I was asked to review a new book that is soon to be released that could easily have been titled, “A Beginner’s Guide to Contemplation in Five Easy Steps.” This book is one of many trying to jump on the “hot new” trend in post-modern Christianity of engaging in a type of pseudo-contemplative life.
My feedback on the book was direct and critical. I feel what the author was offering could be simply feeding a fad at the least and spiritual dangerous at the worst. The reason I say this because of the manner in which the spiritual disciplines dealt with in the book are presented. The author encourages individuals to “experiment” with the differing means of developing more contemplative disciplines in a manner of going to a Golden Corral and trying all the different dishes to see what one likes.
This type of consumer-driven pursuit of what is pleasurable might be okay for trying new foods or fashions, but in the spiritual life, it can lead one down a path of deception and misdirection or lead to disillusionment and frustration.
I know this to be true from personal experience. Spiritual disciplines are relational instruments given to us through the traditions of the church, connected solidly to correct doctrine, and evaluated by commitment and divine consolation. It is a very difficult path to try to travel alone, much less with a shallow, broad based workbook. The disciplines deepen our life of prayer and communion with God, others, and ourselves. The type of help needed with this process that can take forty years rather than the simple forty days pitched in the book.
Now I will give the author this, she does understand the shallowness of our current consumer-driven Christianity. I do believe she is sincere in her desire to see people engaging in these disciplines in hope of deepening their prayer lives and trust in the mystery that is our loving God who desires this depth of relationship with us. I am afraid, however, because of her own unique situation, she is calling others toward a spiritual path filled with deceptions, let downs, and possibly even spiritual harm.