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Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Reading Your Life's Story" (Keith R. Anderson)

TITLE: Reading Your Life's Story: An Invitation to Spiritual Mentoring
AUTHOR: Keith R. Anderson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (224 pages).

We are relational people. We grow best in a nourishing environment of friendship and honesty. Friendly and open with others; honest and bold about ourselves. We cannot grow on our own. We need others to guide us. We need spiritual direction. We need to be mentored in our own journey of life. Learning to read our life story remains one of the most crucial things we need to do. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most neglected. Some of the most important questions are often either not asked or ignored. This book attempts to boldly ask and to gently illuminate. It is an introductory book on the art of spiritual direction. It tells us about the importance of mentoring, what it is, what it looks like, and how we can go about establishing a mentor-mentee relationship. It shows us ways to:

  • start and sustain a dialogue
  • cultivate an honest and healthy curiosity about life stories
  • appreciating human relationships
  • desiring to deepen intimacy with God and others
  • learning to tell one another’s stories
  • being authentic through honest discovery

It is learning to journey along a curriculum of spiritual formation, spiritual growth, and spiritual awareness of God. For author Keith Anderson, he presents metaphors for spiritual illumination and clarity; methodologies for purposeful activities; and questions to guide us. Mentoring metaphors like the reading of a book (author; reader; text) or the five elements of a story or holy narrative (Author; Plot; Characters; Events; Ending). He explains aspects of mentoring by starting with the personal mentoring before moving to the mentoring relationship. Part One of the book deals with the purpose of reading; the significance of recognizing God as the author of all life; the use of our own life as the text; the Mentor as a crucial part of helping us find our own stories; and how to deal with the imperfections in this life. Part Two delves into the nitty-gritty of the mentoring relationship. It is about learning how to start the whole process well; finding good mentors; beginning with God; preparing inquiry and discernment; learning to be honest about our needs and our issues; setting expectations and pace; and so on. We also learn not to turn mentoring relationship into some kind of psychotherapy session or a stressful interrogation time. It is also not about some wise guru dispensing information to dumb students. It is about maintaining spiritual friendships while keeping to a covenant of agreements.

The questions provided by each learned mentor in the various “mentoring sessions” are particularly helpful. For the mentor, with the ready questions, it takes the stress off the mentor from trying to be too ambitious with their roles. For the mentee, the open-ended questions give room for them to be honest and share. Chapter 7 to me is worth the price of the book. The part on “Asking Great Questions” give us many ways to kick off the conversation. Apart from these, Anderson shares from his own learning experiences from ancient saints like Julian of Norwich, Richard Baxtor, Jeanne Guyon, and St John of the Cross to modern believers like Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, James Houston, and Barbara Brown Taylor. There is also a chapter on learning to pace our conversations and mentoring relationships and how we can end well. The four appendices supply additional material for the mentoring exercise.

There are are lots of gems in this book. Let me share a few of my favourites.
  • Sensing the deeper parts of Ps 23 through reflecting through a revision that shows us how impoverished we will be without the assurance of the Shepherd (chapter 2)
  • Styles of mentoring opens up different ways in which we can enter into the mentoring relationship (chapter 4)
  • The inside look at what a mentoring relationship looks like (chapter 7)
  • Learning to pace not just with speed but space, prayer, and play (chapter 9)
  • Learning to be attentive to history, geography, and ecology
  • Ten essentials for the mentor's library (chapter 11)

While this book is deemed to be an introduction to spiritual mentoring, I like the word 'invitation' because it evokes a friendly gesture into a human relationship. Nobody likes to be forced or made to do things. Even the most important and needful things to be done would require a willing heart. This is actually the beginning of mentoring. The book helps to clarify and give direction to starting a spiritual mentoring relationship. Anderson writes with experience and understanding as he supplies not only methodologies but ample explanations of the what, the why, the where, the when, the how, and the who. If you are keen on spiritual direction or spiritual mentoring but don't know how to go about doing it, perhaps start by getting this book.

Keith Anderson is currently president of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. He has been a dean of spiritual formation at Bethel University in St Paul, Minnesota and has been involved in spiritual mentoring for many years. His previous books include “Spiritual Mentoring,” “A Spirituality of Listening,” and “What They Don't Always Teach You at a Christian College.”

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

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