HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ont.— Many people have grown tired of the pat answers that the church and religion have provided regarding questions about faith and meaning in life.
A new book addressing the deepest questions of the soul, The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening, was released by Herald Press in early September. The authors, siblings Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis, offer 12 keys, or insights, for unlocking the heart for spiritual growth.
Don is a spiritual director and Spanish professor who has led cross-cultural semesters at Eastern Mennonite University, in Harrisonburg; younger sister Sharon is a writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader from eastern Pennsylvania.
Twenty years ago, this brother and sister pair would not have dreamed of writing a book together. Growing up in a family with 11 children, the younger ones scarcely knew the older ones, according to Don and Sharon. So how did they decide to write a book together?
Don says he began hearing chatter at family reunions that Sharon was taking courses on spiritual formation and direction at “some Kairos” place in Pennsylvania. Don himself had begun taking similar courses at Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s Summer Institute for Spiritual Formation, so after years of “barely knowing that each other existed, we began to share our discoveries with each other,” he said.
Don was reading Ronald Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality during the summer of 2009. “I was really taken by this book. All the things I had studied in my program at the seminary seemed to come together.” He started meeting with a small group of interested college students to practice the “four nonnegotiable essentials of a healthy Christian spirituality.” One of Rolheiser’s essentials was termed “mellowness of heart.” Don said, “I thought a lot about what this concept meant and gave a number of devotionals on the subject. I felt there was enough material on ‘mellowness of heart’ for a book.”
Don and Sharon spoke about their mutual interests during a family gathering in early 2010. Don felt that Sharon’s experiences with many people as their spiritual director and her bout with cancer gave her an unusual depth of understanding. “I also knew that she was a great writer,” said Don.
Sharon had read Rolheiser’s Holy Longing while a student at Kairos: School of Spiritual Formation, in Lancaster, Pa., and was intrigued when Don began exploring the mellowness of heart concept. “When he first asked about writing a book together, though, I was hesitant,” Sharon said. “I wondered how I could do this, being so physically drained from six months of chemo treatments while finishing my spiritual direction training.” But she began to process the idea.
Don’s experiences teaching a senior seminar at Eastern Mennonite University dealing with suffering and loss had deeply moved him as he discovered the frequency of brokenness among students. Added to the brokenness were their questions about faith and God. “I wrote the book with them in mind, hoping that I could guide them toward a deeper commitment to God and a more ‘spacious heart,’” explained Don.
Impetus for Sharon came from knowing of spiritual seekers who long for emotional and spiritual intimacy with themselves, others, and God. “I wrote to encourage more understanding that gaining self-knowledge is not narcissistic, but actually helps one know the Source of life and love,” Sharon said.
In The Spacious Heart, Sharon describes some of her fears of getting involved in spiritual direction. Eventually, she said, “my [spiritual] director’s companioning me, and her deep listening, reflected love to me. This allowed me to heal and grow in intimate, close relationships with others and with God.” Still, Sharon had no plans to become a spiritual director herself. “But the Spirit and my own heart kept drawing me,” she recalled. She enrolled in training at Kairos in 2008 and began taking on those seeking spiritual direction in 2009.
Sharon uses many stories in the book, some from her spiritual direction practice, others from her upbringing, feeling that stories help people understand where they come from and where they want to go. “I wrote to encourage all who are disillusioned with church or old faith paradigms, who long for stories of spiritual awakening, and who aren’t able to go to a spiritual director,” noted Sharon.
Don first became involved in spiritual direction as a mentee, and then took training to be a spiritual director. He has been giving spiritual direction since 2003. Both Don and Sharon also blog regularly at www.donrclymer.blogspot.com and www.spiritsongsl.blogspot.com, respectively.
The authors hope that the book reaches a wider audience than those in the Mennonite church, including as a possible textbook for classes on spiritual formation. Marva J. Dawn, who wrote the foreword for the book, has praised the book’s emphasis on justice and other “traditional” Mennonite issues. “Several of the traits that are usually associated with Mennonites make this one of the best books on spiritual disciplines that I have ever read,” wrote Dawn.
Mary Herr, who cofounded The Hermitage retreat center in Three Rivers, Mich. with her husband, the late Gene Herr, noted the fact that there are not a lot of Mennonite-authored books on classic spiritual disciplines. Herr said, “A book by Menno writers on spiritual disciplines is sheer gift. So grateful for the book.”
The Spacious Heart is available for $16.99 from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or www.MennoMedia.org, as well as at bookstores.