More Thoughts on ‘The Sacred Year’: by Michael Yankoski

When Father Solomon first challenged Michael Yankoski to enter deeper in to spiritual practices he told Michael, “Spiritual practices are a way of mapping your own personal soulscape–helping you become more aquainted with who you are, who God is, and the people he’s placed you into this life alongside of” (13). This gave Michael a way of organizing practices into ‘depth with self,’ ‘depth with God’ and ‘depth with others’ as he explored spiritual practices during The Sacred Year.  In two previous blog posts, I reflected on my initial thoughts in coming to this book and my reactions to part one of the book (Depth with Self). In this post I want to reflect on part two, Depth with God and what I have heard in the text.

First let me say again how much I love Michael’s treatment of practices. This is not a ‘how to’ book which gives step by step instructions on how to do each discipline. This is Michael’s journey to somewhere deeper. Each of these practices enable Michael to inhabit a new dimension previously absent in his life. As such, these practices overlap and feed into one another. We saw this in part one where the practice of Selah (shutting up and paying attention) enabled Michael to attend to his life, to receive daily bread, live simply, explore creativity and number his days. The same is true in part two. We have a list of interrelated practices, each enabling the next and allowing Michael to press deeper into the spiritual life.

We begin with the practice of confession. Michael shares a childhood story of shoving all his dirty clothes and mess under his bed when he was told to clean his room. When a pungent ‘rotten meat’ smell emanated from his room, his mother took a broom handle and helped Michael scrape out all of the junk from under his bed until they found the culprit (126-7). This becomes a poignant analogy for confession–it is a way of getting rid of the awful smell in our life. As Michael enters deeper into confession he is also has to face up to his image of God. There are ways that Michael has felt that God loathes him (129) or at very least is deeply disappointed in how sinful and defective he is!. Underlying the practice of confession is a confidence in God’s great love for us. God does not loathe us, he longs to set us free and confession brings us into greater freedom. Michael’s experience of confession is so rich that he petitions his baptist church to let him build a confessional in their sanctuary (138). They don’t accept Mike’s offer, but the pastors of his church do make themselves available for confession during the season of Lent and are surprised at how many people sign up (139).

In addition to confession, Michael delves into the realm of listening prayer (chapter 9). Like Michael, I grew up in a context which advocated intercessory prayer. We were good at making our requests known to God, but seldom made time to listen to Him. By focusing on listening prayer, Michael cultivates attentiveness to God.  This has resonance to the practice of solitude (chapter 11) where  he learns to counter the world full of social media caw-caw-cawing and ADD by entering deeper into silence, stillness and solitude. He also learns to ‘attend’ through his practice of sabbath (chapter 12–in a lot of ways, this practice is selah writ large) and entering into the wilderness (chapter 13).

Perhaps these practices all invite Michael into a different ‘pace’ but this is seen most readily in his explorations of the practice of ‘Lectio Divina,’ and regular Eucharist (chapter 10) and the sauntering pace of pilgrimage (chapter 14). Rather than rushing through texts and scavenging for something meaningful, Michael takes up Eugene Peterson’s challenge to Eat This Book–to chew on the biblical text by reading slowly and devotionally. Regular celebration of the Eucharist invited Michael to meditate on Christ’s death by chewing, sipping and swallowing.  When he explores the idea of pilgrimage, Michael is as much challenged by the mode of travel as he is by his destination. It is fitting that his pilgrimage to Mission, BC from Vancouver to the monastery he’s visited throughout his sacred year enables him to enter into place and pay attention to things that he would not have seen otherwise. This leads to a chance encounter (divine appointment) with Virgil, a lonely fellow traveler (226-9).

The Sacred Year has me thinking about  the nature of sacred practice. Someone once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and experiencing different results. But how often do we do that? For example, my mom doesn’t know my children. When my grandfather was still alive, she would say to me over the phone, “I need to be there for my dad right now. When he passes away then I can visit you and your family.” My grandpa has been dead for a couple years now, my mom has yet to visit (though she has her reasons). If you want to grow personally, interpersonally and spiritually you need to act intentionally. You need to behave in away that counters your regular practice (i.e. buy a plane ticket and visit) Spiritual practices are a way of combating our status-quo responses.  By the way I share this story about my mom to my shame. I wish I had a closer relationship with her, but I also find it hard to reach out to her and connect.  Something has to change in our relationship. I feel primed  and challenged to explore part three of Michael’s book ‘Depth With Others.” 

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