(Robert J. Wicks, Streams of Contentment: Lessons I Learned on My Uncle’s Farm, 2011, 214 pages.)
In our age of distraction, dissatisfaction, and designed obsolescence, Robert Wicks’ latest book is a prophetic challenge to allow God to lead you beside the still waters, or, in Wicks’ language, beside “steams of contentment.” Wicks’ latest offering is a small book: barely 200 pages that are each much small than the pages of a typical book. But, as Seinfeld taught us to say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” Too many books need editing and are far longer than necessary, so less is sometimes more, inviting us to slow down and savor the text.
Wicks’ theme of allowing ourselves to relax beside streams of contentment reminds me of a column Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a few years ago for The Christian Century about her experience with the practice of walking a labyrinth. She said, “I can still choose the spiral journey that leads me deeper into the life I have instead of the linear one that promises me a way out of it.” The grass is, indeed, not always greener on the other side. Wherever we go, Wicks reminds us, we are invited to enter more deeply into the life we already have, to be more fully present to the situation in which we already find ourselves, to give ourselves permission to rest beside streams of contentment.
As an example of the spiritual exercises scattered throughout the book, Wicks challenges readers to
Allow myself a few moments each day in silences and solitude, in my own mental forest with a stream in it, where I can simply breathe, relax, and be, and can known in my heart that I have enough for now to be at peace…yes, to know I have enough, I am enough. (109)
Also, in this time of disappointment with the Obama administration and trepidation regarding the Occupy protests, I also appreciated Wicks’ theme of “Have low expectations…and high hopes” (71).
To help cash the check promised in the subtitle, the book additionally includes an invitation for “Spending Thirty Days ‘in the Country’ on Retreat.” Each day includes a short reflection and “simple practice.” This monthlong set of spiritual exercises is alone perhaps worth the price of admission.
The book concludes with “Twenty Questions on the Streams of Contentment” (209-210). I will close this book review with the two that resonated with me most strongly:
Can you embrace the paradox of gratefulness each day, so you can realize the truth that to those who are appreciative more will be given?
Are you able to whisper to yourself at the beginning and end of each day, “Life is a gift. I am a gift. Thank you. Thank you.
This book review is a part of the Roundtable at the Patheos Book Club. Visit the Book Club for more free resources related to this book.