Will The Sacred Year Affect My Life (or Yours)?—Book Review

I thought The Sacred Year—with its subtitle that talked of “contemplating apples [and] living in a cave”—would be a fun read on the order of A. J. Jacob’s book The Know-It-All, on reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from beginning to end, or his The Year of Living Biblically, where he tried to live the Old Testament laws, including stoning adulterers. book

Yeah, I should have paid more attention to the start of my friend Lisa Bartelt’s blog post on the same book:  “This book should come with a warning . . . Rarely do I advise people NOT to read a book.” I didn’t read the rest of her post because I knew I would be reading and reviewing The Sacred Year as well (I received it free from BookLook Bloggers), and I didn’t want to be influenced by her review (or discouraged by her beautiful writing, to be honest).

This book has it’s funny moments, but it’s not just a compendium of absurd actions taken by a writer who takes something to the extremes simply so he can write about it. Michael Yankoski dove headlong into the spiritual disciplines to save his life after a rude awakening to the sometimes fakeness of celebrity Christianity.

Yes, he goes to extremes, like living in a cave for a week to practice silence or digging a grave to focus on his own mortality, but his goal is to allow the disciplines to shape his soul and thus his life, his relationships, his actions.

I will never take on the disciplines in the way Yankoski did. (In addition to no cave-dwelling or grave-digging, there will be no darning socks on a bus or hiking 48.6 miles to a monastery.) But after reading The Sacred Year, the lessons he learned are swirling through my head. I have lived (too recently) these feelings he describes:

I’m flat-out weary from the ever-present fear that I am falling behind, that I’m not getting ahead, that I’m not doing enough, not swinging the hammer high enough or hard enough.

I wasn’t raised in a tradition that spoke much of spiritual disciplines other than reading the Bible and praying, but over the years I’ve learned how I need much more than this duet, and how easy it is to let them go. Yankoski’s book adds to the spiritual discipline symphony I’ve already discovered. It reminds me why I need to consciously incorporate them into my life as I make everyday decisions.

Here’s an example of how what I read in The Sacred Year affected me just today: Yankoski recounts a conversation with his mentor Father Solomon on justice. Father Solomon says:

To be human is to be interdependent—no one is an island. But to be a just human is to be rightly related to all others. So yes: I would say that justice in its fullest sense prevents us from being parasites. Justice precludes us from making our way in the world at the expense of another’s well-being, at the cost of another’s blood.

Parasites? Am I one? Yankoski explores that theme in the rest of the chapter. I mull it over in my head. And when a friend posts an article on Facebook about how the store H&M sources its cotton from companies that have, with government help, grabbed land and forcibly displaced the poor, I take the time to read the subtitles of the 20-minute Swedish program. I don’t usually shop at H&M, but my years in retail taught me that if one company is doing it, so are most of the rest. When I buy cheap clothes (like the $6.95 shirts I got last week at Kohl’s), who is suffering? How am I living as a parasite on the backs of the poor?

There are no easy answers to that question. In fact, first there will be hard questions. I’ll need to find out what companies I choose to purchase from are doing. I took the first step by once again joining Green America, an organization that provides information on unethical practices from well-known companies as well as some ethical alternatives. Their sweatshop guide is an eye-opener to the clothing industry. They also provide convenient ways to let companies know you care about these issues. I may not agree with every issue they find important, but I need to at least remove my head from the sand and recognize the parasitic realities of our consumerism.

As I intentionally begin to practice the spiritual disciplines, I will need to listen more and more to the Spirit of God. Yankoski puts it this way:

Taken together . . . the spiritual practices become a lifelong way. . . . The unfathomable invitation presented to us in the way of spiritual practice is to work synergistically with God by walking on that pilgrim path, to meld our hearts and minds and wills and our very lives with God through the ongoing journey until we are at last standing in the full light of day, fully “conformed to the image of his Son.”

If you desire to be conformed to the image of Christ, take the time to delve into The Sacred Year. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth the trip.

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