Review

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God

by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram

To write this book, the two authors --- J. Brent Bill, a Quaker, and Beth Booram, a spiritual director seasoned in various forms of ministry --- each embarked on “a series of thirty-day experiments with each of the senses”: taste, sight, touch, hearing and smell. The personal experiments are occasionally mentioned in the book, but this is not a journal by any means.

The goal of the book is to increase the reader’s awareness of the wonder, beauty and mystery of God, who is present to us in and through our senses --- physically, through our bodies, which the apostle Paul calls temples of the Holy Spirit, and metaphorically.

"After finishing the book, I looked at the table of contents to note which chapters I had circled as “likes.” Had I gravitated toward one author more than the other? No. Two chapters each. Two of those likes were in the section about hearing."

Except in the general introduction and conclusion, Bill and Booram stay away from the tricky second-person-plural voice. In alternating chapters, one author and then the other presents short reflections on specific aspects of each of the five senses. Each chapter (of 30) ends with a suggested exercise for personalizing the theme. “The point” of the exercises “is to help more of you --- your whole brain, all five senses and your body --- experience more of God.”

In the opening anecdote of a “touch” chapter by Bill, “Touching Absence,” he relates his discovery, while at worship, that his car keys are not in his pocket as they should be. He has a hard time concentrating, because he is so aware of their absence. At the end of the chapter, one of several spiritually exercising questions asks, “What thing, when you do not feel it where it should be, feels like God’s absence?”

After finishing the book, I looked at the table of contents to note which chapters I had circled as “likes.” Had I gravitated toward one author more than the other? No. Two chapters each. Two of those likes were in the section about hearing. One (by Booram) focused on the distinctive messages one can discern by listening to footsteps. Heavy? Slow? Fast? Stealthful? “From a young age, we even learn to differentiate footsteps…. Every person has a certain gait, a weight to their steps…. I know which of my kids has come home just by the way they enter our house.” Booram reminds us of the biblical story of Adam and Eve hearing God walking in Eden and finally reflects on her experience of hearing “God’s footsteps” in the “garden of waiting.” The chapter’s “spiritual exercise” asks you to draw representations of the “gardens” in which “you had a profound sense of God’s presence and involvement in your life.” How did you respond? What have you learned? 

Inexplicably, I liked the residual effect of the whole book more than individual pieces, some of which, especially in the first “taste” section, seemed metaphorically forced.

An appendix of sorts gives “additional activities for practicing a sensuous faith.” Though untried, the one that seems most interesting is “assemble a faith meal.” The instructions start: “In a way similar to how Jews use Passover to tell their communal story of faith, plan a meal that tells your faith story.”

Hmm. Food for thought. The bitter and the sweet.

Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on March 20, 2012

Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God
by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram