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The Cultivated Life: From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy.

The Cultivated Life: From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy

by Susan S. Phillips Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, Ill. 240 pages

In each chapter Phillips introduces a Christian spiritual practice, grounds it in Scripture, connects it with a real-life story and then poses questions for reflection. The book is a helpful resource for an adult education class.

Susan S. Phillips poses two questions that I believe many of us in the church ask with great regularity. How can we fashion flourishing lives from our time-compressed, multi-tasking days? And, 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?

These questions loom large in my life and in the lives of the people I serve in our northern Virginia congregation. I found that trying to read a book about contemplation became an example of the kind of modern life Phillips grapples with in this book. I was reading chapters from "The Cultivated Life" wherever and whenever I could find a calm moment in my omnipresent schedule: in the school cafeteria at my daughter's 5th grade science fair, in the bleachers at my 9-year-old son's soccer practice, late at night just before sleep. I am well acquainted with the circus-like culture of our times and I would love to have some tools for navigating it without giving in and retreating into Candy Crush or some other mind numbing exercise.

Right off the bat, Phillips sets up two contrasting and familiar metaphors. First, she writes about the metaphor of modern life as living in a circus. Phillips acknowledges "circuses as entertainment businesses have a place in our culture and form their own special communities of co-workers. But the dominance of circus-like performing and spectating postures in everyday life is a calamity as we move between the three rings of marketplace, workplace and cyberspace." The other metaphor, opposite of the circus, is the garden, a place of nourishment, growth and cultivation. "The circus is the antithesis of the life-generating and cultivated garden."

Phillips does not pretend that we can dispel or do away with the circus. We need help cultivating the garden in spite of and in the midst of the ever-present, always-pressing circus life. For most of the book Phillips offers navigational tools that help us find this garden. These navigational tools are nothing new but they are being forgotten and need to be revisited and relearned. While reading "The Cultivated Life" I was reminded of the timeless and age-old Christian spiritual practices that I have let fall by the wayside as I have gone about daily ministry. I became reacquainted with old friends such as paying attention, listening, Sabbath keeping, lectio divina, spiritual direction and practicing friendship.

In each chapter Phillips introduces a Christian spiritual practice, grounds it in Scripture, connects it with a real-life story and then poses questions for reflection. The book is a helpful resource for an adult education class. The appendix, in particular, is a hands-on resource for the how-to of developing these navigational tools. I could see this book being used at my own church in an eight-week study on Christian practices with the goal of helping folks in my community navigate their way into the garden while living in the circus.

Thank you, Susan Phillips, for such a practical and fresh look at ancient practices.

EMILY BERMAN D'ANDREA is the associate pastor for Christian formation at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia.

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Author:D'andrea, Emily Berman
Publication:The Presbyterian Outlook
Date:Aug 17, 2015
Words:584
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