My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Review: A Short Guide to Spiritual Formation: Finding Life in Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Community

A Short Guide to Spiritual Formation: Finding Life in Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Community A Short Guide to Spiritual Formation: Finding Life in Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Community by Alex Sosler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a though provoking book, with concepts that I could agree with as well as a few where I could not and not a few that were original for me. It was well organized into four sections (truth, goodness, beauty and community aka transcendentals), that at times seemed a bit overly constrained or forced, but the language was clear and accessible to all audiences, although it obviously targets christians within the protestant tradition. Each part was further divided into three (3) chapters that covered: biblical antecedences with fairly orthodox interpretations; analysis of historical and/or philosophical influences; and a brief bio of an exemplar (saint) that lived out the ideal. The latter also includes a brief breakout of practical advice for how the read may live out that same concept). I found each of the thirds to be the most interesting where the analysis was more hit or miss … although it was mostly solid.

The chapters and sections in this work are


Part 1 Truth: The Theological Life
1. The Centrality of Biblical Truth: God Speaks
2. The Story-Shaped Life: From a Devotional Faith to a Deep Faith
3. Saint Augustine: Faith Seeking Understanding

Part 2 Goodness: The Virtuous Life
4. In Pursuit of the Good Life: Righteousness without Self-Righteousness
5. How Do We Become Virtuous? The Power of Habit
6. Dorothy Day: We Must Love One Another or Die

Part 3 Beauty: The Contemplative Life
7. The Beatific Vision: Becoming What You Behold
8. The Road to Transformation and Union: Attention Contemplation, and Detachment
9. Teresa of Avila: Exploring the Interior Castle

Part 4 The United Life: Living in Community
10. Belonging Together: Longing for Community
11. The Web of Existence: Cosmic Connections
12. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Neighbor Love and Life Together


Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Tradition, as it turns out, creates social continuity and personal density. Social continuity comes through the establishment of a language that is common to the past and the present day. This language connects past moments to the present moment in a way that makes actions and thoughts intelligible. Tradition gives us a language to speak and practices to inherit.

All Christian maturity finds its root in being a beloved child of God. When we forget that, when we work for our salvation rather than from our salvation, things go haywire.

Real remembering, deep remembering, is a kind of return: a return to the cross, a return to forgiveness, a return to Eden, a return to God. If we do the hard work of rightly remembering, there we encounter a healing truth.

As gospel truths begin to take residence in our hearts, we move from selfish enjoyment to sacrificial love of one another. We turn from our egotistical pleasures and go out into the world, seeking to bring ultimate joy in God to our neighbors. This shift brings us to the secondary elements of renewal: mission, prayer, community, and theological integration.

Grace seems too simple, too accessible for someone as talented and smart as Augustine. Grace would mean Augustine wasn’t special or more capable than others in regard to salvation. For most of his early life, he couldn’t accept that.

Pelagians said that accountability required choice. God couldn’t hold people accountable if they were sinful by nature. If sin wasn’t a choice but was how humans were born, then God would be unjust to hold them accountable. For this reason they denied original sin, the doctrine that people are born in a state of sin.

The goal for the Christian life is not merely about getting to heaven through believing true things. Salvation is a broader concept. The central question is this: What does it mean to live a life aimed toward God? This question is answered not by assent to some intellectual propositions but by ways of being and by habits.

This American concept of freedom is known as “negative freedom.” It emphasizes freedom from. In Christianity we can say that we’re free from the curse of the law. We’re free from condemnation. We’re free from Mosaic stipulations.

Ascetic practices help us die. Asceticism is a way of curbing the false self and living into the true self. The goal, to borrow a statement from John the Baptist, is for us to decrease and for Jesus to increase (John 3:30). The monastics urge fellow believers to die to self for the sake of life with Christ.

I can’t say I’m spiritually formed by knowing a lot. If I am to grow, practices and habits must accompany what I say. Habits help us “put on” Christ to be slowly trained in becoming like him. In other words, habits are as formative as they are expressive. They are not merely actions we do; they do something to us.

Suffering also allows us to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3–7) with a sense of deep gratitude. It is not that we are thankful for the suffering we have experienced; this reaction would trivialize suffering. Yet there’s a sense that the suffering shapes us to become deeper people, more whole and holy people.

In the schema of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the sacraments are inherently tied to what they are used for, which, he argues, is making human beings holy.

John McDermott describes the sacramental understanding as the realization that the “material world serves as a communicator of God to man and as a means of enabling him to attain the beautifying possession of God in His kingdom.”

There’s something in Ignatian spirituality called “holy detachment.” We are born with passionate desire, yet to experience God we must put to death selfish passion and self-centered desire. In essence, holy detachment invites us to care only about the things that help us love God and love neighbor.

As Rabbi Abraham Heschel commends, “The purpose of prayer is not the same as the purpose of speech. The purpose of speech is to inform; the purpose of prayer is to partake.”

“To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.” To become divine, like Jesus, we empty ourselves of the passions that wage war within us and become nothing, so that, like Jesus, we can rise to life with God.

We live mediated lives, gifted lives. We all came into being from two other people, and from our earliest beginnings we were dependent on parents who loved us into existence. We depend on others throughout our entire lives and will likely die in dependency on our children or on strangers. There’s no getting around it. We are relational beings.

We each contribute, positively or negatively, to a community of faith. We all make daily deposits, so to speak. Either our commitments and rhythm of life enrich a community, or our presence poisons it. Living in trivial, superficial, or restless ways poisons the stream of communal life. Commitment, by contrast, restores and nourishes a community.

Bonhoeffer also developed a rule of life, which he outlined in Life Together. The community had rhythms and habits of prayer, work, and study. They wanted to be good and Christlike, to care for and love “the least of these.” To be a certain kind of people, they needed the habits that formed virtue. It wasn’t legalistic, but it was formative.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#AShortGuidetoSpiritualFormation #NetGalley.

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.