My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Quite possibly the most necessary book I’ve read all year. It met me directly where I am–a little cynical, a little skeptical, too easily distracted & entranced by the shiny and shallow, and sometimes too quick to dismiss ordinary gestures. I can’t count the number of times his words echoed things I’ve been reading, saying, writing, and thinking already. It was eery how often I read a paragraph and realized I’d had that exact thought or conversation with my husband. Then I’d watch as Cosper wove each of these familiar strands of thought into his greater thesis, which is that the way to warm your heart back up to experience wonder and beauty again is nothing new. In fact, it’s through practices that are very, very old.
I’ve read a decent amount about attention spans (mostly because I feel so keenly the tug of our distracting world) and this was by far the best book on that subject that I’ve read. Cosper doesn’t just acknowledge the problem (as Tim Wu does so thoroughly in The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads and Matthew B. Crawford does so well in The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction), he actually charts a course out of the land of disenchanted boredom and constant distraction. His solution? The ancient disciplines of the Christian faith. Prayer. Communion. Fasting, yes, but also feasting. And his solutions are so simple and generous that you find them irresistible. He describes fasting in a way that makes you want to fast–he’s not showy or extreme, not promising anything more than a simple reorientation of your hungers that points you towards the kinds of desires that really need satisfying. Then he describes feasting in a way that makes you want to throw a dinner party. Tomorrow, if possible.
This is very much a book for my generation. We grew up on spectacle-based youth programs and grew to love the church in spite of it, but perhaps we’ve all grown a little cynical in the process, which leaves us cold to even the possibility of real surprises. We don’t want to be emotionally manipulated, so we won’t fall for anything. But this leaves us immune even to the moving power of beauty and simple acts of grace.Cosper can quote 30 Rock and Robert Capon and David Foster Wallace and G.K. Chesterton, moving seamlessly between pop-culture references and ancient wisdom.
Not only that, he ends the book with such a gracious acknowledgment that the disciplines in and of themselves are not a means to an end. I don’t want to spoil the ending (even though it’s not really a story you can spoil) because it is such a lovely, kind, generous way to end the book.
If you’re interested in reading more about the changes occurring in this generation, consider: