There may have been “Year Of …” books before A. J. Jacobs wrote The Year of Living Biblically, but he really got the ball rolling when he wrote in 2008 of his concerted effort to obey all the commands in the Bible for twelve months. Since then, there has been an explosion of books where the authors set out to change their lives in specific, concrete ways over the course of a year and write about their experiences. I’ve read a few; some are definitely better than others. The latest entry in the genre is Michael Yankoski’s The Sacred Year.
I have never met Yankoski, but I felt while reading this book that it is almost as if I have. We have several friends in common, a few of whom appear in the book. We also have the culture of Regent College in common; I attended this Christian graduate school in Vancouver for four years and graduated in 2008, just before Yankoski and his wife Danae arrived.
What he sets out to do during his Sacred Year is spelled out in the ponderous subtitle, which reminded me of the days long ago when there was no such thing as back cover copy and the only space for describing a book’s contents was the cover page: “Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice—How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life.” The inciting incident that begins him on his Sacred Year is being a Christian celebrity, and particularly an experience as a speaker at a conference that made him think that too much of what passes for Christianity in the West—and in himself—is shallow and inauthentic.
So Yankoski meets with a spiritual director, a monk named Father Solomon at an abbey east of Vancouver, and decides to devote the next year to intentionally cultivating a variety of spiritual practices to increase the depth of his life. These practices fit into three categories, into which the book itself is divided: Depth with Self, Depth with God, and Depth with Others.
Reading about Yankoski’s experiments with these practices—such as attentiveness (in which he contemplates an apple), simplicity, solitude, pilgrimage, gratitude, and pursuing justice—is well worth your time, and I can’t do them justice here. I did find that one thread running through just about all these practices was embodiedness. It is all too easy in the modern world to act as if it doesn’t matter what we do with our bodies, that we don’t have limitations, that our physical location doesn’t matter all that much. Even when we care about our bodies, we treat them more like machines than anything else. But one message that I got over and over as I read about Yankoski’s experiments with spiritual practices is that what he did with his body made a difference in his spiritual life. In observing Sabbath, for example, he doesn’t simply decide in his mind, “I’m going to take the day off.” No, he associates Sabbath with particular bodily practices—taking off his watch, turning off his cell phone, putting away his wallet, lighting candles. In a sense, The Sacred Year is about learning to be a Christian with your whole person, not just your brain.
The only negative thing I could say about this book is that, when Yankoski recounts interactions that he has with other people, they don’t always come off as being true to life. When he recounts a conversation in which everyone seems to say the perfect thing at the perfect time, I wonder if he’s embellishing a bit. On the other hand, maybe I just notice that kind of thing because I make my living as an editor. Perhaps I should just chalk it up to artistic license.
All in all, this book is well worth reading for anyone who is interested in going deeper with self, God, and others through spiritual practices. Reading it and implementing it with others can serve as a helpful first step away from superficiality and shallowness and toward worshiping God with your whole self.
Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.