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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Godspace" (Keri Wyatt Kent)

TITLE: GodSpace: Embracing the Inconvenient Adventure of Intimacy with God
AUTHOR: Keri Wyatt Kent
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Faithwords, 2017, (208 pages).

This is a book about spiritual practices. More specifically, it is about making space for God in our supposedly busy lifestyles. Some try retreats or some faraway places to get away from the hustle and bustle so as to attain some level of peace and serenity. Others try to find it in Churches or religious communities that try to practice the spiritual disciplines. Some read books while others attend seminars. Some would try out some new initiatives or special one-off projects to engage their spiritual side of things. Unfortunately, as long as we reserve only specific time and space for us to enter into God's presence, we miss out on the rest of our lives. What about the busy moments at work or study? How can we be holy in the midst of babysitting or housekeeping? Spiritual writer Keri Wyatt Kent knows what it means to be caught in the whirlwind of busy activities and expectations in a modern world. Having written books about Sabbath keeping, rest, devotions, spiritual listening, and spiritual practices to attend to the soul, Keri has consolidated many of them for the busy individual struggling to find space for spirituality. It is an invitation for all to live in the grace of God with our whole selves, rather than compartmentalize our lives into different parts. Truth is, when we desire intimacy with God, we will intentionally find space wherever we can. We may have the best tools or most creative techniques with us, but if we have no desire, these things are nothing. However, when we have the desire to want to meet God always, we will find creative ways to make space. This is what this book is about: Making space for God in all of our life. For Kent, it is about seven practices that could be used to make space for God.

The first practice is the delightful practice of Sabbath in our weekly calendar. It is a way of life rather than simply a specific day in the week. It is not about doing nothing. In fact, it is about doing everything to build bridges between God and others. By stopping our regular activities, we are better able to focus and reflect on what it means to counter the anxiety and restlessness in our societies. Intimacy comes about as we reserve space for God intentionally, cease from our so-called necessities of living and embrace what is truly life-giving. Simply put, stop worrying about the work but commence enjoying the fruits. The second practice is hospitality in our home, the practice of openness and welcome. By remembering how Jesus welcomed all, including strangers, into our private spaces. We can practice it regularly with our own families and loved ones. The side benefit is that they too learn about hospitality, something that is more caught than taught. Hospitality opens a variety of ways in which we acknowledge God's abundance for us, and how we can be generous to others with it. The third practice is worship in the world at large. Be awed by the beauty of nature. Acknowledge the creative genius of God. Notice God's presence and ponder upon why God Almighyy would send His Son down to earth. The fourth practice is Simplicity of the Soul. Practice minimalist. End cluttering. Realign our souls to deal with mainly things that truly matter. Kent reminds us that the opposite of simplicity is not complexity, but duplicity. This is increasingly relevant as people try to multitask and focus on simply doing different things at the same time. A key point Kent makes is about relationships, that we should not be too distracted by accumulating acquaintances, at the expense of forming close relationships with a few good friends. The fifth practice is generosity, which is about giving and being grateful for what we have. As long as we are focused on ourselves, we will never have enough. The moment we start to put the interests of others above ourselves, we start to experience contentment. Learning to be generous with God is a powerful step forward in being generous with others. The sixth practice flows out of the previous one, that is gratitude. We don't have to wait until the official Thanksgiving season before learning to be thankful. We can start the process daily. In our relationships, a thankful heart is infectious. It is more than simply counting blessings. It is a practice that leads to joy. Finally, there is the practice of critical thinking, which is making space for both faith and doubt. I believe that doubt is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it enables us to grow deeper in understanding and belief. Growth is like molting. In order to grow, crabs had to shed their hardened shells and to leave them behind. Belief is about growing in faith and understanding. Read Scripture. Ask questions, and also let the Bible question our past beliefs.

My Three Thoughts
First, this is a book about the active practice of spirituality. It is not just about spiritual practices. It's about infusing them into all spheres of our lives. Right from the start, Kent makes a case for addressing how difficult it is for us to deal with busyness and anxiety. We have many activities throughout the day and heavy responsibilities on our plates. So much so that a lot of us struggle with even praying in the first place. By making a case that spirituality is possible in spite of such a lifestyle, the author then shows us how with seven practical ways.

Second, it is interesting that the author begins with Sabbath as the first practice. It seems to be the reverse of what many authors of such genre normally write, that is, to make Sabbath the climax of spiritual practices, just like Genesis where God rested on the seventh day instead of the first day. I believe it is more for 'impact' purposes, to bring to the center-stage, a practice that typically gets  relegated to the peripherals. It also speaks about the importance of Sabbath as far as the author is concerned. Not only that, there is a sense of embracing the moment as she writes about it. Note how she describes one example:
"Sabbath is a day when this working mom slows down enough to listen. To listen to a pear tree rattling in the wind. To listen to a daughter who is discovering who she is, and trying to figure out how to communicate that discovery on her college applications. To listen to a son who finds joy in spending most of his Sunday at church or in community. To listen to the voice of my own gladness, which calls me to the woods and to the backyard and to rest. ...........Sabbath invites us not just to take a day of rest but to embrace a theology of trust in God’s provision, a theology that posits we have enough resources that we can afford to stop accumulating and striving for a day."
Don't we all desire that? As we go further along, it becomes clear that Sabbath may be just a day, but the principle could be extended to the other six days.

Third, the last practice on "critical thinking" offers much food for thought. Of all the books that Kent have written, this is perhaps the first book I have come across that deals more specifically on the area of apologetics and addressing doubts. This is important because of the rising secularism and skepticism in our society. Faith is not simply about believing. It is also about asking questions so that we can be more authentic and truthful in our beliefs, which will subsequently fuel our spirituality. Using Henry Cloud's model of four distinct phases of faith, she encourages the reader not to let doubts and difficulties cripple our growth, and to see them as an essential part of our faith journey. She also makes an important observation that distinguishes "critical thinking" from "criticism." The former is a genuine attempt to learn and grow. The latter tears down.

In summary, I think this book is helpful for those of us who know the importance of spiritual practices but do not know what practical steps to implement them. Kent has done us a service to offer us seven ways to do that. You can begin at any chapter but I would recommend not skipping the first two chapters. Make space in your schedule for this book.

Kery Wyatt Kent is a long time member of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, Illinois, where she also serves as a lay pastor. She has written eleven books and co-author many more. She is also founder and president of A Powerful Story. She can be contacted via social media or at www.keriwyattkent.com

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Faithwords, a division of Hachette Book Group and NetGally without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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