The Year Of Small Things: Radical Faith For The Rest of Us
Sarah Arthur and Erin F. Wasinger
Review by Penny Johnston
What is the book about?
The subject is new monasticism, or to put it more simply, how two families sought to incorporate the spiritual practices of simplicity, hospitality, sustainability, reconciliation, social justice and more into their everyday lives without living in a desert or monastery.
Who wrote it?
Sarah Arthur (MTS, Duke University Divinity School) is the award-winning author/compiler of eleven books, including the bestseller Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey through The Lord of the Rings and At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband Tom, pastor of Sycamore Creek Church, and their two little boys.
Erin F. Wasinger is a freelance writer, speaker and journalist. She serves on the teaching team for Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing, Michigan. She and her husband Dave have three young girls.
Why this book?
As a mom of young children, it can be easy to find one’s self in a season of simply surviving, looking ahead to the future without realizing the gift of the present moment. One can tend to think, “When the children are older… When the house is cleaner… When the finances are more stable…” But God calls us to live in the here and now, to choose what is important instead of what feels urgent; this book served as a timely reminder of that truth.
Comment on the book’s theological perspective in light of the Confession of Faith
The Year of Small Things stresses the importance of convenantal friendship with other believers. Our confession of faith agrees that “In community members grow in maturity as they demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, use their spiritual gifts and practice mutual accountability in the disciplines of the Christian life.” (Article 10, Discipleship). The idea of recognizing and inviting God’s presence into all aspects of life is reiterated in our MB Confession: “To be a disciple means to be true to Jesus in everyday life.” (ibid).
All of life can be lived as a spiritual practice that matters to God. Things like simplicity, hospitality, sustainability, reconciliation and even social justice can be a part of our life regardless of the season we are in.
The book’s downside:
While Arthur and Wasinger’s story of seeking to incorporate spiritual practices into their everyday lives was inspiring, too often it came across as an unbalanced focus on doing good works, and created pressure to follow the same new monastic pattern that they laid out for themselves. The authors do point out, however, that we are saved by God’s grace, not our works.
It would have been good to see more of an emphasis on a relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than just clarification as to how outward spiritual practices can be incorporated into modern living. The authors come from a United Methodist background and, as such, their concept of prayer began as a recitation of liturgy, then slowly progressed to actually talking to God in their own words. It was good to see this progression, but the transformation it brought about in their individual relationships with God wasn’t clearly emphasized.
Who should read it?
The Year Of Small Things is written for all believers, particularly those seeking ways to incorporate liturgical and monastic practices into their modern living. Caution is needed, however, as the book needs to be interpreted in light of Scripture, or it may come across as merely an injunction to do more good works instead of first seeking the discernment of the Holy Spirit as to what God has for us at the season of life we are in.
“…because, amid all his striving, God had already done everything that was needed to make him perfect.”
“In fact, discernment about what God wanted us to do, in our unique families, given our unique circumstances, would be the single most important Christian practice we would learn.”
“If we do not create an intentional spiritual blueprint for our family life, external forces will dictate everything.”
[Penny Johnston is a member of Hepburn (Sask) MB Church.