L. Roger Owens’ book What We Need Is Here (Upper Room Books, 2015) is not what my longtime-pastor side might call a “spiritual self-help” book. Its subtitle points to this: Practicing the Heart of Christian Spirituality. Not content to settle for surface religious “how-to”s, Owens seeks to reach the heart of Christian spiritual life, by touching on what he calls “beginning steps and deepening practice” in eight aspects of Christian living.
At first blush, some of the subjects might sound familiar, like praying the Psalms, meditating on the Gospels, and experiencing Communion. But they speak to a larger reality. The angles he takes are fresh, devoid of religious jargon, and with just enough examples to let us know that regular people practice these things, not just monks and nuns.
And then there are other dimensions, not usually included in spiritual-discipline books. Three of them jumped out at me. First, in “Embodying Our Spirituality,” Owens challenges the ambivalence church people have inherited about our bodies, valuing soul over body (as if they could be divided). He reminds us of our core belief in the Incarnation – God become flesh – and invites us to practice “body prayer” using gestures and movement to match our love for God, our struggles, questions, praise, and all the rest.
Second, he includes “Being With the Poor” as part of the heart of spirituality, and invites us to move from the idea of “serving” or “working for” people of a different race, class or culture, to being with our neighbors the way Jesus was – in relationship. “We are all poor when we live in isolation from one another,” Owens says. In one another, we receive the very presence of Christ.
Third, in “The Quiet Center,” Owens helps us admit the inner chaos of our minds when we first turn from busyness to silence. In silence, we seek to “lean on God’s breast, listening to the heartbeat of love.” We’re already in union with God, he states; we can learn how to rest in that fact. Finally, after referring to the four movements of silent prayer, he says not to worry about doing it right; simply climb into the lap of God.
I’ve returned to this book several times already, and no doubt will again. Wherever we are in our spiritual quest, Owens assures us that What We Need Is Here and helps us get to the heart of our relationship with God.