Interview with Brent Bill, Beth Booram on ‘Awaken …’

Along the Shore … Photograph by Rodney Curtis.This week, we are introducing an innovative book by veteran retreat leaders and spiritual guides J. Brent Bill and Beth Booram called, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God.
IN PART 1 of our coverage
, we gave readers an overview of this book for individuals, small groups and congregational leaders—plus, we published an excerpt by authors Brent Bill and Beth Booram.
, you’ll meet Brent and Beth in our weekly author interview and learn how best to use this buffet of spiritual ideas they have published, designed to light up sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
AND: Enjoying the beautiful photos by Rodney Curtis? Read about his recent photo safari.

FEBRUARY 2012 UPDATE: THE CONTEST! Brent and Beth are launching a 5-week contest to get in touch with your senses in a spiritual way. They’ve got invitations sprinkled across their websites, but the key location is the Facebook page for their new book Awaken Your Senses.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Beth and Brent in …


J. Brent Bill leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of J. Brent Bill.DAVID: Let’s start with a very practical question. Your new book is designed for individual inspiration and small-group discussion—but some of our readers may be interested in inviting you two to pay a personal visit. How do readers get in touch with you? For example, I know that your own website, Brent, lists a lot of your upcoming events. If people visit your site, they’ll find places you’re planning to visit throughout 2012. Are most of those appearances related to the new book?

BRENT: Yes, my home page lists a lot of appearances. Some are based on this new book. Some are based on past books I’ve written. Some are just me appearing. Some are dual appearances. If readers are interested specifically in what we’re doing with Awaken Your Senses, I suggest they visit two places online. First, go to our Facebook page for Awaken Your Senses. We’ve got a lot of information there about upcoming workshops, retreats and other programs. Then, we’ve also got a new website at—and make note of that special “dot-us” ending to the URL. That website tells more about the book and about us, as authors. You can contact us both through Facebook and through the new website.

BETH: Like Bill, I have my own personal website, which includes a blog and other things that readers might find interesting.

DAVID: What kinds of programs do you present?

BRENT: We do it all: individual readings, Friday-through-Sunday workshops, Saturday-one-day workshops. One of us can come. Both of us. We can tailor what we present to what an organization needs.

DAVID: Beth, I’d like you to tell us a little more about your work. Longtime ReadTheSpirit readers are likely to know a little bit about Brent’s work. Our interview with Brent about his earlier book, Sacred Compass, is still popular with readers. So, tell us more about your background, Beth. Here’s what I know from promotional materials for your book: You’re described as “a spiritual director, congregational consultant, retreat leader.” And I know that you were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ for a while.

BETH: It’s not easy to give a simple answer to your question. I was raised Presbyterian and then in college, when I really began my own spiritual journey in earnest, I was exposed to Campus Crusade. My husband and I did serve with Crusade for a number of years. So there was a very evangelical context in which I was raised. Then, for a while, we were at a megachurch on the north side of Indianapolis. Over the years, I spread my wings more and more and became exposed to broader expressions of the Christian faith. Now I attend a small, nondenominational church. We’re less than 150 people. So, I’ve come a long way in my spiritual journey. If you asked me to describe my spiritual life, I would say that most purely I’m a contemplative. Yes, I am evangelical, but that term has so much baggage today that I don’t use it often. It’s confusing because people assume that word refers to one particular set of beliefs and positions. I feel quite comfortable in a wide range of spiritual streams. These days, for example, I find inspiration in a lot of Catholic writers.  And I do a lot of work in mainline churches.

DAVID: Name a few of the authors who inspire you.

BETH: First, I have Parker Palmer’s books and his writing has taken me to some important places. I read Henri Nouwen and Thomas Keating.

DAVID: Of course, Nouwen sadly passed away in the 1990s, but we have featured Father Keating in the pages of ReadTheSpirit. Yes, indeed, your range of religious experiences has expanded. Readers will see that in the pages of your new book. Just to go a little further—I detect some Celtic influence, too.

BETH: Oh, yes. I love the work J. Philip Newell has been doing. In fact, we have a prayer by him, “Prayer for Awakening the Soul,” on the first page of our book.


Author and retreat leader Beth Booram. Image courtesy Beth Booram.DAVID: Some readers may be jolted by your book. There still are quite a few Christian preachers who say we shouldn’t trust our bodies. They preach that our five senses are pathways to temptation. Does it surprise you that your book might be provocative?

BETH: There are some churches that are exclusively focused on emphasizing the Bible as the one way God communicates with us. But, I think most people, when they think about it, would agree that God arrests our attention in many ways in our spiritual journey. That’s what we’re really talking about in this book. What Christians often refer to as the Word of God is much bigger than the Bible itself. We say that God spoke and the world was created. God’s Word comes down to us like rain and it waters the earth. I think God is a self-revealing God. We can look around us and see many ways that God is disclosing truth to us. That’s what we’re encouraging people to explore.

BRENT: Some people will find this new book quite novel. The idea of accepting our bodies as carriers of spiritual wisdom runs up against what people often call American Puritanism. That’s not really an accurate way to think about the Puritans, but people understand that term when I use it. I’m talking about Christians who think that distrusting our bodies is an innate part of our faith.

We do have a different perspective on that. I would say, for instance, that the whole point of incarnation in Jesus coming into the world shows that Jesus wanted to experience the life that we experience. Another way to say it is: We are whole people—not just physical people separate from our spiritual lives. We are whole. Think about Adam and Eve in Eden. We are told that they walked in the cool of the evening and spoke with God. I love that imagery: What did they smell? What did they feel under foot? What did they hear?

Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians have maintained much more of this sensory experience of God—the smells, touch, sight and taste of faith—compared with Protestant churches. So, yes, there may be people in some churches who are jolted by this book, who will find these ideas quite new. And, that’s why we think it’s so important to share this message.


DAVID: Having read your book, it’s clear that your spiritual approach is centered in Christianity. But, I think it’s also true that readers who are not Christian can find some great ideas between these covers. You do provide some examples beyond Christianity in your book. There’s a short section on how the Jewish seder at Passover makes rich use of all the senses to convey the sacred story of Exodus.

BETH: Absolutely, there’s a lot here for any reader. There are lots of people who describe themselves today as spiritual, but not religious. We hear that phrase many places we go. In this book, we’re talking about using everyday human experiences as windows that can open into a deeper spiritual experience.

BRENT: It’s also true that folks who are concerned about Christian orthodoxy will find that our work is rooted in the Bible and in the writings of mothers and fathers of the church. But, Beth is right. It’s not meant to be narrowly sectarian.

BETH: We’re trying to reach readers at many levels. I can see pastors in local churches reading this book for ideas they can use in worship. I could see people discussing these ideas in a small group. People can use this in a retreat. Or, some readers may want to spiritually explore their senses in individual ways.


DAVID: Let’s give a specific example from the book: Textures of prayer. You write about literally feeling with your hands the various textures around you as you engage in prayer. Perhaps corduroy fabric, or felt, or wood, or stone or other textures that might suggest themes in your prayers.

BRENT: That’s right. So often, we move through life so quickly that we don’t even notice the textures around us. But, obviously, we do respond to textures. Think about the clothes you like to wear. For example, I prefer to wear shirts that are 100 percent cotton. They feel more comfortable to me than some of the blended fabrics. Most people have textures that they respond to, that they like, that relate to things going on in their lives—if we pause and pay attention. There’s a related exercise in the book in which we suggest that people draw something—and choose their materials from surfaces they find around them in daily life. They might draw on a paper bag—or on a shiny piece of paper. That drawing exercise is another way to think about the textures in our lives.


DAVID: Well, those are just a couple of examples among dozens in this book. You really do want to expand our awareness of daily life in many ways—and expand our worship experiences, too.

BETH: Yes, that’s the larger question we’re raising. One way to think about this is: We’re showing that aesthetics do matter. In the ways we create environments around us—whether at home or at church—aesthetics augment our ability to more deeply experience our faith.

BRENT: This is important in an era when a lot of churches are increasing the digital technology they use in worship. More and more, worship is all about our eyes and ears. In many places, people don’t even pick up and hold a hymnal or a Bible anymore. Everything is up on a screen. As worship becomes more of a spectator experience, we need to challenge people to reopen all of their senses to God.

REMEMBER: Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God is available from Amazon.
If you missed it, you’ll also enjoy: In Part 1 of this coverage, we gave readers an overview of this book for individuals, small groups and congregational leaders—plus an excerpt by Brent Bill and Beth Booram.

Don’t Miss: Our columnist Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. The Spiritual Wanderer, is writing on this theme, too.

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