I did not want to read Finding our Way Again by Brian McLaren. It is part of “The Ancient Practices Series” of which, I have previously read two other books (the volumes on Pilgrimage and Sabbath). Neither one captivated me. So I didn’t expect much out of Brian McLaren’s introductory volume either. Besides, I have read numerous other books about spiritual disciples, spiritual formation, and ancient practices of mystics and monks, and found little that was helpful.
I was surprised, then, when I had trouble putting the book down. I tried to figure out why as I went along. It could be the short chapters. The book has twenty chapters, and most are only eight pages or so. Short chapters give me the feeling of progression and accomplishment, as well as offer information in bite-size pieces that I can grasp and grapple within the limited amount of reading time I have.
But the book was more than just short chapters. McLaren is a winsome writer. His style is readable, his ideas colorful, and his ability to explain difficult and dry subjects in imaginative ways is almost unmatched in modern Christian literature. He also writes with gentleness and respect, which is refreshing. Whenever he wants to say something challenging or controversial, he does not state it as fact, but asks questions about it. For example, on page 73, after writing some challenging ideas about heaven, hell, and life here on earth, he raises questions about the kingdom of God and the afterlife:
What if we realize that God cares about both this life and the afterlife, that for God, who is not a dualist, they are both just different facets of one reality called life? What if we realize that a phrase like kingdom of God can be understood to encompass both?
When he writes this way, it is hard to disagree with him, because he is not stating anything as fact. He is only asking questions to make the reader think. This method sounds quite similar to another famous teacher I know…
So am I going to start engaging in any ancient practices as a result of this book? Not exactly. I am not a big fan of the ancient practices because for me, they reek of religion. I am not about to start a fixed hour of prayer, a weekly fast, a regimented Sabbath, a sacred meal, or go on a pilgrimage. Yet, as I read how McLaren explained these various practices, I frequently experienced an “Ah-ha!” moment where I felt like I was looking myself in the mirror. I recognized something he was writing about as a practice I already perform in my own life to help me stay connected to God and to other people. His chapter on interpreting the practices in a missional way was among the best (Chapter 12).
The book encouraged me to see that the path I am on as I pursue a relationship with God and others although it often seems lonely and desolate has been walked by millions of Christians before. It may do the same for you.