Review: Joy Together

March 4th, 2013

Lynne Baab, pastor, professor, and author, is a familiar friend to those engaged in practices of spiritual formation. Her latest book, Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation, moves into communal spiritual practices, that is, ways in which groups and congregations can explore together the ancient Christian practices of fasting, contemplative prayer, hospitality, Sabbath-keeping, and so forth, together. Baab outlines ways in which these practices can deepen the life of a church council and other boards and committees within a church.

Baab sets as the context of her work the consumerism and materialism within which the church in what she calls ‘the affluent West’ currently exists, inviting the church into the grace, peace, and love which come from God alone. This comes, she maintains, from listening for the voice of God and experiencing God’s guidance in daily life which the ancient spiritual practices are designed to nurture.

This is truly a “user-friendly” book. Baab’s examples come from her and her husband’s congregations, real-life stories that make it easy to envision undertaking spiritual practices in new ways in one’s own setting. Moreover, each chapter concludes with “Questions for Reflection, Discussion, or Journaling” as well as suggestions for further reading. 

The spirit of Baab’s book is found in its title: Joy Together. If the notion of spiritual disciplines evokes images of hair shirts and sacrificial deprivation, Baab writes from the conviction that humans, created in love, find joy and the fullness of life in deeper relationships with God and one another. The book’s first chapter focuses on thankfulness as a spiritual discipline. Writing from her own experience, she describes how the practice of opening one’s daily prayer with prayers of thanksgiving has transformed her prayer life—and her life. She goes on to demonstrate how this can be adapted to prayer in small groups, prayer in governing committees, and prayer in corporate worship.

Baab’s examples are both practical and creative, traditional and innovate. For example, fasting, she maintains, has the spiritual goal of stilling us. While acknowledging real limitations, Baab encourages an openness to experimentation. She notes that someone with an eating disorder should not fast from food, and that people on certain types of medication must maintain their standard diet. As a result, she encourages experimentation with other forms of fasting. This can mean fasting from email, buying lattes, or checking Facebook. The goal of fasting of whichever variety is to draw closer to God and to embrace God’s values as revealed in Christ Jesus.

Her chapters on contemplative prayer and contemplative forms of Scripture reading spell out various ways to practice each. Her chapter on hospitality pushes beyond the anticipated congregational practices to include such things as hosting a community food bank as a way of welcoming the wider community. The chapter on Sabbath confronts realistic challenges that face all who work on the weekend, as well as those who volunteer in church and those who juggle family activities.

With practical advice to pastors and other congregational leaders, Joy Togetherprovides a harvest-basket full of life-giving suggestions and examples. All who wish to go deeper, to listen more faithfully, and to see and serve more faithfully, will find rich fare for the journey.

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