I have just finished an excellent book and wanted to share it with you all. The book is The Cultivated Life-From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy by Susan S. Phillips. I received the book as a gift in October, but picked it up to read late in March. I posted about it a few times on my Instagram @revdougs. Dr. Phillips is executive director and professor of sociology and Christianity at New College Berkeley and will be one of the faculty at San Francisco Theological Seminary for my Pastor as Spiritual Leader Doctor of Ministry. I am very excited about having her in class after reading this book. It has been a long time since I have written a book review, but I really want you to read this book, so I am going to highlight some of the reasons why.
This book serves as an introduction to Christian spirituality, and if you have never read a book on this topic before, this is an excellent one to start with. Eugene H. Peterson, who wrote the foreward, had me hooked even before I had read of word of Dr. Phillips. On page 10 he writes: This is a book written specifically for those of us who are assigned the task of developing an imagination for living the Christian faith with insight and skill in and for a society that is disconnected from the biblical revelation and the Jesus incarnation. This was exactly what I was searching for to help me make sense of a world that has drastically changed over the course of my 20 plus years of ministry. Now that I was engaged, what would I learn from this author?
In the Introduction there is a question presented, found on page 15, that starts moving me toward the answer I am seeking. How can we participate in the cultivation of our souls in a ceaselessly striving, circus-like culture that pushes us to be performers and spectators? It is with this question that I am drawn into Dr. Phillips premise that draws upon biblical imagery of cultivation and the narratives that animate it. In twelve chapters Dr. Phillips takes us on a journey using this concept of cultivation. She defines it on page 35 this way:
The cultivated life is one of persevering in our longing. In the garden and on the trail, grace collaborates with dedication. Our completion comes toward us as we move toward it, and this is all part of what Paul calls the “still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).
Throughout these chapters, which at the end of each one there are at least two or three questions to help us dig deeper, we learn the basics of Christian spirituality. We learn more about truly listening to others, as well as keeping our own Sabbath times. In chapter nine she explains what spiritual direction is and why it is important for us as Christians to find our own spiritual directors. Again, I am not writing a complete review, I am only highlighting a few key parts for myself. I encourage you to buy and read this book.
If for any other reason, the Appendix makes purchasing this book totally worth it. It has Guidelines for Practices in these areas: contemplative listening, Sabbath Living, Lectio Divina, Finding a Spiritual Director, and finally for Cultivating Friendship. These guidelines are well written and presented in a way that helps them make sense and provide a path for us to follow as we grow deeper in our faith.