This post – a book review of Desperately Seeking Spirituality by Meredith Gould, along with an author Q&A was all set to go for Monday. Then Orlando happened. The senseless and tragic massacre at the Pulse nightclub was on everyone’s mind, so I postponed this until today. Now I am doing a little rewrite because no matter what, it seems like many of us are desperately seeking something.
In the face of a tragedy some people gravitate towards faith or religion, others decry it. This grows even more complicated when the killer claims that he acted in the name of God. And it grows even more problematic when many mainstream religions overtly or covertly condemn LGBT people. Yesterday I was struck when I watched NBC anchor Lester Holt interview Pulse shooting survivor Joshua McGill, because at the end of the clip, McGill talks about how he prayed with another club patron, one who was badly wounded. This scenario is one of many reasons that I think that the book I’m here to talk about today really essential.
Prolific author Meredith Gould has once again written a book for the very present moment with her latest work, Desperately Seeking Spirituality, A Field Guide to Practice. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 136 pp, $16.95) Not surprisingly, she shows up with just the right words at just the right time.
The book is compact and easy to read, with each chapter interspersed with boxes that are chock full of helpful information and insights. For both the church-goer with a curious mind, and the church avoider who is inquisitive, and everyone in between, this book offers rewards that are both practical and spiritual. In short, many seek the sacred, whether in a traditional church or elsewhere and the author offers refreshing pathways to grace and renewal.
This review is brief and ends with an editorial review that I wrote prior to publication:
The image of a seeker standing before shelves of books looking bewildered can now be replaced with an image of a seeker happily holding a copy of this book. Meredith Gould has written what will certainly be the go-to volume for many; both those who search for a spiritual practice, and those with a practice, but who wish to go wider and deeper. With her trademark brand of experience-based wisdom infused with humor, the author offers readers smart, practical, and refreshing options as they make their spiritual way.
Also for today, Meredith answered a few questions that I prepared so that those of you who are not that familiar with her would gain some insights. As for those of you who, you will enjoy her trademark wit and perception that never dumbs us down, and always leads us deeper. With that – here is Meredith Gould!
DSS is a different kind of book for you. Was writing this one significantly different from earlier works?
For people who know me because of church communications, I suppose Desperately Seeking Spirituality might seem like a different type of book. For me it’s a return to an early and persistent call.
I started writing about the spirituality of everyday life during the late 1980s, primarily for magazines. I continued exploring the mystical mundane during eight years of blogging and then in my first four books, even in the one about working from a home office! In The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today, published in 2008, my focus shifted to church communications. I had my reasons!
After working as a part-time pastoral associate, I realized just how much we needed to recognize communications ministry as a core ministry. I also discovered Twitter in 2008. In 2011, I created the church social media hashtag (#chsocm) and launched a weekly Twitter-based chat, and the rest is history but not necessarily destiny.
A couple of years ago, I felt a familiar tug to write about spiritual life thanks, in part, to working with churches and clergy.
How – if all – did your own spiritual practices change or grow during your writing of this book?
Desperately Seeking Spirituality is about why and when traditional spiritual practices stop working. I’d been hearing stories about discouragement with traditional spiritual practices from other self-identified spiritual seekers. Oddly comforting. To provide a context for readers, I write about my own spiritual journey and gradual transition from enthusiasm to ennui.
By the time I proposed this book, I’d basically stopped doing formal spiritual practices and was exploring what it meant to actively be spiritual. I zeroed in on five core spiritual practices – willingness, curiosity, empathy, generosity, and delight. Writing about these spiritual practices of being meant I had to get honest about my own commitment to practicing them. And so, each chapter drew me deeper into the practice I was writing about, which was challenging and exhausting in ways I did not anticipate.
I also rediscovered the extent to which writing is spiritual practice that invites me to connect with and surrender to a power greater than myself.
Along those lines, what is your favorite or most enriching spiritual practice?
Curiosity has been my go-to practice for years for all the reasons I list in the chapter. Curiosity slows down reactivity; opens new gateways to wisdom and knowledge; generates enthusiasm for inquiry; and substitutes light for heat. Things go much better internally and externally when instead of acting out of outrage my prayer of first resort is, “Dear God, what’s up with that?”
As for traditional spiritual practices, I always experience anchored transcendence when I chant or walk a labyrinth. I suspect this is because these practices give my body something to do that relaxes my mind enough to open a connection to the Holy Spirit..
Do you have a favorite part/chapter of this book?
I confess to you and Almighty God that I probably had too much fun writing endnotes. In addition to typical stuff like citations and resources, I add semi-snarkastic commentary thus providing yet another glimpse into my thought process. Readers tell me they rarely other authors’ endnotes but always read mine.
I also loved creating “Know Thyself” questions for contemplation and discussion, and am planning to develop workshops – probably webinars – based on them. I have two favorite content boxes. First is the one about orthopraxytosis, a toxic condition I’ve identified and named. The second introduces readers to “spiritual bypassing,” a defense mechanism that has been characterized as “avoidance and holy drag.”
What’s next for you? Is there another book already in the making?
I should probably stop declaring that whatever book I’m writing is the last one I’ll ever write. Two days after sending the manuscript for Desperately Seeking Spirituality to Liturgical Press and vowing I’d never write another book, I started making notes about the next one.
I’m currently writing that book and the working title is, Transcending Generations: A Field Guide to Collaboration In Church. I’m focusing on issues shared by people of faith regardless of chronological age, lifecycle development, or generational cohort. I’m keen on helping readers remove false barriers between generations while honoring authentic differences. It’s going to be my last book! Kidding. Maybe.