As I looked over The Magnificent Journey, I realized it’s a magnificent book but not what I expected. I was expecting exhortations and instead read in chapter 1 a story about letting go, surrendering, and becoming obedient. It was a story from James Bryan Smith’s own life during his seminary training. For me, words like “obedience” were hard ones to deal with earlier in my life. Obedience was something to be wary of, and anyone who wanted it was highly suspect. But Smith isn’t talking about obeying other people, after all. The obedience he speaks of is actually a passage into freedom. It’s going through the narrow gate that Jesus talked about. It’s relinquishing the illusion of control and relaxing into the faith that God is in control. It’s the bumper sticker, “Let go. Let God.”
The Magnificent Journey is the second in a trilogy of books by Smith with “magnificent” in the title (The Magnificent Story was reviewed in FJ Aug. 2018), and it is a book intended for community use: individual reading, journaling, and completion of the included exercises in advance, followed by group sharing and worship. There are text boxes in each chapter with statements and queries. This sounds similar to the spiritual formation program in my yearly meeting, when deep sharing about a text is a way to know each other in that which is eternal and open to spiritual friendships.
But mind you, this book can benefit solitary readers too. It’s a magnificent journey either way. I don’t know if there’s a way to know who will be among those who pass through the narrow gate. But teachers and spiritual friends in our lives help us to create the conditions for that passage. This is the kind of book that falls into the same category: helping us to create and maintain the conditions for obedience.