L. Roger Owens
Upper Room, 160 pages
Published February 1, 2022
A men’s Bible study meets at my church every Friday morning. While the members of this group enjoy their reputation of being crusty old men, they are, in truth, on the leading edge of the congregation, happily reading and discussing books on hard interfaith questions and the deconstruction of the theologies that raised them. These fellas will give nearly anything a try, provided it isn’t overly sentimental or saccharine and never claims to offer a panacea for a broken world. I thought of them as I cracked open L. Roger Owens’ Everyday Contemplative: The Way of Prayerful Living, presuming it might be the kind of book that would elicit eyerolls from the group.
I am grateful to have been quite wrong. I plan to bring this book to the Friday study immediately and with confidence that the participants will find it both deeply meaningful and spiritually sustaining, as I did.
Owens, professor of Christian spirituality and ministry at Pittsburgh Theological seminary, is not interested in prescribing a list of practices. Instead, he steps back and looks at spirituality more holistically. He asks, “How might we imagine a life posture that honors God’s initiative and seeks to be increasingly open, available, and responsive to the transforming work of God’s Spirit in our lives and in the world?”
Everyday Contemplative is Owens’ attempt to describe such a posture, one from which we can be ever more receptive to God at work in our lives. Each chapter focus on one of seven characteristics of the everyday contemplative: longing, attention, patience, playfulness, vulnerability, nonjudgment, and freedom. These characteristics are examined theologically, scripturally, and often through another lens like anthropology or psychology. The book is filled with relatable stories that serve the intended purpose of highlighting opportunities to become more open to the Spirit while also demonstrating the author’s clear natural gift for spiritual observation. I found myself saying, “I see what he means!” but also, “I want to notice the things he notices.”
Part of the appeal of Everyday Contemplative is that Owens understands the frustrations of the impatient, the busy, and the concrete or practical thinkers when they learn about spiritual practices. He is willing to poke at his own past work and other accrued wisdom about the contemplative life and point to the pieces that make sense to those of us who struggle to connect with, for example, centering prayer. Owens does end each chapter with spiritual exercises that include Scripture readings, questions to ponder or discuss, and journaling prompts. While reading, I felt Owens grant me, a talker and hater of journaling, permission to choose the spiritual practices that work for me!
The timing of Everyday Contemplative may not have been intentional, but it arrives as so many Christians I encounter are wrestling with pandemic meaning-making and yearning for spiritual wayfinding. They will find a willing and able guide in Owens. He suggests the book for use with a group, but I think preachers, worship leaders, and retreat planners will find a wealth of helpful suggestions and themes for discovery as we all search for a new posture.
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