Friday, April 29, 2011

Naked Spirituality

Brian McLaren's latest release, Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In Twelve Simple Words outlines what spiritual life looks like against the backdrop of the postmodern, post-Christian, post-everything matrix. For those looking for more classic McLaren controversy, there will be little to offer in this book [with the exception of the acceptance of evolution, occasional political rhetoric, and lack of gender pronoun usage with reference to God]. Instead, McLaren offers up his view on the seasons of the spiritual life, encapsulating each in twelve simple words. The book breaks down like this:

Simplicity: The Season of Spiritual Awakening [Here, Thanks, O]
Complexity: The Season of Spiritual Strengthening [Sorry, Help, Please]
Perplexity: The Season of Spiritual Surviving [When, No, Why]
Harmony: The Season of Spiritual Deepening [Behold, Yes, ...]

Naked Spirituality therefore reads like a progression of spiritual seasons, with springtime [Simplicity] moving to summer [Complexity], descending into autumn [Perplexity] and coming full circle at winter's end [Harmony]. In my own life, I have had a growing awareness of the seasons of the spiritual life, and McLaren's writing gives beautiful voice to these journeys. For anyone who has wrestled with faith and experienced both the fullness and depravity that mark spiritual life [or life in general], McLaren's words will ring true.

McLaren writes most powerfully and effectively about the season of Perplexity, what St. John of the Cross famously called "the dark night of the soul." With sensitivity and depth, he articulates the emotion and turmoil of the season of darkness. McLaren gives the reader permission to feel the fullness of negative emotions with God or their situation. He does not trivialize or dismiss such feelings as a lack of faith, but practically enters the reader's mind and better articulates the pain and searching. A reader gets the sense that McLaren himself has endured and survived more than one such season.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McLaren moves effortlessly between prose and poetry, narrative and song, weaving together a beautiful portrayal of the abundant spiritual life offered to all. He deals honestly with struggles and questions at each stage of the spiritual life, and refuses to offer trite, pat answers.

The book did lose me in a few places, where it belabored ethereal points that are quite elusive. At times, McLaren's descriptions and outworkings of thought seemed vaporous and tough to understand. However, he can be forgiven of this shortcoming, as such is the nature of the spiritual life. Words fail us.

McLaren does not leave the reader thinking that they are not doing enough, as Richard Foster [unitinentionally] might have done with his classic Celebration of Discipline. I loved Celebration of Discipline, but at the end of the book, felt like I needed simply to do everything better! McLaren is not trying to add this discipline or that to one's life [although certainly there is a time for that]. Instead, he attempts to awaken us to the God who is already there, already the All in all. It's an attempt to get the reader to simply open their eyes and see the God in all things.

I will be taking my team through this book in the coming weeks. This book includes a helpful reader's guide, and some appendices covering group practice and prayer practices.

While Naked Spirituality will not be considered McLaren's signature work, it might be one of his best. Time will tell if it has the staying power [or will even be readily accepted enough] to become a spiritual classic of this generation.

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