Pray, Write, Grow – review

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Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing TogetherPray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together by Ed Cyzewski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Each year I choose a word or phrase as a focus for the twelve months ahead. My word for 2015 is “pray.” So when I saw the title of Ed Cyzewski’s latest book, I knew I wanted it.

Cyzewski’s premise is that prayer and writing are similar in many ways. In the first six chapters he shows how they both:
– Require space in our lives. We may need to jettison something else to fit them in.

“I’ve found it immensely helpful to set timers for both prayer and writing” – Ed Cyzewski, Pray, Write, Grow, Kindle Location 283.

– Benefit from our undivided attention.

“Our prayer and writing will be most effective when we tune in to both ourselves and other people” – K.L. 370.

– Help us find healing from painful experiences and aid us in helping others.

“We don’t just heal by articulating past pain when we pray. We can also heal by writing about our pain, our fears, and our struggles. As my prayer and writing work together, I have often transitioned from prayer to writing as I’ve faced the anxiety of my past” – K.L.

– Have a physical component and grow stronger through exercise and a regimen.

“… this whole book is all about simple steps we can take to improve our spiritual, physical, and mental states as we seek to pray and write” – K.L. 740.

– Guide us toward our life’s purpose.

“If we want to share something meaningful and healing with others, we have to spend time up on the mountain” – K.L. 894.

– Need a great deal of faith.

“Living by faith shouldn’t feel safe. It should feel a bit wild and reckless” – K.L.922.

The seventh chapter is lists of prompts, resources, and links under the headings “Writing Quick Start” and “Prayer Quick Start.”

Cyzewski’s voice is encouraging. When he gives advice and suggestions he does it with a subtle, not commanding tone. He shares transparently about how prayer gave him insight into the childhood roots of his fear and anger. He tells about his struggles with worry when he quit his job to freelance full time. The awareness he gains through prayer and journaling opens his eyes to his passions, which then become his writing topics.

My two top takeaways from this book are:
1. An introduction to the Examen prayer practice (developed by Ignatius Loyola) that Cyzewski uses, explains, and recommends. His experience of how this daily discipline fosters spiritual intimacy with Christ in him whets the reader’s appetite to try it for him/herself.
2. The picture Cyzewski paints of an integrated writing life. In it prayer and writing intertwine to braid a trellis that aids growth in both areas.

I think this would be a great book for Christians writing in any genre to read.

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God In My Everything (review)

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God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy GodGod in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God by Ken Shigematsu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s always a good sign when an author’s book comes from the requests of readers or hearers to learn more. That’s part of the tale of Ken Shigetmatsu’s book God In My Everything. I’m sure he never imagined, that Sunday morning he filled in for a no-show visiting speaker at his Vancouver church with the unrehearsed explanation of how he orders his life, a full-length self-help volume in the Christian Life / Personal Growth department would be the result.

His system of life rules began way before that, however, when he accompanied his friend and mentor Leighton Ford on a 10-day pilgrimage to Ireland. On that trip he visited the Glendalough Monastery and learned about the disciplines these early Christian monks practiced. Shigematsu was impressed with their practical faith that permeated every hour of the day and every task of life. He came away with the question:

“Is it possible to follow the monastic way, enjoying God in every area of my life while immersed in the busy routines of modern life?” (p. 17).

God In My Everything: How An Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God answers that question with a resounding “Yes.”

Shigematsu begins by envisioning a spiritual ecosystem. He pictures it as a trellis. The three up-and-down slats (Roots) are Sabbath, Prayer, and Sacred Reading. They are our means of relating to God. The cross-pieces are three planks that address three aspects of our lives with each other. The Relate plank includes Friendship, Sexuality, and Family. The Restore plank addresses Body, Play, and Money. The Reach Out plank concerns itself with Work, Justice, and Wisdom. These trellis items then become the structure of the book.

In a total of fifteen chapters Shigematsu delves into each subject, laying out for us how the monks handled each aspect of life, describing how they challenge us as moderns, and explaining the life rule he has come to for himself. An appendix section at the book’s end lists his rules along with life rules of six other people, so we get a good idea of how this looks. A sampling:

Ken’s Rule
– Take a 24-hour Sabbath once a week.
– Begin each day with Scripture and prayer.
– Pray the Examen before going to sleep at night.
– Run 2-3x a week, swim 2x a week.
– Aim to be home by 5:15 p.m. each day, and to be home at least 4 evenings a week… etc.” p. 220.

Each chapter concludes with two items: a list of questions for discussion, and an empty page which readers are invited to use to create their own rule.

There’s much to learn and apply in this well-written and engaging book. Some things I especially appreciated were:

Shigematsu’s emphasis on creating bendable rules, i.e. rules that change as life situations change. He relates how his life rule in some departments changed when he got married and changed again when his son was born.

I liked the way this book addresses every aspect of life.

I really liked the chapter on sharing faith (Chapter 15 “Sharing the Presence”) with its helpful four-sided pyramid graphic made up of word, sign, life, and deed (adopted from Bryant Myers, a former president of World Vision International). Shigematsu explains:

“Depending on the context and leading of the Holy Spirit, you might choose a particular side of the gospel to lead with and, as opportunity allows, progress to sharing all ‘sides’ of the gospel. The ideal is to eventually share the gospel as an organic whole that encompasses life, deed, sign, and word” p. 204.

(Shigematsu explains “life” as character, “deed” as a specific act of kindness or help, “sign” as a miracle or unexplainable coincidence that God brings about; it could be one that you share from your life or one that the person you are talking to experiences, and “word” as the gospel message from the Bible.)

Some readers may have concerns with the Catholic origins of Shigematsu’s system and may stumble over some of the practices he endorses (for example lectio divina – pp. 71, 72 and Examen – pp. 160, 220). I personally did not sense any slippage from Protestant orthodoxy in his teaching, only a search for and acceptance of helpful truth wherever it is to be found, in the spirit of the proverb “All truth is God’s truth.”

For a helpful book on how to order your life in a hectic age, keeping God at its center, Ken Shigematsus’s God In My Everything is an excellent choice.

I received this book from the publisher as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.

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