About This Blog

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Tables in the Wilderness" (Preston Yancey)

TITLE: Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again
AUTHOR: Preston Yancey
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (240 pages).

Eight words preceded the silence. Many questions arose out of the widening chasm between the knowledge about God and the experience of God. They spurred a feeding frenzy on spirituality books, prayer resources, and anything to help the author feel God once again. There was an increasing sense of aloneness and feeling cast out in the wilderness. It prompted a question that inspired this memoir: "Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?" Is God simply a clockmaker? How did others encounter God?

This memoir details the author's spiritual mountain highs and valley lows. Preston Yancey, a former story coach as well as a research assistance in the Anglican Church on the Western Gulf Coast. He has degrees in theology and is interested in Medieval spirituality matters. This book tells the story of his spiritual chorus of being lost and found again, and again. He uses ten spiritual milestones in this unique memoir.

The first is silence. He learns that being still and practicing silence simply means "shut up" and listen. With scriptures constantly guiding him, silence hones his spiritual listening. It deepens his spiritual awareness. It humbles him.

From silence, he was forced to retreat to his beginnings where he reflected on where he was born, his parents' occupation then, and with a vivid description of how he came to faith. His initial heady exercises of faith were rudely brought down to earth when he saw his mother being bedridden, and God seemed so distant as he watched his chronically ill parent suffer. The God-talk and spiritual answers that dominated his life, were soon overwhelmed with questions.

These questions motivated the author to search for certainty, a search that would lead him to theological college education, his encounter with Anselm's faith seeking understanding, and liturgical stuff. He was intrigued to see people in various churches having special spiritual encounters. It made him more curious about his own need as he busy himself with Bible studies, dating matters, as well as wanting to be a missionary. He even thought of starting a church with his friend Avery.

Then came the fractures. His friendship circle shrank. He broke up with Meredith. The Family they called themselves no longer felt like a family. The small Church plant was also losing traction with mediocre sermons and repeat songs. More break ups.

The author experienced more desert experiences as he returned to Baylor to continue his semester. It was so serious that at one point, even when he was sharing a room with his buddy, they hardly acknowledge each other. He started spending more time at the coffee house. He found companionship in the dead saints of old.  It led him to start attending not one, but two churches!

The conversion experience occurred as he grappled with all that had happened to him. His meeting with TLD made him feel okay to be evangelical again, even as he immersed himself in liturgy and tradition. Rather than him getting a fix, he found himself fixated on two questions:

  1. What will I be?
  2. What will I do with my life?

In the hallowed walls of tradition and understanding, he learned about contentment being in the midst of everyday life. He learned not to be distracted by disagreements but about the Kingdom of God in spite of the disagreements. His spiritual curiosity enabled him to reflect often on what it means to bring heaven in. He even started a reading group to discuss CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters. He reminded himself that God is much bigger than what he had thought.

In repentance, he shared about his insensitive blog post about leaving church, and apologized about his gracelessness. He found a community of saints to pray his his ailing mother. With the help of a spiritual director, he was able to find some peace as he dealt with his checkered past. It was an epiphany moment to learn not only to deal with the good but also all the bad. It was only in grace that he learned about faith not in what he feels but in what God had done.

So What?

Writing this memoir requires a massive does of honesty and humility which is exactly what Preston Yancey had done. As he relates the ups and downs of relationships, how he connected, broke up, connected up again, there is a curious parallel to the actual relationship he has with God. Sometimes he feels connected. Other times, he feels distant. Sometimes he feels God speaks. Other times God remains silent. It is noticeable that spiritual directors and deep listening have enabled the author to realize that he is his own biggest problem. He reveals how his lies had prevented relationships from moving forward. By swamping readers with many of the things he had done, the books he read, and the thoughts he reflected, sometimes I feel like being dragged along in the mud of someone searching more meaning. At times, it evokes within me a oh-no-no-again feeling as I read about his on-off relationships with his friends and in-out commitments with various churches. Most of all, he opens himself up about his agonizing journey of finding God not in the way God had wanted, but in the way he felt is best.

On learning that God is found in the grace of silence and stillness, it is also a reminder that God cannot be forced into our human mold of expectations. God is bigger than all of us. The struggles we have with God may very well be more of our problem, not God's. Perhaps, we need our own spiritual sensitivities to be re-oriented back to God rather than our own perceptions of what God should be doing. This requires listening. It requires humility from us to seek help from other mature believers. Most of all, it is about trusting God. This movement from silence to the grace of trust is what defines this memoir. If you are looking for answers about your own spiritual journeys, but often feel God is silent, this book may very well be a good companion to guide you on your own unique path.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment