By Alan Fadling. InterVarsity Press, 2022. 336 pages. $20/hardcover; $19.99/eBook.
A Year of Slowing Down is a book of “daily” devotions (six for every seven days) that encourages us to slow down. As George Fox put it, “be still a while from thy own thoughts, searching, seeking, desires and imaginations, and be stayed in the principle of God in thee, to stay thy mind upon God, up to God.”
I was surprised that Fadling’s book seemed to me to be so resonant with Fox’s advice to Oliver Cromwell’s daughter Elizabeth, known at the time as Lady Claypole.
Each “day” starts with a verse from the Bible for reflection and prayerful consideration, inviting us to be open to what the Spirit may say that speaks to our condition. The book is a collection of invitations, or spiritual opportunities, to respond to the Divine Presence. Given our own individual experiences, practices, and orientations, inevitably some of the entries will be experienced as more helpful than others. The book is organized into three sections: (1) “The Unhurried Way of God,” drawing from Hebrew Scripture; (2) “Following Our Unhurried Savior,” drawing from the gospels, Acts, and the letters of John; and (3) “Living in Unhurried Community,” drawing from the remainder of the Greek Scripture.
In part 1, Fadling’s selection of quotations from Hebrew Scripture allows him on occasion to address those who (like himself) grew up in churches that emphasized an angry God and who fled from that teaching, but who (unlike Fadling) have been unable to root it out altogether in favor of understanding God as invincibly loving, patient, and forgiving. The daily meditations in part 1 introduce a spirituality of waiting upon God that is familiar to Friends, however with language different from traditional Quaker language, and that, in itself, is useful.
Part 2 is by far the largest of the three sections, and Fadling’s choice of quotations from the four gospels are far more numerous from John’s Gospel than from the other three combined (98, 40) displaying a definite Johannine orientation.
The quotation from Fox to Lady Claypole continues:
and thou wilt find strength from him [God] and [find him to] be a present help in time of trouble, in need, and to be a God at hand. And it will keep thee humble being come to the principle of God, which hath been transgressed; which [thee, being] humble, God will teach in his [God’s] way, which is peace.
Fadling repeatedly returns to these themes as well in his devotions: God’s love; God’s availability, guidance, grace, patience, and forgiveness; the abundance God offers; the workings of God’s kingdom; and through all, God’s invitation for us to respond to God’s love with deep spiritual humility and our own answering love of God.
A Year of Slowing Down is not addressed to readers who are looking for what they should believe nor for those interested in systematic theology nor for those who seek religious backing for moral, cultural, or political agendas of their own. He objects to using theology as a weapon to exclude others.
The book contains no page numbers, though each “daily” devotion has its own page, identified by designations like “Day 1” or “Day 6/7.” The book contains no footnotes, no bibliography, no index. It is an invitation to devotion, not to intellectual study. There are few quotations that are not quotations from the Bible, but other than the Bible, the book quoted most by Fadling is American Quaker Elton Trueblood’s Confronting Christ.
A Year of Slowing Down contains much of value and much spiritual depth in language that is gentle, compassionate, with a touch of humor, and sometimes surprising connections. Spoiler alert: Fadling’s approach to those with whom he has significant disagreements is to remind himself that they are loved by God, to discern what in them might be of God, and to address that in them first and foremost. He seeks to hold God in the foreground with due humility rather than his human concerns, however valid those concerns may be: not to dismiss those human concerns but to put them in perspective, sub specie aeternitatis.
Tom Paxson is a member of Kendal Meeting in Kennett Square, Pa. (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting). He was involved in ecumenical activities in connection with Friends General Conference for over 20 years.