I don’t give a lot of 5-star ratings on Goodreads. I tend to rate books on how enjoyable they were, rather than on any objective measure of their merit or worth, although how good I consider a book usually includes some evaluation of the value I’ve pulled from it. All this to say I gave Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder 5-stars on Goodreads when I finished it. Recapturing the Wonder was a 5-star read because it’s timely and practical without ascribing undue value to either of those adjectives; it’s cosmic in scope while remaining deeply human. It’s quite literally wonderful.
At bottom, Recapturing the Wonder is a book about spiritual disciplines, a term that makes believers of many stripes uncomfortable. Aren’t spiritual disciplines repetitive, and (God-forbid) restrictive? That’s a question I’ll circle back around to, but what’s important to note is how Cosper doesn’t simply offer practices. Others, like Donald S. Whitney, have done that, and more exhaustively. Instead, Cosper grounds each discipline in what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor refers to as the malaise(s) of modernity; he then offers a concrete spiritual practice as treatment against disenchantment—a condition common to believers and skeptics alike.
In place of distilling the practical applications out of each Pathway and draining the wonder of what was a very enjoyable read, I've summarized Pathway One: Re-Enchanting Our World to give an idea of what the main takeaways are.
The structure of wonder
Do we inhabit a universe or a cosmos? Cosper argues that the soup of late modernity primes us to privilege the empirical stuff of life—the universe—over the intangible, now-muted music of the cosmos.
Breaking free from the existential drudgery of late-modern life requires re-situating ourselves in the rhythms of existence. This can be done by marking time more intentionally. Cosper offers a series of circles, shrinking from yearly, weekly, daily, and hourly by which Christians can order their lives.
- Yearly: Celebrate Christmas and Easter? Practice anticipating what these celebrations mean by observing Advent and Lent.
- Weekly: Already go to church on Sundays? Try considering what it means to be gathered with all those different people fumbling, singing, and sinning; and yet following the same through-line from darkness into light.
- Daily Struggle with prayer? Don’t be a hero, use a prayer book like the Book of Common Prayer to get yourself started. The goal here is orient yourself toward God and the spiritual reality of life.
Conclusion: Everyday, enchanted
So, are spiritual disciplines repetitive and restrictive? Yes, they are. But are repetition and restriction inherent evils? I don't think so. I have limits and ignoring them doesn't improve my life. Introducing restriction and repetition are helping me turn scattered practices into embodied habits that aren't subject to my increasingly scattered whims. Is there meaning in kneeling? I supposed I'll find out. At the very least it's a good position from which to listen, because I'm not resigned to a wholly silent universe.
I loved the book and I’m in the midst of applying some of the practices outlined in it, however imperfectly. If you're interest is piqued, definitely get your hands on this book. I’d also love to chat in the comments about whether or not spiritual disciplines have value, what your “habits of faith” are, or any other thoughts you may have.
Finally, while Cosper is writing to a Christian audience there remains quite a bit in Recapturing the Wonder of interest to the nonreligious. Especially those who, despite having no reason to feel so, find themselves unmoored and unsettled in the universe. Check out the Further Reading section below if this sort of thing steeps your tea.
- Buffered and Porous Selves - The Immanent Frame
- How My Millennial Students Found Their ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ to a Secular Age - The Huffington Post
- Fantasy and the Buffered Self - The New Atlantis
- Massey Lectures: "The Malaise of Modernity" - CBC
Note: I received Recapturing the Wonder for free as a part of my subscription to Christ and Pop Culture. I didn't receive it from the publisher in exchange for a review.