Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy from the author for review purposes. This does not affect the content of my review.
“Sometimes things go off-kilter and we seek to weather those changes with confidence. Other times, what starts out small turns into a catastrophe. We need spiritual rhythms in place to help us through these situations.” (p. 59)
Shaky Ground, the second book by Grand Rapids, Michigan area author Traci Rhoades, explores how we seek out God when life brings us challenges and also when the old ways of worship no longer bring the growth that they once did. Rhoades, a spiritually and intellectually curious evangelical, looks both within her Reformed church tradition and outside it to Mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions to find new ways of knowing and worshiping God. She ponders the traditions that she inherited from her mother, finds new practices that expand her knowledge and take her out of her comfort zone, and considers what she will pass down to her own daughter.
The book is divided into five parts: Solid Ground, Stability, Anchored, Foundation, and Assurance. Solid Ground examines finding God in stillness. Rhoades, who lives in the country, finds peace and reflection in quiet, while she acknowledges that less introverted and introspective Christians may struggle with it. In Stability, she writes about prayer, a practice she struggles with more than stillness. She talks of how, in learning new ways to pray, she let go of her discomfort that prayer was simply something she wasn’t good at. Anchored addresses reading Scripture. Much like stillness, this is clearly an area within the author’s comfort zone. Rhoades recounts how Bible study has changed her and helped her connect with other Christian women. Foundation looks at spiritual disciplines and liturgy. In the final section, Assurance, Rhoades focuses on communal worship.
While much of this book examines the practices and journeys of the individual Christian, Rhoades always brings everything back to the universal church. Western Christianity can be very individualistic, but she frequently reminds us that we are not alone in our faith journey. Those around us worship with us, struggle with us, and can teach us new ways of knowing God. In some places, she acknowledges that many Christians have been harmed within church bodies and does not shame them into returning to church. Instead she reminds them of who they are in Christ, that God is so much bigger than their experiences in the church, and expresses her hope that God will bring healing and will bring them back into community when they are ready.
In a chapter titled Going Wider, Rhoades writes, “Church is about so much more than the one or two ways you’ve experienced it. Interacting with Christians from other traditions, ethnicities, places around the world, etcetera helps us get to know one another. It reminds us Christianity isn’t American, and its roots weren’t established in the sixteenth century at the height of the European Reformation. Here’s what it is really about: getting to know more of Christ and getting to know one another. Then, when disaster strikes, we’ll have somewhere, and someone, or someones, to turn to.” (p.133)
Shaky Ground is a wise and quiet book. It’s like having a discussion with a thoughtful friend over tea. A friend who wants to know about your spiritual upbringing, how you were trained to think about God, and how you have held to that (and moved away from it) over the years. It will encourage you to try out new practices. One of Rhoades’ practices that intrigued me was that of reading the Bible chronologically (that is, chronological in terms of the events, not according to conventional Bible order). It will also make you want to discuss spiritual practices with friends and find out what they find brings them closer to God. Overall the message is that God wants to be known by us, and that He wouldn’t leave us without direction. We can find Him in stillness, in prayer, in tradition, and in community.