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“What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?” I asked my fellow employees, when I recently led one of our weekly staff devotions. To break the ice, I confessed that the first thing I usually do is check my phone.
I wish that wasn’t true, but there it is beside me every morning on my bedside table, all charged up and ready to go. How can I resist? Two other people were brave enough to admit to the same. One person said they just hope to go back to sleep.
Then I hit them over the head, as devotional leaders should do, by telling them what pastor Ken Shigematsu does first thing every morning, according to the Vancouver-based author’s latest book, Survival Guide for the Soul: How to Flourish Spiritually in a World that Pressures Us to Achieve.
“I begin each morning by sitting and breathing deeply for fifteen or twenty minutes,” Shigematsu writes.
He focuses his attention and quiets his “busy brain” with a phrase or a single word from Scripture, repeated during a time that sounds quite lovely, and which I envy, but which is as likely to occur in my life as a unicorn appearing in my bedroom one morning. But Ken Shigematsu is too kind and gentle to scold or shame. Instead he gently suggests we move more deeply and consistently into spiritual practices like that one (meditation or centering prayer), that can help “attune us to God’s presence, acting as sticky note reminders that God is with us all the time.”
Shigematsu draws us to a deeper level of attention to God’s constant-ness in our lives, through stories of other pilgrims who have walked this path before us, and with his own honest, personal anecdotes about how spiritual practices have molded his life and faith.
This is as much a "here’s-why" book as a "how-to" book. Shigematsu spends part one of the book laying an important and compelling foundation for the more descriptive sections of the spiritual practices in part two. He references Jewish philosopher Joseph Soloveitchik’s description of the two Adams that live and battle it out within every person, one striving for success, while the other “longs for connection with God and others.”
Shigematsu helpfully recasts this dual persona as Striving Adam and Soulful Adam. Strive guy wants attention, acclaim and accomplishments, while our soulful impulse and deeper need is to draw close to God, who has drawn close to us. So, we must walk the path from drivenness to grace, from “seeking approval to accepting our acceptance.” Striving Adam strains to be loved, Soulful Adam knows he already is.
It is the spiritual practices like Sabbath-keeping, gratitude and intentional spiritual friendships that can move us from being ruled by our unhealthy tendencies, toward the more peaceful existence of the beloved. Then all the passion and energy of our striving self – the good bits – can be used in beautiful acts of service and love in the world.
I deeply resonated with this idea of the duelling inner self – where I am now (checking Facebook with one eye still closed), and the person I’d prefer to be, perched blissfully on the side of my bed for 20 calm minutes before doing a single thing.
Because this book is written as clearly and kindly as a letter to a good friend, I finished it feeling hopeful, and I did make some adjustments quickly after. I’ve long been dissatisfied with my lack of consistent Sabbath-keeping, so just last Sunday I ignored a series of texts about work, and the guilt-pull of my crowded desk. I trusted that God would provide me with the time and the energy I needed during my assigned work days to accomplish my tasks. I remembered the stories Shigematsu shared about much more important people than I who have done such a thing, and everyone survived and the work got done.
Even though I might have watched a few too many Netflix shows for some Sabbath-keepers, I still feel I am moving in the right direction. It helps to view my not-working-ness as the act of “resistance” that Shigematsu suggests it is. To view Sabbath keeping and rest as a counter-cultural act of rebellion is very appealing and makes it even more inviting. Maybe that’s an example of striving me helping soulful me?
Our inclination to simplify our lives by shedding excess material goods was also confirmed in the book, and I posted yet another set of candleholders on our neighbourhood give-away page (yes, on Facebook). Since reading this book I’ve also plunked my Bible down, open on the dining room table, trying to foster the good habit of reading Scripture whenever I drink tea or eat lunch.
Survival Guide for the Soul: How to Flourish Spiritually in a World that Pressures Us to Achieve is a redemptive read, time well and deeply spent. It is a hopeful, helpful book by a kind-hearted author.
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