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Thursday, February 7, 2019

"Stages of the Soul" (Nancy J. Kane)

TITLE: Stages of the Soul: God's Invitation to Greater Love
AUTHOR: Nancy J. Kane
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (176 pages).

In our age of anger, arguments, disputes, violence, and war, the word 'love' appears to be some form of wishful thinking. We speak of love but instances of love are generally few and far between. While we are creatures made in the image of God, we are also sinners who constantly defy the work of the Spirit. Love in its essence does not appear out of nowhere. We don't simply invent love. It must first be received. That is why Christian Theology teaches us that love begins with God. Without God, we can do nothing. Just like God who created heaven, earth, and us, we need God to initiate love. This He had done and is continuing to do so daily. We cannot help ourselves. We need God. In a nutshell, if we want to grow in spiritual formation, we need to accept God's invitation to His Divine Love. If you desire a deeper and growing relationship with God, this is an excellent book to read, to reflect, and to ponder upon how to put love into action. The five stages of the soul are:
Stage One - Our First Love
Stage Two - Obedient Love
Stage Three - Persevering Love
Stage Four - Sacrificial Love
Stage Five - Intimate Love
Author and professor Nancy Kane links the growth of love with the natural physical growth. Just as our body grows in size and shape, so too is our need to grow in love. At the same time, our growth happens within the context of an increasingly non-religious background. With the rise of the "Nones," believers not affiliated with any Church, people are grappling with a new era as the Church's influence wanes. The primary reason is because people have not truly experienced or encountered God. Thus, people need to be invited. They need to be assured they will neither be condemned nor judged. Going back to the way God revealed Himself to Isaiah, Kane shows us how the prophet first encounters the holiness of God; resulting in personal confession; receiving God's cleansing; and finally responding in desiring to serve God. The author hopes that the book would help individuals grow in maturity in Christ and to cultivate love for God so great that this love not only grows within oneself but permeates through to others. This book is a map to help us do just that.

It all begins with God. We are able to love only because God first loved us. Stage One begins with our first love, also called saving faith. It is crucial to have a personal experience with God. Our preoccupation with the things of the world is the single biggest impediment to seeing God. If our hearts are like that fertile soil, the seed of the Word will be able to land, germinate, and grow deep roots, and tall branches. Stage Two flows naturally with "Obedient Love," a love that learns the ways of godliness. I like the way obedience is connected to godliness. It is how we let our desire for God lead to a hunger for the Word and a thirst to know Him more. Kane uses the beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5 to see how each of them builds on each other. Rather than seeing them as a series of do's and don'ts, we are encouraged to use them as a way to grow our desire for God. Stage Three deals with "Persevering Love" that even when the times are tough, we will learn that our relationship with Christ is more than just a formula. It is like a marriage relationship, with its shares of ups and downs. Yet, there is this holy longing that will keep us together. We might even forget about the experiences of the previous two stages. This is where we need to be careful not to allow emotions to make decisions for us. Getting ready to deal with these tensions without abandoning God is a mark of Stage Three love and maturity. This stage is also marked with temptations and discouragement as we grapple with idols of our lives. Stage Four is Sacrificial Love. Using the powerful story of Robertson McQuilkin, who quit from his role as President of Columbia International University in order to care for his wife who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. For 13 years, he faithfully and intentionally put his wife first, even though it meant giving up on his career and leadership roles. Such a life exemplifies what it means to love sacrificially. Sometimes, our prayers begin with our needs and wants instead of seeking God or wanting to see God's presence. This stage is a time to free ourselves from such attitudes and to seek God for who He is, not what He can offer us. Finally, Stage Five is about Intimate Love, that the ultimate delight and desire is to simply be in God's presence. With God, it is enough. With God, we don't need anything else. With God, following Christ is a given.

Each chapter follows a similar pattern. Kane begins with a definition of what that stage of love is. This is followed by a story or illustration about the kind of love that stage represents. Following the biblical explanations, readers are given some warnings about the obstacles to growth in that stage. Toward the end, there is a summary of key characteristics which is helpful both as a reminder as well as a quick reference for the busy reader.

My Thoughts
When I see the word "stages," I am reminded of the classics such as Francis de Sales's "Introduction to the Devout Life" or St Bernard of Clairvaux's "Four Degrees of Love." These works are classic devotionals to help believers to pursue after God through spiritual direction. While Sales's five books aim at a particular stage of seeking God, Kane's book condenses the stages of love into five chapters. They are quite similar in terms of of general thrusts. For instance, Sales's first and second books are about the intimacy with God, just like Kane's emphasis on intimacy. The last two stages of this book also parallels Sales's warnings on temptations and the eventual stage of enjoying God forever. Kane lists some of the other models of faith in the appendix which would help readers to explore the other works of spirituality.

This book is well thought out and extremely readable. For our modern audience who are not used to the classics of old, this book's modern language and cultural update would give readers a fresh impetus to seek after God in love. Filled with both Bible teachings and updated illustrations, most readers would be able to identify with the gist of what it means to love God and to experience God's love. Without trying to make things too idealistic, Kane has meticulously laid out warnings and possible traps to prevent the layperson from becoming discouraged in their spiritual journeys. I appreciate the way spiritual maturity is blended with love. We all want to grow, but sometimes we don't know how. This is where this book comes in to guide us in our respective journeys of spiritual direction. Apart from the personal experience and individual growth, I am glad that Kane has a bigger picture in mind, to move more toward communal living. Using the Barna 2016 statistics as a warning, we are reminded that only 35% of the people go to Church, and this number is shrinking. It is easy to let ourselves become self-absorbed to the point that we forget the importance of being a part of the larger church community. I look forward to her next book that will cover the stages of the soul through the journey in the Church. She closes with a powerful vision that is worth sharing:
"Believers in every stage would be singularly focused on Christ. There would be a common seeking to understand and grow with each other with no animosity or competiveness shown toward people in other stages. An environment of empathy, openness, and acceptance would make people feel at home no matter their stage. Women and men would share an equal voice in dialogue; people would not be segregated by ethnicity or social status. The homeless would be welcomed and not seen as a ‘mission opportunity.’ Children would be woven into the fabric of gatherings. There would be a heart of service, not marked by activism but fueled by compassion. Materialism and prosperity would be replaced with simplicity and radical generosity. There would be a sense of being known and fully accepted."
Thank you Nancy Kane for this inspired vision.

Nancy Kane is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She is also an Associate Professor at the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Nancy co-authored From Fear to Love: Overcoming Barriers to Healthy Relationships with her husband, Ray. They have two children and live in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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

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