Review: Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World

Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder was one of my Christmas-list requests, primarily because I was so intrigued by the title and the blurb.  Cosper’s lament that even Christians have learned to live “as if miracles and magic had been drained from the world” was resonant with me, and I wanted to read what he had to say.  I’m happy to report that, while the book treads some familiar ground for me in terms of its recommendations and guiding practices, it was a thought-provoking text that challenged me to change some of my own Christian practices and attitudes.

What Cosper wants to tackle in this book is the problem of what he refers to as Christian “disenchantment”: sure, we say we believe in God and we have all the trappings of faith, but in truth we’re living lives of deep skepticism and weariness toward anything miracle-based or profoundly supernatural.  Our modern culture has ingrained us, he claims, with a deeply jaded outlook and a profound cynicism:

Our culture rehearses stories, ideas, and dialogues that shame us away from any kind of belief in transcendence. ….we develop a resistance to thoughts that would carry us outside of the world of the visible, measurable, the scientifically verifiable.

The result is a strange sort of reality-bound Christianity that “accepts” God’s supernatural powers and His transcendence – the sheer wild love of Christianity and the convergence of the divine and cosmic with the earthly and mundane – while also not really expecting much of it, and perhaps side-eyeing anything that seems a little too fantastical.

The rest of the book, then, is Cosper’s attempt to counteract this “disenchanted” way of believing with thoughtful spiritual practices that seek to help the believer return to an understanding of what it really means for our omnipotent, omniscient, supernatural, powerful God to love us and to use us and to have a plan for the world.

Cosper’s insights are incisive and at times cut like glass.  He points out the way in which technology (especially social media) has become the great religion of our time: a minimizing of the actual supernatural wonder and authentic encounters of a real and actual faith relationship, based on a literal worshiping of and devotion to (our own) image.  He uncovers the ways in which distraction and busy-ness threaten to yank us out of enchantment with God; he gently critiques the church for its tendency to manufacture its own spectacle and miracles rather than rely on God to provide it, or re-imagine what a divine encounter might look like.

And Cosper is painfully honest, too, about his own moments of disenchantment.  One particular passage resonated with me: his recollection of visiting Jerusalem and the sites associated with the crucifixion of Christ.  He expected the experience to be spiritually moving; instead, he was surprised by the remove he felt as he approached.  He wanted to be able to enter the moment fully and experience the place as a holy one, and yet couldn’t quite manage it, skeptical of its “tourist-y” nature and the practices of those around him.

Happily, Cosper eventually is able to return and connect with God in that space – to have the moment of “enchantment” and experience that he had been longing for.  But he recognized within himself and within us the many roadblocks and factors that can keep us from really opening up to what God has for us: our resistance to earnestness, to the wide-open heart, our tendency to critique and eye-roll, our desire to always pull back and keep God at a remove.  We find reasons to stand at a distance from the bigness, the supernatural nature, the intensity of God: enchantment is about finding reasons to return to it.

In each chapter, Cosper offers “pathways” to enchantment with God.  It was only here that I felt as though the book became a bit familiar, because many of these pathways reference liturgical practices and – entirely unintentionally – every book I’ve read lately has also been recommending liturgical practices.  But the pathways are useful and meaningful windows into the adoption of spiritual practices intended to draw us back into enchantment with God, and I’ve adopted a few as Cosper recommends: marking time by the liturgical calendar (to keep a sense of ‘God’s time’ and God’s plan apart from the day-to-day rumble), breath prayers, the examen, solitude, and feasting (a combination of practicing God’s generosity and also the mindfulness of gratitude and Sabbath).

I was originally going to recommend this book to Christians who know very well that they tend toward being jaded, world-weary, critical, skeptical – and they will benefit from it, of course.  But I don’t define myself in that way – I am a pretty earnest person and I love being enchanted, I desire spiritual enchantment – and yet this book was profoundly affecting even for me.  If you are a believer who desires to experience more enchantment in God and with God, if you’re eager to remember again or anew who God really is, what it means in a modern, disenchanted to worship a supernatural God who does supernatural things and loves with a supernatural love, you will benefit from this.

One caveat: Cosper is a very of-the-moment writer and an intellectual writer, and a lot of his thinking and sources in the book are both densely theological, scholarly, and also scattershot with pop culture.  He quotes C.S. Lewis, but he also quotes Hannah Arendt; he makes references to David Foster Wallace, Lewis Hyde, and modern comedians, too.  The writing is good and eminently readable, very interesting and full of stories, but also at times spins out into a talk that I recognize as more academic in nature – and if that’s not something you prefer in a book, you might find it a barrier here.

Otherwise, this book was absolutely worth a spot on my Christmas list: I didn’t realize that I’d asked for the gift of re-enchantment with God, but I am glad that I did.

 

 

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