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Friday, June 28, 2013

"God in my Everything" (Ken Shigematsu)

TITLE: God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God
AUTHOR: Ken Shigematsu
PUBLISHER:  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (256 pages).

Can we escape from the world without escaping from life? In a world where everything seems so busy, so frantic, and so crazy, is it really possible to find peace and solace in a noisy and sometimes cruel world? What can modern people learn from the ancients? Surely, their times are different from our times, right? This book begins with an impromptu fill-in for one of his preaching colleagues. Without much time to prepare, the author decides to speak about the rhythm of life. It is a rhythm of life that seems to be taking refuges away from the world, and at the same time still close to the heartbeat of the world we live in. This is only possible when God is in our everything, so says the author, the  lead pastor of a flourishing Church in Vancouver, BC. Using the Greek word "trellis" as a way (or rule) to hone his idea of a rhythmic support system, Shigematsu proposes five key ideas: Rules; Roots; Relate; Restore; Reach Out.

1) Rules
Beginning with a description of his pilgrimage in Glendalough, Ireland, Shigematsu shares how he is intrigued by the Celtic monks like St Kevin, St Patrick, Bridget of Kildare, and others, who contrary to what many people think, built monasteries close to settlements so that they can share Christ's hospitality with whoever that comes by. Instead of a perceived solitary monastic life, they are actually very intentional about a community, about sharing and caring for people amid their devotional lifestyle. Shigematsu leaves the place with a renewed sense of how prayer informs practice, and how practice reforms prayer. One of the things that he feels more compelled to grow in is the idea of "Bushido," a set of rules and practices that lead to growth in "wisdom, fortitude, loyalty, compassion, and service." Just like the 12th Century St Benedict, who helps spread the idea of monasticism within a community setting. The idea is that when God is in our everything, "the world becomes our monastery." Shigematsu goes on to show that following a set of rules is not necessarily a bad thing, even though rules and regulations are more despised nowadays. It is biblical. It is not about "trying" but about "training." In other words, spiritual discipline is very much a part of the Christian life. He also argues for a "centered" life more than a "balanced" perspective, something that resonates with my philosophy too. Yet, the author is quick to point out that such a rhythm is not rigid but flexible. He reflects on the biblical character Daniel, who is able to adopt a pattern of prayer and work, with God as his center.

2) Roots
The three key "roots" are Sabbath; prayer; and sacred reading. Firstly, one finds a "Sabbath" time for body and soul. For the Sabbath is a gift of one day in seven where we can live truly free especially when the week is fully busy. While keeping the Sabbath does not necessarily mean we be more successful on the other six days, it leads to greater trust in God. What then do we do? Do something that we do not normally do during the week. Secondly, one also lets prayer be the bridge between God and person, cultivating friendship with God. Contrary to what many people think about prayer being something less than work, prayer is actually the very essence of work, for true work is about relationships. Shigematsu shares some tips with regards to the Lord's Prayer, ACTS, Psalms, and seasons of prayer. Thirdly, one grows strong roots based on God's Word through sacred reading. Meditate on the Word. Memorize the Word. Visualize Scripture.

3) Relate

In a social media world where technology and gadgets seem to help more people connect, it may seem strange even to read about people feeling disconnected in a highly connected social media world. Research has shown that close relationships play a big role in psychological well-being. What more about spiritual well-being? Spiritual friendship is not about drawing attention to one another. It is about helping one another grow closer to God. Spiritual friends can also be called upon to help one draw boundaries in matters of sex and purity. For our characters are formed within the crucible of family. This is not just about the spiritual family, but the very family that we live with.

4) Restore

Learning to take care of our spiritual lives also means addressing the needs of our physical bodies. In doing so, we not only learn to take care of our physical health, we are re-invigorated in our perspective of the resurrected body in Christ. Eat well. Sleep well. Exercise well. Play well. Think well, especially with regards to money and our use of money. Let giving and generosity outweigh any desire for selfish accumulation and devotion to Mammon. Being restored means becoming more and more conscious of eternity.

5) Reach Out

It is common to come across people who simply hated Mondays. It takes a fresh perspective to see Mondays not from the eyes of mundane work, but from the mind of God whose mercies are new every morning. In prayer, work is sanctified. In prayer, we discern life. In prayer, our life as a ripple, can be used to make an impact in the communities we live in. Serving our communities is a calling for the servant of God. Reaching out is about praying for people; being present for people; and sharing the gospel like a four-sided pyramid: life, deed, sign, and word. Life is about our testimony of living. Deeds is about works of love in action. Sign is about letting the world know of God's power at work in us. Word is about proclamation of the gospel.

So what?

This is a very comprehensive book on Christian living, covering many important aspects of the spiritual life. Through stories and keen observations of life in a city, Ken Shigematsu is able to weave in spiritual practices of the ancient world with the contemporary needs of the world. Having gone through personal struggles of frantic living, relationship challenges, as well as ministry work as a pastor, Shigematsu has put into words the sermons that he has given for his own congregation. I have heard him speak before, and so am able to mentally visualize his voice through the words in this book. It is very much a personal story by the author, given passionately and yet having a gentle demeanor about it all. I appreciate the very comprehensive aspect of his treatment of the rhythms of life, so reminiscent of Mark Buchanan's book on "Spiritual Rhythm" or Wayne Mueller's work on Sabbath. Let me offer three thoughts about the book.

First, I think it is an apt corrective for a world addicted to freedom of choice. The idea of rules and regulations can often rile the modern man so used to freedom and free speech. People are put off when it comes to anyone preachy or giving words of advice. Yet, disliking something does not necessarily mean we do not need that, just like a sick child disliking bitter medicine. If we do not drink it, we may become worse off. Thus, Shigematsu's teaching about "Bushido" is highly relevant for our modern Western society.

Second, structures are helpful. Despite the culture's dislike of structures and institutionalized religion, we cannot do away with structures. The words of Jesus with regards to Sabbath is appropriate here. Know that the Sabbath is made for men and not men for the Sabbath. Thus, structures are made for humans and not humans for structures. That is why the better way is to redeem institutions and structures, instead of throwing them out altogether.

Third, spirituality is more relational than what some people think. This contrasts with some versions of spiritualities that tend to be self-centered; focused on nothingness; or simply energy consumption. No. Christian spirituality is basically about living relationships. The spiritual practices mentioned in this book have a strong sense of communal living and community responsibility. Whether it is Sabbath time with God; coffee time with people; prayer for and with people; or accountability sessions with trusted friends; spirituality is less of something private and confidential, but more of something connecting and communicating.

I love this book!

Rating:  5 stars of 5.


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

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