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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"A Beautiful Disaster" (Marlena Graves)

TITLE: Beautiful Disaster, A: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness
AUTHOR: Marlena Graves
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (224 pages).

How can any "disaster" ever be beautiful? This book with such a provocative title certainly got me hooked and interested to find out more. With great awareness of the trials of life and the challenges through various life stages, author and spiritual director, Marlena Graves plumbs the depths of the wisdom in ancient spirituality to shed some light on what it means to bring hope amid brokenness and despair. Reflecting on her own life, Graves gives us a glimpse on how she herself had been spiritually formed, her wilderness experiences, her physical struggles, and how much she sees the Bible reflecting truth and the ancient fathers teaching wisdom for her. In spiritual formation, how one begins is critical. Graves does it the best possible way, by asking the one pivotal question: "Who am I?" It strings together thoughts and memories of whose she was and is, her background, her identity, her flaws, and the constant reminder of the discipline to remember who she is. She shows us ways to answer that question. Such as learning from the cell, a metaphor for solitude and silence. In such a place, one learns the obvious and the not so obvious; the voluntary and the involuntary; and the possible amid the impossible. It is beautiful in the sense that the more we are disillusioned with things of this world, the more appreciative we are of Christ's resurrection and the hope He brings to us. In the wilderness, there are both ups and downs, Just as there are moments of self-discovery and revelation of God, there are also moments of trials and temptations that reveal the depths of sin in our lives. Such spiritual obstacles can either propel us forward toward God or distract us from the way. The clue is to learn to wait for God, to listen for God, to receive from God, and to see that even as our dreams of worldliness die, God's world will live more and more. In such a state, Graves shares with us the joys of anticipation in that even as we attempt to look for God, to see God in every place, we come to that profound paradox that it is more of God seeing us rather than us seeing God.

The wilderness is also beautiful because of the gifts we can receive. Gifts like being trained for wisdom; for learning to deal with the temptations of power; for learning to fear God toward holiness and love; the gift of awareness of one's status in heaven, being the children of God; and what it means to be fully human and alive. Graves concludes the book with a refreshed understanding of her identity, encouraging readers that they too can embark upon a journey of spiritual formation. She even talks about her own struggles being a women, especially in the area of teaching. She acknowledges the struggles of men finding it hard to learn from teachings of women. How she deals with this topic is different before and after the spiritual formation journey. As one reads her journey, one senses a transformation from complaints and bitterness toward acceptance and humility. One learns gratitude and not to be easily stressed out by the world.

Readers need not assume that they need disasters to begin fruitful reading of this book. In fact, trials and tribulations have already happened, if not to us, but to friends or loved ones we know. If we can be a stilling presence or a loving guide for such people, we would find ourselves in a place of opportunity to be light and hope for Christ, especially when Christ is in our hearts. For in ministry of spirituality and Christlike formation, it is less about doing "Christian" things or activities, but more about revealing the Christ in us, and through us.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

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