aware and more God-aware.

Beginning with the famous Quaker-phrase, "As way opens," Bill describes the differences between a tourist and a pilgrim. Pilgrims recognize that the spiritual life is a long journey. It is an expedition of continuous learning from others. As one cultivates trust in God, one learns to see God in the many details. They travel together. Pilgrims let their lives speak to one another, that in the process of trying to discern one's own path, one helps others to discover both their paths as well a their uniquenesses. It teaches us to develop attentiveness. Learning becomes transformative, and one then learns to lead others in their journey too. The leadings come in many ways. It is patient. It is persistent. It is creative and beautiful. It is both calming and exciting. However, all of these leadings need an acute sense of testing whether they are from God. Bill provides seven helpful ways to test. He also provides some spiritual disciplines we can adopt to sharpen our awareness.

What is also helpful is how Bill brings out the dangers of the dark side. We need to discern whether the valleys are in fact mere spiritual dryness or some warfare. The former we need to cling on to God's promises. The latter we hang on to God's strength.  Bill provides tips on how we can still maintain that compass direction in spite of dark times. Some traveler's aids are listed for the benefit of readers, and excites readers about the dance of heaven on earth.

I appreciate this book a lot for its clarity. Five things strike me powerfully. First, the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts. Sometimes, we tend to highlight only one part of our lives over the rest. That is wrong. As pilgrims, we are not to base our lives on some highlights or high periods of positive experiences. Pilgrims travel the entire journey, and let the whole journey tell the full story. Second,  it is about God, not us. For those who are experiencing spiritual fatigue, it is an apt reminder that whatever we do or not do, does not change God's love for us. Third, even in dark moments, we can still learn spiritual discernment. Good spiritual discernment happens at all times, not only during feel-good moments. Four, the tools and tips provide readers an arsenal of resources to use. At times, when we feel like we have run out of ideas or resources, this book not only provides additional ideas for us to contemplate and put into action, but also to cast new light on old tools. One example is the way to "listen deeply." Most of us talk about the importance of listening. Bill's wide repertoire of listening pointers help us to listen beyond ourselves or our own needs. We are urged to engage in community sensitivity in listening. We are encouraged to listen for movements that benefit others, even when it does not lead to any direct self-benefit. More importantly, listening is putting the interests of others above our own. Finally, I enjoy the leading chapter of the book. It is not just about spiritual leadership. It is about true leaders are those who have been lead in the first place. The essence of leadership is about listening to God, and to lead like Jesus has led. Leading is learning. It is waiting when it is the time to wait. It is moving when it is time to move. It is gathering when it is time to gather. The interesting thing is this. True discernment is not about leading forth like a spiritual Rambo. True discernment is being led by the Holy Spirit to go to any place, willingly and joyfully, even to places we do not want to go. Above all, pilgrims on the spiritual journey will not be too caught up with what to do, where to go, who to meet, or how to go about the travel. They will be utterly content, knowing that it is God who is their traveling partner all the way.

This is an excellent guide for spiritual discernment.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Paraclete Press without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.