A couple week ago I posted my initial thoughts on Michael Yankoski’s The Sacred Year. Since that time I have read through part one of the book. Michael discusses practices which helped him achieve ‘depth with self’ (parts two and three go on to discuss depth with God and others). Michael begins with the self because his sacred journey stems from his existential angst and longing for something meaningful. Michael feels the rub between his persona and role a conference speaker and public Christian witness and his anxious inner self. As he beings his journey into Spiritual practices, he is seeking something which propels him away from the plasticity and cheesiness of ‘American Christianity’ to something more substantive. So he begins by contemplating an apple.
I will discuss the apple in a moment but first allow me to theologically nerd out. I love that Michael chose to talk about ‘practices’ instead of disciplines. Writers on the spiritual life sometimes tend to use these words interchangeably but they are different. To me, ‘discipline’ carries a private connotation whereas ‘practice’ evokes something communal and participatory. I know that writers on Spiritual Disciplines like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster also speak about ‘corporate disciplines’ but I think disciplines, in general, signify a sort of ‘private practice.’ The language of practice is more open-ended and invitational.
So Michael contemplates an apple. From the apple he seeks to learn attentiveness. The fruit of attentiveness is that you attend to what’s in front of you. Michael learns this from the Psalms, The Psalms are often broken up by the word selah which is a sort of musical notation. Michael says his favorite translation he’s heard for selah is “Shut up and pay attention!”(26). So he gets intimate with an apple and sees, feels and tastes what it has to offer. This selah attentiveness spills into self examination with the practice of the Daily Examen (chapter three), baking bread and learning about sustenance (chapter four), paying attention to the pull of materialism and practicing simplicity (chapter five), cultivating creativity (chapter six) and living life mindful of our own mortality (chapter seven). These chapters layer on top of one another and reflect the ways Michael is growing. These are not unrelated disciplines but a web of practices which invite Michael to a deeper place.
I am challenged by the energy and commitment that Michael presses into depth with self. He is led along the way by the insights of friends and wise guides (like Father Solomon in the monastery) and hiking companions which name his lack of self. He uses the Bible and Christian tradition as his source book and draws generously on some very thoughtful recent Christian writers. However most of what is said in part one of this book seems accessible to any spiritual seeker. Michael has a strong faith commitment, but by starting with the self he is on common ground with other seekers. I think that the next section, ‘Depth with God’ will delve deeper into the Christian tradition and understanding
I liked Michael’s previous book Under the Overpass and read it while I was working directly with the homeless. I read it in one sitting cover to cover. I could not do that with this book. Reading this book invites you into personal reflection. I found myself re-reading sections, chewing on the words. I am excited to see where Michael Yankoski’s sacred year takes me!