Living in the Selah!

A review of: The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski, W Publishing Group, 2014.

Have you ever read a book that took forever to read? This one surely did.

It was the opposite of reading some heavyweight scholarly treatise. Instead Yankoski threw out a spiritual gauntlet that challenged me to deeply and slowly read and reread his book. In other words, I had to learn about  Selah!  (loosely translated from the Hebrew, means, “Shut Up! And Pay Attention!”)

So I did.

“Selah! the Psalmist cries again and again. Notice!Look, see, listen, hear, touch feel, smell, taste! Be intentionally attentive to the world around you, attentive as a partner in a dance. Close. Warm. Intimate. Embracing for awhile and letting the sparks fly”. (p.25)

The Sacred Year,  Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice-How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life” is the full title of his book. And that’s exactly what he did, and the resultant gift of his journey gives us more than the trite “food for thought”. He gives us a feast of Whole Healthy Food for the soul, and advice on holistic living in the 21st Century, even including a recipe for homemade bread. He and his wife Danae went through a purging of “stuff”, and adopted a simple way of living with less, so they could enjoy more time to explore the world around them. Yankoski was convinced that ADD motivates and sustains our society.

Yankoski had become a very popular motivational speaker after the success of his first book, “Under the Overpass” in which he chronicled living on the streets with a friend for 30 days, guitar in hand, in order to experience the life of homeless people. That catapulted him into a public arena that sucked him dry, and being in the limelight only turned the spotlight on the emptiness of his own walk with God.

He was desperate to experience God in a new way…using a variety of ancient spiritual practices. A monk named Father Solomon, who definitely had wisdom and experience in all these matters, guided his steps.

Yankoski was very intentional in his search,  which eventually took him to the ancient isle of Iona on the west coast of Scotland, where he lived in an old hermit’s cave., and practiced  Taize, a form of sung prayer using scripture in a great stone abbey. The profound depth of the prayer stunned him into silence. “Coming to prayer is like hiking to Yosemite’s Bridal Veil Falls just to get your heart rate up…instead of well…hiking simply [because] it’s worth being in the presence of”. This kind of worship began to shape his soul to invite and endure longer periods of silence, and not checking off a list of me-wants. (When he began he could only last five minutes before he had to do something).

He once dug his own grave in a local graveyard, and stayed overnight in it in order to stay close to the bone of his mortality. The gravediggers stood around him gasping at what they viewed as manifest insanity. Danae put her foot down when he wanted to bring home a skull and place it on his desk. She had endured his days of contemplating apples, and filling his pockets with hazelnuts a la Julian of Norwich, the great English mystic.

Yankoski’s “soulscape” is sprinkled with wise and witty observations about Christianity, and peopled with a variety of characters who helped him journey on. This is one of the reasons I have to keep rereading this book.

He and Danae began searching for a “formative, shaping” community and settled in Vancouver where they enrolled in Regent College, and are now pursuing their PhDs at Notre Dame.

Highly and Joyfully recommended. Selah!