David Warkentin reviews Paul Pastor’s The Listening Day: Meditations on the Way.
It’s often said that Cascadia is a center for the religious nones (those who do not identify with any one religion) or those who identify as “spiritual but not religious.” God isn’t necessarily a problem, they think, but the church certainly is. They view religious authority with suspicion or deem it irrelevant for personal spirituality. Here’s where traditional devotional books can fail to connect with Cascadians. If a book too clearly presents a theological view, a foundational Christian concept, or a particular spiritual practice, Cascadia is likely to reject it. Cascadian spirituality resonates better with honest portrayals of life and faith, even if that portrayal lacks clarity. We see this in the Cascadian tendency to value the mysteries of art and the unpredictably of nature as more important indicators for truth and meaning than traditional religion.
If a book too clearly presents a theological view, a foundational Christian concept, or a particular spiritual practice, Cascadia is likely to reject it. Cascadian spirituality resonates better with honest portrayals of life and faith, even if that portrayal lacks clarity.
Typical devotional material deals in the straightforward and accessible, whether that’s with how to’s for spiritual practice or dogmatic reflections on belief. For Cascadians more open to experiencing spirituality than being told about it, this just doesn’t work. Paul Pastor’s recent publication, The Listening Day: Meditations on the Way, however, gives me hope that the devotional genre can still connect with this place. And while The Listening Day is certainly applicable to Christians beyond Cascadia, it connects particularly well with the Cascadian experience of Christian spirituality.
A Life of Conversation
The Listening Day is at its best in providing an alternative example within the Christian devotional genre. The key to engaging The Listening Day is recognizing its purpose. This is not a book on ideas about God or a guide with practical steps for spiritual devotion—the type of Christian writing many Cascadians would be suspicious towards. Paul Pastor explains the context for his writing in the introduction:
God cannot be known in the past. He cannot be known in the future. To him, all times are now—and the Father invites us to join him, to know him, now. We must learn to quiet ourselves and listen for his voice every day.
Instead of a directive for spiritual devotion, Pastor invites the reader into his own experience of listening to God’s voice. This focus on the present experience of God is the driver for the whole book, with the format and content leading the reader to “focus on the meaning and power of the present.” The book is a collection of vignettes into a life of conversation with God. Each entry includes two scriptures related to one common theme, followed by poetic reflection of Pastor’s personal dialogue with God around those particular passages and themes. Pastor describes the entries as a “conversation between me and the Father.” The result? A deeply personal set of reflections coming out of Pastor’s experience of God.
The book is a window into one person’s spirituality—the reader observes Pastor’s conversations with God. But The Listening Day doesn’t end there. The reflections themselves, while deeply personal to Pastor, touch on common themes of spirituality that invite the reader to move from observer to participant. For example, Pastor repeatedly asks questions that resonate with anyone honestly searching for God amidst the challenges everyday life. “I am scattered and distracted. How can I know you?” prays Pastor. He imagines God’s response: “Quiet yourself to hear my voice.” Such dialogue moves the reader beyond the topic of listening to God’s voice to actually listening to God’s voice.
The personal nature of each reflection does mean certain entries won’t connect with every reader. Such is the reality of this sort of personal writing. But the reader is also drawn to participate in the dialogue through Pastor’s creative use of symbolic imagery in poetic reflections—an aspect of the book both Cascadian artists and nature lovers will likely find appealing. Pastor hopes “these creative expressions help you imagine God’s work and character in a new way.”
An Unpredictable Journey
The unassuming nature of Pastor’s reflections allows the reader to engage the material freely. This is perfect for Cascadia’s religious context.
The unassuming nature of Pastor’s reflections allows the reader to engage the material freely. This is perfect for Cascadia’s religious context. Pastor doesn’t enforce his experience on the reader. The one hundred entries aren’t dated or numbered. They don’t follow specific themes or patterns from entry to entry. This book isn’t Pastor’s formula for hearing God’s voice. And while the lack of clear thematic structure in The Listening Day feels random at times, it stays true to the freedom Pastor models for the spiritual practice of listening to God. For Pastor, spirituality is a journey of honestly seeking after God—even when faced with deep mysteries around God’s presence in our lives and the world. Thus, the book’s format is far from predictable. It mirrors the spiritual life itself: conversation with God isn’t predictable, either.
The degree to which the reader steps into Pastor’s dialogue with God will determine how the reader experiences The Listening Day. When engaged deeply, The Listening Day doesn’t just lead the reader to consider devotion. The book itself has the potential to be devotion. In a genre not always known for depth, this is a gift.
The Listening Day offers hope. It does so with a picture of a God that meets us in the struggle and the joy, the waiting and the fear, of the faith journey. Such honesty is needed for all Christians, but no doubt will resonate with the Cascadian suspicion of religious pretension or easy answers.
But there are limits to Pastor’s reflections. What role should communal spirituality play in a region known for its individualism? Pastor doesn’t address this.
But there are limits to Pastor’s reflections. What role should communal spirituality play in a region known for its individualism? Pastor doesn’t address this. By itself, The Listening Day could support an unhealthy withdrawal feigned as spiritual devotion. But I doubt this is Pastor’s intent. Still, as you read The Listening Day, keep in mind the broader challenge of individualistic spirituality.
Overall, The Listening Day is an inspiring window into an honest spirituality. It connects well with Cascadia’s religious context in particular and the Christian faith in general. For Cascadian’s suspicious of religious authority or trite solutions to deep questions, The Listening Day is a needed invitation to humbly participate in the journey of conversation with God.