Bestselling author Philip Yancey writes that he penned RUMORS OF ANOTHER WORLD to reflect on what he would say if asked to explain his faith to an unbeliever. But he admits, "I wrote it not so much to convince anyone else as to think out loud in hopes of coming to terms with my own faith," and indeed this book invites Christians as well as unbelievers to look at faith in a fresh way.
For Yancey, the great divide separating belief and unbelief can be reduced to one question: Is the visible world around us all there is? Those unsure of the answer, he writes, are in the "borderlands of belief" --- a place between doubt and faith --- a term he credits writer Mark Buchanan with coining. Yancey sets out to explain why he believes that there is indeed an unseen world, invisible and supernatural. "What are we missing? What do we not see, for lack of imagination or faith?"
To find out what he was missing, Yancey began to listen to his own longings and desires, tracing "dispersed clues (or rumors) to their original source and significance." Then, he opened his heart to the invisible world and experienced what he calls his second conversion: rediscovering the natural world from a new viewpoint. Through classical music, the beauties of nature and romantic love, Yancey discovered new windows to the supernatural.
However, we often ignore these and other windows to the invisible world. Because the Creator doesn't impose himself on us, Yancey writes that it requires "attention and effort" on our part to remember him. He writes of simple things he is doing to perceive the rumors more clearly: from observing the attractions of nature outside the windows of his mountain home in Colorado, to learning from Jesus how to be fully present to others rather than considering them as interruptions. Yancey seeks to find something of lasting value in mundane tasks (alá Brother Lawrence): "Did I treat the airline ticketing agent, the UPS driver, my readers, with the attention they deserve?" And in doing so, Yancey glimpses the relationship that matters the most, and names his goal for growing older: "to care less about how others view me and more about how God views me."
In his self-examinations, he is relentlessly vulnerable. As Yancey plumbs the question of disorder --- "in short, if there is another world out there, shouldn't this one give more evidence of it?" --- he examines the sins that he wrestles with most often: discontent, hypocrisy, pride and greed. However, he no longer envisions God as a cosmic police officer, keeping him from doing things he would enjoy. Rather, he sees God "as a Spirit within, coaxing me to realize fully what I was created to be in the first place."
Yancey writes that he thinks out loud by putting words on paper, and this is in full evidence in RUMORS OF ANOTHER WORLD. As with many great writers confronted with the mystery of faith, he often asks more questions than he answers. One Yancey trademark is that he liberally salts the text with quoted material, which can be enriching for the reader who is introduced to new authors of interest. These include many of the crème de la crème of authors both classic and contemporary: Annie Dillard, Frederick Buechner, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Simon Weil, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Thomas Merton, Jonathan Edwards, Thomas à Kempis. It is difficult to think of better company to keep while wrestling with questions of faith.
However, this abundance of quoted material also means the reading is slower-paced. RUMORS OF ANOTHER WORLD, like most Yancey books, is best consumed by sipping rather than gulping; underlining and highlighting rather than skimming.
There is much to be underlined and highlighted; many insights that demand deeper personal reflection. As Yancey looks both inward and outward, listening for clues about the God he longs to know more intimately, he invites us --- compellingly --- to open our own hearts to the invisible world.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on August 19, 2003
Rumors of Another World: What on Earth Are We Missing?