“‘Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you,’ is fraught with spiritual and physical invitation. Yet we often miss the physical connection in our thinking or talking about God.” (Quote from page 24)
“Windows into the life of the Spirit” is how authors J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram describe our five senses, in Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God. Anyone who has a longing to draw close to God and experience invisible realities in a more tangible way will be inspired by this book to look for the holy in the ordinary, and to savour life in physical bodies. Both young and old are invited to become present to God with all five senses, for it is through our senses that our bodies teach us.
Drawing on Scripture, the Christian traditions of earlier centuries, and their own denominational traditions, Bill and Booram have created a rich composite of reflections, stories, and practices. Pointing to the Jews – who “intentionally combine words of faith and tastes of faith when they celebrate Passover” – they suggest we could learn much from our spiritual ancestors.
Bill, a Quaker minister, is a speaker at workshops and retreats and has written a number of books, including The Sacred Compass: Spiritual Practices for Discernment. Booram, who has also written several books, including Wide Open Spaces of God, has been in ministry for 25 years, first with Campus Crusade and then in the local church. She currently works as a congregational consultant, a spiritual director, and as a healing prayer practitioner.
The book is divided into five parts, each of which correlates with one of the senses. The sections begin with a Scripture passage, an art meditation, and conclude with simple, contemplative exercises. Genuine examples and personal experiences of the authors help make the book practical, while the stories, sensuous language, and poetry, invite reflection.
Having explained in the first chapter how the right hemisphere of our brain mediates our experience through our senses, Booram illustrates how our senses prompt us to connect our spiritual condition to our physical condition: “Just as garlicky salad dressing and strong coffee leave a residual taste in our mouths that beg for cleansing, so do actions and attitudes that head us down a path away from God….” She invites the reader to experience the “taste” of forgiveness through an exercise in which a sour or bad taste (vinegar) is cleansed from the palate with a peppermint. Perhaps we don’t experience the cleansing power of forgiveness because we have quit “tasting it,” Booram muses.
One of the “touch” exercises involves the Ignatian practice of entering into a Gospel story where Jesus heals someone through his touch. We are then invited, through our imagination, to feel Jesus touch us in a place where we need healing. I appreciated the reminder that touch can be transformative.
In this section, we are also invited to “come home to ourselves.” The labyrinth is introduced as a means of sensing how God dwells by his Spirit in the deepest place in our hearts, the centre of our being. We can hold that awareness with us as we move out from the place of stillness at the centre, then outward again.
With the intention of learning from the “birds of the air,” Booram suggests observing a creature that fascinates us, studying its habits, and then contemplating or mulling over what we have discovered, asking God to touch us or teach us through it.
Exercises such as these take on meaning as the body participates in recognizing both our spiritual needs and also God’s care in relation to our needs. Not all of the illustrations and exercises will appeal to every reader, but they don’t all have to be experienced. The reader can omit portions or reread sections to allow time for wonder and awareness.
Today, time for wondering is not typically encouraged, but Booram and Bill speak of wonder as a door into the worship of our Creator. Calling us to awareness and wonder, this book encourages us to become like children – which is what Jesus always wanted to do (Matthew 18:3).
Awaken Your Senses is not your typical devotional resource, but it has the potential to draw readers into the spirit of the book of Psalms, which has always been the prayer book of Christians. The psalms invite us to experience our senses and to express the full range of our emotions: sorrow, joy, pain, delight, plus everything in between. Similarly, the scope of this book’s meditations is broad, arousing the reader to experience God’s presence and recall God’s “benefits” (Psalm 103:2), without denying the dark seasons that can feel like God’s absence. I highly recommend Awaken Your Senses to MB readers.
—Daphne Esau Kamphuis is a member of Highland Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C. A spiritual director, she enjoys writing, speaking, plinking on the piano, fiddling with flowers, and kayaking with her husband.