Book Review: Seeking God Together
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835249
I liked this book a lot.
Over the past couple years I’ve read well over a dozen books on the subject of spiritual direction and I feel very confident with saying this is one of the most humble and clearly written that I have read to date. Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction (authored by Alice Fryling) is more than an introduction and is about more than group spiritual direction. This is good for the reader and good for the community seeking to learn more about spiritual direction.
A few things that I found exceptionally helpful in Seeking God Together are the congenial writing style of Alice Fryling and the language she uses to teach about spiritual direction. I have noticed how difficult that it is for me to talk about spiritual direction with persons who have limited or no experience with the concept and that is why I am so appreciative of the efforts by Fryling in this book. I have been provided a language to introduce spiritual direction to my friends, family, and acquaintances that have been previously unexposed to this wonderful and life-giving relationship.
While the book specifically introduces “group” spiritual direction, it is not limited in scope to this one example. I think the foundation of the book is very helpful in presenting the concept of individual direction as well as introducing tools to get spiritual conversations started outside of the group environ.
With patience and gentleness Alice Fryling introduces the concept of listening as the foremost tool for the ministry of spiritual direction. She helps the reader-director to identify and formulate “life-giving” questions that help to explore thoughts and feelings deep in the soul of the directee. As the thoughts, feelings, and ideas are drawn out of the directee, Fryling teaches the “group” and director that the primary purpose of spiritual direction is “to help others notice God in the most ordinary life circumstances, and provide an environment where spiritual healing can take place” (pg 20). Another important point she reminds her reading audience is “The purpose of (spiritual direction) is not counseling or therapy. Nor is it intended to be a place where we can engage in aimless, self-absorbed conversations. The purpose of spiritual direction (individual or groups) is formation. Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”
While I found the entire book extremely edifying, I particularly enjoyed chapters seven through nine (Meditating on Scripture Together; Sin, Conviction, and Confession; and Sharing the Journey of Prayer). A couple of my favorite quotes follow:
The experience of letting go, I have found, is not something for the faint-hearted in prayer. It is not something we learn once and then live out of ever-after. It is, rather, the syntax of our ongoing spiritual journey. Over and over again we remember that God invites us to let go. Jesus, the God of the universe, is in our boat. (Remember the story in Mark 4:35-41). When we pray, sometimes God invites us to pull in the oars, spread the sails and let God take us where he wills. –From chapter nine: Sharing the Journey of Prayer.
In the religious (spiritual) tradition, contemplating means focusing your awareness on God. It also means to view (a person or object) with continued attention, to observe thoughtfully to consider thoroughly and to think deeply. …Intense listening is indistinguishable from love, and love heals. And finally, good listeners have a humble perspective. Humility is listening means that we let go of preconceived opinions, we let go of the need to be right, we let go of our own insecurities, and we let go of the need to appear wise, good or spiritual. In short, we let go of ourselves in order to be present to the other. -From chapter four: The Power of Listening.
This is a very well-written book. It is a thorough introduction to spiritual direction and it provides some great information on “how to get started” with several guides in the appendices: Appendix 1—provides a suggested format for the meetings; Appendix 2—has a few guided meditations and suggestions; Appendix 3—is an actual discussion guide for the Seeking God Together book. Additionally, the suggested reading list at the end of the book is very helpful for continued study. The authors and books have been categorized by subject and are some of the top resources in these particular areas of study. I am very grateful for this book and will recommend it as one on my list of “must reads” in the arena of spiritual formation and direction.