Thanks to everyone for their well-wishes by email and comments. I appreciate them very much. My wife and I had a wonderfully relaxing, peaceful and calm time in the mountains of Virginia as we camped together. It was a blessing to see God’s good creation, sit by the fire at night and spend lots of time simply talking. Fasting from electronics has also been a blessing though I now–somewhat reluctantly–return to the virtual world of blogging.
During this season of rest I have been reading books in four major areas. I want to recommed a few from my reading list over the past monts that have been particularly helpful to me.
Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (2000). “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” What a good question! This book suggests that marriage is a spiritual discipline designed to transform us into the image of God by relating to another person in an intimate way. This book is filled with helpful insights about the nature of marriage as a holy adventure whereby we become selves-in-relation rather than selves-in-isolation. It brings together many good theological themes (relationality, community, etc.) with effective psychological insights.
Tim Gardner, Sacred Sex (2002). Sex is a spiritual celebration of oneness. That may seem like a truism for many but Gardner’s exploration of that theme is quite significant. This is not a manual about technique. Rather, it is about the spirituality of the sexual relationship itself. Sex, in this context, is a spiritual discipline by which we explore, practice and experience communion. It is an act of worship in a committed relationship. Men–despite the common mantra–do not need sex (sex is optional; we can live without it!), but couples need a oneness that sexual relations express. Sexuality is more about oneness than orgasm. I found the spiritual emphasis refreshing.
David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships (1998). This is a more explicit book about the sexual relationship. It uses the sexual relationship to look at the whole nature of love and intimacy in marriage. The premise of the book is about differentiation as a key to intimacy. Rather than co-dependency or emotional fusion, couples need a sense of self in order to be in relation with their partner. Healthy partners make for a healthy realtionship. When the relationship is unhealthy, both partners–not just one–is sick. Both need a sense of self. They need a sense of being “separate” in order to be “together” in a healthy way. For example, he describes a technique called “hugging to relax.” Can you hug for more than five seconds without being uncomfortable? Hugging for a sustained time where centered-selves enjoyed the togetherness of the present moment rather than escaping into the future or resenting the past is a window into the nature of the intimacy a couple shares. I’m still in the process of reading this one, but with just a few chapters completed I can appreciate how it is already helping me.
Joshua Choomin Kang, Deep-Rooted in Christ: The Way of Transformation (2007). This book came highly recommened by Terry Smith of Woodmont Hills church in Nashville. Jennifer and I use this in our nightly devotional time. It is 52 chapters but we are using it on a daily basis. It encourages the use of spiritual disciplines to root ourselves in Christ. While not discounting spiritual experiences at all, he suggests that spiritual discipline (measured, consistent, deep, regular and focused) is the way of transformation. I believe I have had many spiritual experiences but without spiritual discipline (which has sometimes–ok, oftent–been lacking in my life) I find my way of transformation can be shallow rather than rooted. We are enjoying discussing this book.
Gary Thomas, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage (2005). Also 52 chapters, my wife and I use this in our devotions once a week. Against the background of his book, the specific devotional challenges and meditations are quite helpful as they generate discussions about our marriage between Jennifer and myself.
Trauma and Recovery
Tian Dayton, Trauma and Addiction: Ending the Cycle of Pain Through Emotional Literacy (2000). I enjoyed Dayton’s Heartwounds: The Impact of Unresolved Grief on Relationships (see my post on the book) that I immediately when to this book to read in more depth about the connection between trauma and addiction. Whatever one’s addiction (alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, frenetic activity, eating, workaholism, etc.), it is linked to trauma in one’s life (whether childhood or adult). These addictions present themselves as solutions but they are actually symptoms of a deeper problem. Trauma–without effective coping strategies–creates emotional illiteracy. Rather than medicating the pain of the trauma through addictive substances or behavoirs, emotional literacy enables people to move through their trauma. Dayton suggests that we not only psychologically hold on to these traumas but also somatically so that when we experience renewed trauma our bodies as well as pysches react to the new trauma with all the power of the unresolved trauma in our past. This creates a need to medicate with whatever addiction has been our coping strategy. Part of the resolution to this need is to re-experience the trauma somatically as well as psychologically through psychodrama. This was an enlightening book to me.
For a long time I have been aware of 12-step programs, recommended them and even read some (but very little) of their literature. But in the last three months I have read lots of their literature and have proceeded to work the 12-steps for myself. It is quite liberating. It is a simple, focused and supported program of recovery from any addiction (from alcoholism to workaholism). No one can appreciate the depth of spiritual development that can take place through the 12 steps if they are not familiar with them or worked them. I believe it is a deeply spiritual process that is rooted in the principles of spiritual transformation. I recommed reading its literature on the 12 Steps (e.g., Tweleve Steps and Twelve Traditions). Celebrate Recovery is a Christianized version of the 12 steps which I am also finding quite helpful. [And everyone needs recovery of some kind--we are all sinners, and we all seek transformation and recovery from sin, including pride, selfishness, etc.]
Specifically on this topic, I found Steps of Transformation: An Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps by Father Webber Meletios (trained in psychology and an Orthodox priest) wonderfully refreshing. Here is a book that combines the insights of 12 step programs with biblical text shaped by the spirituality of Orthodox theology. This is a rich combination filled with theological reflection on spiritual disciplines, spirituality and recovery.
Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America (2004). I love to read historical materials, especially biographies. This particular work is not a biography per se but rather examines Washington’s relationship to slavery. It argues that Washington was originally as morally and psychologically embedded in the slave culture of Virginia as any other gentleman planter in the eighteenth century. Washington even sponsored a Williamsburg raffle of slaves (including breaking up families) in order to secure payment for a debt owed to him in 1769. However, through relationships with mullatoes from his own family tree (e.g., his stepson fathered a child, his wife had a stepbrother who lived at Mount Vernon, etc.), his experience with African Americans during the Revolutionary War (one fourth of his army at Yorktown in 1781 was black), and ultimately his repugnance toward breaking up families through sales, Washington began to see the immorality of slavery. His Last Will and Testament freed the slaves in his possession rather than leaving them to his heirs to sell. If one is unacquainted with the development of slavery in eighteenth century Virginia, this is an illuminating read.
So, besides blogging, I’ve been spending my time immersed in these sorts of materials. My journey continues….