Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
I can remember when I had a “quiet time” every day. I began the practice in junior high, when at my evangelical mega-church I took a class titled, appropriately, Quiet Time. The book, written by our teacher, showed sunrise breaking through a forest, in presumably just the way God’s light would break into our darkness when we followed the steps the book outlined. I can still picture our teacher, a soft-spoken white southern gentleman, saying that it didn’t have to happen in the morning, but that there was just something special about early morning prayer. The psalmist is always talking about meeting God in the morning, he said.
It was a good book, a helpful class, and a beneficial practice. I learned to keep a prayer journal, where every day (every evening, to be honest) I would note four things:
Something I was grateful for.
Something I learned from my daily Scripture reading.
How I intended to apply that Scripture.
A list of prayer requests for others.
This kind of quiet time, born of 17th-century Pietism’s emphasis on an individual connection to God in devotions and prayer, is a central part of evangelical faith today. In accountability groups in high school, we used to ask each other, “How are your quiet times going?” If you weren’t having your quiet times, we would pray for you, because you obviously weren’t growing spiritually. Or pleasing God. Or something.
At least, that’s what we thought then. It’s also how Micha Boyett, author of Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer (Worthy, 2014) feels in the early months of motherhood, when her routines and spiritual disciplines are upended by the arrival of a little human who brings joy, pain, and lots and lots of sleep deprivation.
“My first year of motherhood I lost prayer,” she writes. “I lost early mornings of quiet, mornings in my pajamas with a Bible in my lap … I lost the Spirit life I had known. I blamed myself.” Boyett tries: She wakes up early, only to have the baby wake up early, too. She falls asleep praying, she’s distracted by her baby’s beauty, she can’t find the rhythm again.
Inspired by Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk, Boyett — who was raised Baptist and identifies as an evangelical — begins to look for a new rhythm, believing with the Benedictines that there is “time in each day for prayer, for work, for study, and for play.”
If Found were like the spiritual living books I grew up reading, you would know what to expect next. Each chapter would begin with an engaging or funny story, move on to state a clear principle from the Benedictine rule of life, then elaborate with Bible verses and interpretation and some suggested action points. It would be like most of the books on prayer we already have.
Boyett’s book is different; in a style that is both ancient and postmodern, she relies on story to teach us to pray, rather than offering instruction or steps to success.
In content, Found should be shelved with “Spiritual Living” or “Prayer”; but in style, it belongs on the “Memoir” shelf. It’s about prayer, but it seeks to connect in a personal way, rather than to instruct in a universal way. And that idea — that we can teach by being personal, flawed, and questioning, rather than by didactic instruction — is as old as Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, and as new as Jimmy Fallon hosting The Tonight Show with sincerity and vulnerability.
Instead of teaching, Boyett shows, coming alongside the reader like the Young Life leader she once was. She takes us on a walk to the neighborhood park, and she lets us see her talk about God with her friends. She gives up dark chocolate for Lent, and finds out how that can remind her to rest in God. She allows us to hear the short prayers she whispers as she pushes the stroller, calms the baby’s tears, kneels in church, and makes friends in a new city.
But that doesn’t mean that her book is just a personal story. Woven throughout the narratives are lessons learned from her study of scripture and Benedictine life. Found demonstrates the ways that the Rule of Benedict can speak into the quotidian mysteries of modern domestic life.
Boyett’s writing will appeal to fans of Ann Voskamp’s (Voskamp wrote the foreword for Found). Some readers — perhaps especially we cynical Gen X-ers? — may struggle to take her sincere, emotional tone seriously. At times her prose is almost too lyrical, and the mundane events of her life seem impossibly weighted with meaning. But this flaw lies more in the reader than in the writing, and ultimately Boyett reminds me to be more serious and sincere about my own life of faith.
Prayer and quiet times are important, as I learned in junior high; but Boyett shows us that connecting with God doesn’t have to follow the same formula throughout your life. She finds that God is full of grace, even for the prayerless, and always ready to meet us — not just in quiet times, but in all times.
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