Recapturing the Wonder, Mike Cosper. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.
Summary: Explores the disenchantment many Christians experience living in a modern secular age and the practices that may “re-enchant” our world with the supernatural presence of God.
Thoughtful commentators from Charles Taylor and Hannah Arendt to James K. A. Smith and David Foster Wallace have observed how we live in a disenchanted, disillusioned secular age. In this work Mike Cosper engages these commentators and how the disenchantment of the modern world affects Christians’ experience of the reality of God. He writes about the contrast between an enchanted world and a disenchanted one:
“Perhaps to best understand disenchantment, we can look at its opposite, the ‘enchanted’ world of a few centuries ago. In that world, men and women saw themselves as spiritual creatures, vulnerable to blessings and curses, to angels and demons, and subject to the god or gods who made and oversaw the world. This enchanted world was part of a Cosmos, an orderly creation full of meaning, a place with a purposeful origin and a clear destination, guaranteed by the god or gods who made it and rule over it. At the same time, this Cosmos is full of mystery, a place where our knowledge has its limits and an unseen spiritual realm is constantly at work, shaping our everyday experience.
In disenchantment, we no longer live in a Cosmos; we live in a universe, a cold, hostile place where existence is a big accident, where humanity is temporarily animated ‘stuff’ that’s ultimately meaningless and destined for the trash heap” (p. 11).
For many Christians, the Word of God becomes an abstraction–concepts rather than the living Word of the Living God, working in the world. What Mike Cosper seeks to do in this book is to explore both the corrosive effects of the secular world on our faith, and the practices through which we might recover a vibrant, transcendent faith whereby we recognize the presence of God in all of life.
Cosper begins with three chapters that chronicle the expressions of disenchantment in contemporary Christian life. After describing the disenchantment, he chronicles our modern efforts to self-justify through constructing a social media persona as our modern religious sacrifices that the God of grace mercifully brings to an end. Likewise, he reminds us of the recent focus of many churches on hype and spectacle instead of the slow, steady rhythms of grace by which we encounter God in the ordinary rhythms of life.
In the next three chapters, he commends several practices that break us out of the self-hype spectacles–solitude and secrecy, abundance and scarcity, and feasts of attention. He commends having a life beyond what we post on social media. He uses Lewis Hyde’s The Gift as a parable of living generously and honoring the gifts we receive as well as those we give. He invites us into a life where we feast on giving our attention to God’s world, and sometimes to feasts themselves.
The seventh chapter was of great interest. He looks at Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I was intrigued, having recently read the later (reviewed here). He suggests both were seeking transcendence, Merton through a rule of life, and Kerouac, through attentiveness in the moment. Recognizing the downsides of each lifestyle (most of us don’t live in the monastery, and Kerouac’s road was tremendously self-destructive), he suggests we need both.
Each of the chapters concludes with spiritual practices connected to the chapter. Cumulatively they help us focus on God in our hours, days, weeks, and years, and special seasons and feasts of the church. We learn examen, Ignatian prayer and praying the Psalms, practices of solitude and silence, fasting and feasting, and how to weave all of these into a rule of life. The author shares his own rule, one that struck me as marvelously do-able.
There are a number of books that have been written about our secular age. Likewise, a number have been written about spiritual practices. The particular gift of this book is the bringing of the two together, pointing to the importance of, and telos of these practices. Cosper helps us see that through them, we recover a sense of the greatness of God in the ordinary of our hours, days, weeks, and years–which make up a life. More than this, he captures something of the deep joy of secrecy, or a long leisurely feast with friends, or seeing an abstract Word come alive to us. One senses that you are walking alongside one who is recapturing the wonder of a transcendent God who is also immanent in our world–and that we may as well.