Michael Yankoski is a friend I knew from Regent College, He has a new book coming out in September. He was nice enough to send me a review copy and I intend to review it here. But this is not a review. I am not far enough along to write one yet. These are my initial reflections.
I wouldn’t say I was ever really ‘close’ to Michael. We spent a semester or two in the same community group at Regent, Micah 6:8, a prayer support group themed around the area of social justice. It wasn’t long before I realized how smart, thoughtful and charismatic he was. Michael is tall, he has better hair than me (not hard) and an infectious smile. I remember an early conversation where I subtly tried to inform him of my significant role in the (Regent) community. Actually. it was a bald attempt to make myself seem important. Michael was gracious and thanked me for ‘my work.’ This was before I realized that Michael was a published author whom I had read appreciatively. Of course I wondered later why I was so insecure that I felt I needed to prove myself to a virtual stranger. I can probably even dig up a prayer journal entry on that conversation, though I’d be surprised if Michael even remembered it.
I don’t think I really ever felt ‘jealous’ of Michael, perhaps just a little over-awed. I had numerous conversations with my wife about how impressive Michael and Danae are (Michael’s über talented and delightful wife). But when I opened up the Sacred Year and read I discovered that in the years that I knew Michael he had undergone an existential crisis. In his introduction he tells the story of meeting up with a fellow Regent student for coffee. This student expresses the same sort of admiration for Mike that I felt. As he confesses this to Michael, Michael reveals his existential crisis and the journey it set him on (xii). The rest of the book reveals the journey. The first chapter shares Michael’s ‘jadedness’ after travelling around to Christian conferences and events to share his experiences from his first book, Under the Overpass. One over-the-top Christian conference causes him to question whether he was “just another pawn in the brightly lit song-and-dance called ‘American Christianity'”(7).
This leads him to make a week-long-retreat to the local Benedictine abbey near Vancouver. There a spiritual director, Father Solomon, challenges Michael to a year long exploration of spiritual practices. At first Michael balked at a spirituality of trying harder, as if that could earn salvation. The wizened old monk replied:
The God that called you into existence ex nihilo–out of nothing–is the same God who holds your existence this moment and every moment. Were he to withdraw his hand, you would vanish without memory. All things would. No you can’t make Godlove you. You can’t make God like you. But nor do you need to; he already does. Never forget that is why he made you–because he wants you to exist. And not just exist. He wants you to live life in all its fullness.(13).
This sets Michael on a journey of exploring spiritual practices which deepen his daily walk with God.
From the outset, this book intrigues me. I have read more than my fair share of books on Spiritual Disciplines. But in lots of ways, my spirituality is still more informational than ‘formational.’ What excites me about this book is that Michael makes a real attempt to live this out. He doesn’t present himself as a Christian super-saint but as someone seeking to shore up what is lacking in his own faith. I am reading this book with interest, because this has been my struggle as well. I too have have had my run-in with the shallowness of ‘American Christianity’ and have sought something deeper and more life-giving. I also am reading this book as someone who knows the author (a little) and so feels invested in his journey. I am predisposed to like this book because I think Michael is reaching for a deeper place than he did in Under the Overpass (which is still a great book!). I am eager to see the places Michael’s journey with spiritual practices takes him.