Monday, 26 July 2010
A 30 Day Retreat: Book Review
Wiliam C Mills is an Eastern Orthodox priest, a university teacher and a pastor. This book of spiritual exercises reflects all of these aspects of his life, but particularly the last. While it draws from the depths of Orthodox theology and reflects an impressive depth of scholarship, it is aimed squarely at ordinary, everyday Christians seeking to deepen their spirituality. The format is one which is common enough: there are 30 chapters, each beginning with a brief passage from scripture. The heart of each chapter is a commentary on the passage, usually running to 3 or 4 pages, which is followed by a few questions, aimed at leading the reader into deeper reflection on the passage and on the points raised by the commentary. Each chapter ends with some suggestions for further Biblical reading. Very helpfully, there is an appendix which describes the Lectio Divina: a way of reading the Bible in order to maximise engagement with The Word of God contained within it, and this inclusion nicely indicates the tenor of the book. While the format is similar to more famous offerings from the likes of Oswald Chambers, C.S. Lewis and William Barclay, this is a book for a rigorous workout for the soul, rather than for ongoing day to day spiritual feeding.
That being said, the approach to spiritual growth is pastoral; the reflections in the book are couched in terms and filled with examples that everyone should find accessible. The language is gentle, and the reader is led calmly and logically through each of the 30 themes. The tone of each chapter is that of a well crafted sermon by an erudite but pastorally connected priest. To deal with each of the day's exercises properly : to read the passage prayerfully, read the reflection and spend some time with the questions takes at least half an hour, and again, this indicates the uses the book has been designed for. I imagine this would be a useful companion on a private individual retreat, or as a devotional manual for Lent, or as a study and devotional series for a housegroup; but there is another use I could see for it in my own Diocese of far flung, sometimes under resourced parishes. A congregation lacking a preacher could do a lot worse than reading a chapter of A 30 Day Retreat, and inviting the congregation to take the questions home for reflection during the week.
This is a useful, well written text. The theology is sound, the tone is gentle but, ultimately, challenging, and there are plenty of pithy little illustrations to keep the imagination up to speed. It would be a useful addition to any private or parish library