A review of :
A Beginner’s Guide to Spirituality: The Orthodox Path to a Deeper Relationship with God by Michael Keiser
Exploring Orthodoxy: A Spiritual Journey
Those of us who were raised in a “different” kind of Christian spirituality and piety, embracing another form or expression can be a daunting thing to contemplate, and it can make you uncomfortable. This book is a great introduction to an Orthodox understanding of Christian spirituality, and it makes the journey of discovery and inquiry less threatening. I know of many Evangelicals who have been drawn to, and many who have left their “stream” to embrace a more historic expression of the faith, especially one that connects to the early centuries of the Christian Church. That journey in itself can overwhelm, and can find you alienated from your past relationships and friends. This book is a great primer for anyone considering their “options.”
A study in contrasts
The book from the onset sets a tone of examining contemporary spirituality and questing some of it, especially their approaches to the subject at hand. What is proposed is a concept that you will even find in some Roman Catholic and Anglican spheres, in suggesting that you find for yourself a spiritual guide, or as the Roman Catholic tradition proposes, a spiritual director. Spiritual directors can be found in many Evangelical churches now, so that same kind of idea should put inquirers at ease at exploring Orthodoxy. When you find this kind of spiritual director or guide as proposed by the author, it makes the investigation a sense a “safer” and “gentler” proposition to undertake.
Not afraid to deal with sin and ego
The author addresses personal sinfulness, and sin as a concept, and addresses issues that Richard Rohr would call the problem of the ego, whereas this author simply refers to it as “self-love” and its influence upon our identity and our way of life. A spiritual guide or director is a safe mechanism we can rely upon in our exploration of a subject like Orthodox spirituality, and going to the “source” of someone who has navigated the journey and is continuing to persevere on their own journey and pilgrimage of faith, is a good companion to have on your own journey of checking out, evaluating, exploring, all the varied aspects of Orthodox spirituality. I found this part of the book compelling in that it encouraged me to explore the local Orthodox communities of faith that are in my own city, and to be equipped enough in basic understanding to broach the subject of asking questions from a local Orthodox authority on the subject.
All Christian traditions have a form of discipleship
The author does a thorough presentation of addressing subjects such as what Evangelicals would call “mentoring” or “discipleship” and calls for us to engage in finding a spiritual father, which too can be a bit of a challenge to the mindset of many Evangelicals. We often carry memories of abuse and cult like behavior and power and control that many have experienced in Evangelical and Charismatic churches, and that makes finding and embracing a “spiritual father” a next to impossible hill to climb. The author does a stellar job of presenting the concept of self-discipline, and perhaps has presented the best introduction to the Divine Liturgy that I have yet read. The explanation of liturgical worship in church and home is an excellent presentation and one which should put many Evangelicals at ease.
The importance of prayer, contemplation and intimacy with God
The section on prayer, dealing with adoration, thanksgiving, penitence and petition was a bit of a teaser. It presented enough material to want to learn and understand more on this subject from an Orthodox perspective. I have read much on this subject from other liturgical and pietistic traditions, such as Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism, but this one was a real tease for me, prompting me to want to learn more.
How Orthodoxy works as a way of life
On a practical level, all devout Christians want to know how “the faith works and how to work the faith” in the daily grind of living in a Post-Modern world. The author does just that in the presentation of applying confession and communion in daily life. My wife and I began taking the Eucharist every day about five years ago, and we have seen the impact of following daily Bible reading, as well as the utilizing of a Daily Prayer Book, in participating in the Eucharist. This action and participation on our part has enriched our walk with God, and has made us all the more aware of being awakened to the Spirit in our daily life. This aspect broached by the author, just reinforced again the importance of these Ancient Paths, from the earliest year of the Ancient Church until now, of daily devotion to God, and in the spiritual formation that results in self-examination, confession of sin, thanksgiving, the Lord’s Table, Bible reading, mediation and contemplation and prayer.
The personal challenge of asceticism
Perhaps the greatest challenge for a man such as myself was the discussion by author on the subject of asceticism. As one of the Western Church tradition, I know that that word carries with it a lot of spiritual baggage. Being able to lay that down is a primary step for many of us Evangelicals. The author, Father Keiser approaches asceticism as another challenge in our spiritual journey, and one that really cannot be avoided, and should be embraced fully. The best advice given has to do with our mindsets, and how we approach living a spiritual life that doesn’t take life lightly. I have been journeying my life, praying the Jesus Prayer, even on the city bus, or in my car, or while walking, and even on my breaks while working at the office, and I find this centers me, and my focus on “relaxing in God” at one level, and at the subconscious becoming not only more awakened, but aware of how important it is to control my thought life, and my attitudes, and to confront my ego, whenever it arises. To see, and embrace “God’s light” each day, means that I need to take my spiritual life seriously and not be lax. The author has encouraged me greatly in his presentation of asceticism. I am challenged by the issue of fasting, and the author compels us to take fasting seriously.
The personal challenge of fasting
As one who deals with blood sugar issues, I know what fasting does to the body, and even fasting one meal in a day can be a challenge. However, this has caused me to consider my options, and even consult my naturopath on the matter. Spiritual living requires an examination of certain activities that lead to a purity of heart and soul, and concepts such as almsgiving, self-control, the fruit of the Spirit, and as the Evangelicals know full well, the “battle against the flesh” are all common threads of belief and practice that all Christian traditions express the need of devoted disciples to embrace and follow. It is something that most Evangelicals would not have much difficulty in either understanding, or beginning to apply in a more intentional way in their life of devotion and pilgrimage with God. Dealing with our “flesh” and the our “passions” and our “ego” are challenges all human beings, not matter what “faith” or “non-faith” they follow. It is a common thread in all spiritual traditions, and it is a way of living that purifies the heart, the mind, soul and body.
Embracing a serious examination of Orthodoxy
My wife and I have applied different aspects of Roman Catholic mystical spirituality over the last five years. My wife, more than I fully embraced the daily examen of Ignatius Loyala while she was studying for Spiritual Direction. She has applied this practice in her life. Myself I do this but not as regularly as I ought. I understand and embrace the practice of self examination and reflection and meditation, and I am happy to see the impact that self examination is having on the wider Evangelical movement. In this book, the author calls this book a “guide” but it is so much more than a guide, just as the examen by Ignatius is much more than a guide. This book really awakens a serious inquiry and a soul searching as to what things are most important to you as a “follower and disciple of Christ.” How seriously do you take you faith, and your devotional life? How seriously do you embrace being awakened to a deeper spirituality, a deeper daily walk embracing and worshiping God and being led by the Spirit of God?
A journey of building precept upon precept
The author, Father Keiser, goes to great lengths to explain idea and concepts and does not err in presuming anything. It really reveals his heart and mindset of what a “spiritual guide” should be, and he enables you to find a certain comfort level in exploring Orthodox spirituality. He has applied the concept of “precept learning,” the laying down of one step after another step, each one building upon the previous step, in a classical biblical fashion. He carefully leads and guides each of us on a pathway that has been well traveled through two millennia of Church history. You begin to understand that the Orthodox claim to be going back to the apostles in their faith and practice is not a boasting, but a truth reflecting and expressing the historical evolution of the Eastern Church. The author presents information, and sign posts, along this spiritual quest. It is more than mere information, it is a pilgrimage, a life journey of personal and spiritual transformation, and it allows you to form questions along the journey, and explore and seek answers, all the more encouraging you why you should look for a “mentor’ or “spiritual guide” from within the Orthodox stream of life, to actually discuss and explore those questions further.
Reading this book and studying this book is a good primer. Finding an Orthodox community in your city would be the next logical step, and arranging to meet with the clergy would be a good place to begin a face to face dialog and deeper exploration of the questions this book explores, as well as your own questions and thoughts that result from its study. This book is highly recommended.
~ Samuel M. Buick
The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, also referred to as the Orthodox Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Orthodoxy, is the second largest Christian Church in the world, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents.