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Monday, May 22, 2017

"Recapturing the Wonder" (Mike Cosper)

TITLE: Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World
AUTHOR: Mike Cosper
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (224 pages)

The title of this book catches a nerve. In a technologically rich and overwhelmingly connected world, we tend to spend more time trying to talk and solve problems instead of appreciating and listening. Learning to appreciate life is about reconnecting back to what life is about. How do we deal with our doubts? What are we to make of the stresses and pressures of life? Perhaps, what is most disconcerting is when we are able to rationalize small details of our lives, but fail to connect them all together to make sense of the larger picture. This book seeks to examine the gaps and to help us tell our own stories. Author Mike Cosper draws on the expertise and experience of well-known authors, theologians, and spiritual writers to guide him along. These people form powerful testimonies that God is not some distant clockmaker but is up close and personal. With guides like Hannah Arendt, Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Helen MacDonald, David Foster Wallace, and others. He describes the seven pathways in which we can find connections in our increasingly fragmented world, and to find ourselves as we navigate the complexity and sophistication around us. In each chapter, Cosper describes the issues and problems we face in our existing culture before presenting a possible pathway to make sense of our role.

First, it begins with recognizing that we need help. In our scientific and technological world, we are used to solving problems. We limit ourselves to what we can see and sidestep whatever that are alien to our understanding. This is one reason why many easily embrace the atheistic and secular lifestyle. In Cosper's words, we are living in a "disenchanted world" where "God and religion are superfluous." People no longer see a need for God. Even Christians can be disenchanted when they do not understand some of the things mentioned in the Bible. In fact, one can know the Bible well but still find oneself distant from God. This is especially so for people who treat the Bible like a knowledge chest. Cosper shows us through breath prayers how to be re-enchanted once again instead of being disillusioned by the world. The second practice addresses the state of religion, of how the externals may be different but the internal traits are the same. Like in the old days, religion is about sacrificing animals or some blood offerings. Today, many such rites are in another different form, such as virtual reality and need for some kind of affirmation of who we are, our worth, and our religious need.  A key observation about why historical religions are increasingly out of vogue is because humanity have moved beyond the traditional past. It's like clinging on to old-fashioned ideas in a new-fashion world. The key to renewal of hope is to turn our expectations from working for recognition to experiencing grace. Using a three-part prayer of examination, confession, and assurance, we move toward to plug the source of anxiety that plagues the constant discontent in this world. The third observation of modern culture centers on how we are pressured to make things happen, especially when we do not see things happening according to our expectations. In the rush for mountaintop experiences, we constantly seek out spiritual testosterones to make some spiritual sense of our disenchanted world. Cosper hits the nail on the head by saying: "Chasing religious spectacles only makes sense in a disenchanted world." The way forward to is back to the Bible, and a re-orientating to how we approach the Scriptures. Learn to read the gospels without interruption; pray the psalms using down-to-earth emotional languages. Fourth, Cosper notices the "culture of display" where we tend to want to show ourselves off in the best possible way on social media. He reflects on Hannah Arendy's words that too much public display only portrays a "shallow" self, and calls for a return to God. This means a renewed focus on solitude: regular; little; and extended. The fifth is about abundance and scarcity, and how we are to make a distinction between the bread and the blessing. Far too many people are concerned about bringing bread instead of sharing the blessing. He notes that the gift of an artist is not about making money. It is about nurturing the gift, multiplying it, and blessing the world through it. Even shopping is a kind of religious experience that tests our own values whether our way of life is in keeping the bread or sharing the gift. The root of giving is essentially finding contentment and abundance in God. This can be done through the discipline of fasting to lower materialism's hold on us, and on generosity to heighten the love in us. Sixth, we live in an attention deficit world as well as an attention-seeking individuals. Our desire for constant attention and stimulation may very well distract us from the "anxieties of disenchantment." Like pain-killers, it numbs us from the pain without really solving the cause of the pain. Rather than draw attention to ourselves, why not be present with others? In a powerful chapter of "feasts of attention," Cosper shows us how we feast on need for attention in all the wrong places. In self-seeking activities, we prefer time to ourselves instead of giving attention to others. We fail to pay attention to the beauty of the world because we are anxious about our needs. In loving ourselves selfishly, we fail to notice the potential of God's creation. Seventh, we learn about how the "Rule of Life" gives us a map toward deeper spirituality and to experience the riches of God's promises.

Cosper is able to spring off from a keen understanding of our contemporary culture and about the inner desires of the human heart. With each observation, he supplies a pathway to move from disenchantment to enchantment; from emptiness to fulfilment; from anxiety to contentment. Without readers having to dig into the classic texts for themselves, Cosper summarizes aptly the profound thoughts of several spiritual writers. From Hannah Arendt, he marvels at how the political theorist's insight about shallow living still applies today. He draws from Thomas Merton about the commitment to eternal paths instead of the paths of temporal fame.  He learns from Charles Taylor about the emptiness of secularism, and from David Foster Wallace, the futility of cynicism. By revealing the emptiness of the world, Cosper clears the idols that charm so that we can truly see that these things are futile. Gradually, we are given an impetus to see success with new eyes. According to the world: Success is about accumulating wealth, grabbing power and climbing up the ladders of reputation.
According to True Spirituality: Success is about giving; surrendering; serving; and climbing down from the temptations of wealth, power, and reputation. If readers are able to take a few steps toward the path of spirituality, this book would have worth every cent.
Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of IVP and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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