The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life

The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life

by Mike Yankoski


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"In his life and writing, Michael Yankoski walks a tightrope between action and contemplation, and, behold, in ways we can all learn from, he manages to find a sort of essential balance."
Philip Yancey, author of What's So Amazing About Grace

"This book is a joy to the soul and a delight to the heart. It is destined to become a classic within the genre of contemporary spiritual and religious writing."
Phyllis Tickle, compiler of The Divine Hours

Frustrated and disillusioned with his life as a Christian motivational speaker, Michael Yankoski was determined to stop merely talking about living a life of faith and start experiencing it. The result was a year of focused engagement with spiritual practices—both ancient and modern—that fundamentally reshaped and revived his life. By contemplating apples for an hour before tasting them (attentiveness), eating on just $2.00 a day (simplicity), or writing letters of thanks (gratitude), Michael discovered a whole new vitality and depth through the intentional life.

Guided by the voice of Father Solomon—a local monk—Yankoski's Sacred Year slowly transforms his life. Both entertaining and profound, his story will resonate with those who wish to deepen their own committed faith as well as those who are searching—perhaps for the first time—for their own authentic encounter with the Divine.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780849922022
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 09/23/2014
Pages: 354
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Michael Yankoski is a writer, aspiring theologian, and urban homesteader who dreams of becoming a competent woodworker, musician, and sailor. He received his MA in theological studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a (novitiate) Oblate of St. Benedict, and has authored four books. Michael grew up in Colorado, feels at home on the Pacific Coast, and currently resides in Indiana, where he and his wife are pursuing PhDs at the University of Notre Dame.

Read an Excerpt

The Sacred Year

Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practiceâ?"How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life

By Michael Yankoski

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Michael George Yankoski III
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8499-2202-2


What Color Is Jaded?

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wilderness —Dante, Inferno

O thou lord of life, send my roots rain. —Gerard Manley Hopkins

There were only a few lonely travelers in the otherwise vacant boarding area as I arrived for yet another 5:00 a.m. departure. I was several years into the speaking tour for my first book, Under the Overpass, traveling from city to city, telling the story of my friend Sam's and my intentional journey as homeless men. The allure of travel and bright lights had long since worn off by this point, and more and more I was finding the unanchored life of an itinerate speaker increasingly corrosive.

One of my fellow travelers—a large man with a stained Harley-Davidson shirt and a beard like a muddy waterfall—had passed out across a row of chairs. He was snoring loudly, and every so often his steel-toed right boot twitched menacingly. A tattooed arm extended out toward his nearby suitcase, and as I sat down to await the start of the boarding process, a shiny silver bracelet flashed against the background of blue ink on his forearm. When I looked closer I saw it wasn't a bracelet at all, but a handcuff—he had handcuffed himself to his suitcase.

"Your attention please," a perfectly timed electronic voice blared over the boarding area speakers. "Please do not leave your luggage unattended. All unattended baggage will be confiscated and may be destroyed."

Ha! I smirked. Nobody's going to confiscate his stuff.

Over the next few minutes several more early morning zombies straggled in, all of them greedily nursing steaming cups of dark, gritty stimulant beneath shadowy eyes and hollow cheeks. These recent additions brought the total number in the boarding area to ten, including myself. A cold light inside a nearby vending machine began to strobe in an irregular, distracting way.

The speech I'd delivered the night before had gone well. The audience was kind, and only one person snored audibly. (It only took a second before his mortified wife elbowed him hard in the ribs.) When the time came there was an engaging Q&A session, with some of the audience members texting in questions while others just raised their hands politely or stood up and used the provided microphones at the back of the room. When it was all over, I stood in the foyer for more than an hour, shaking hands, answering still more questions, and signing the occasional dog-eared book.

This was my third speech in as many days, and tonight I would be in yet another city, in another room, standing before another audience without knowing anybody's name, trying yet again to weave words into a tale worth hearing, a tale—if I was really on top of my game—that might just produce zero snoring audience members and maybe, just maybe, might be worth their remembering the next day.

An airline employee arrived and began fumbling behind the desk with the computer, cursing every so often as he banged a fist on the malfunctioning printer.

Just then, something new strolled into the boarding area: a surprisingly bright-eyed, sandy-haired fellow with flawless clothes, straight teeth, and an impressive tan. He swaggered in, quickly surveyed the rest of us, and evidently unimpressed by what he saw, chose a vacant corner for himself. Once he'd lounged himself in a chair, his phone rang—a ringtone from that old hard-rock song about driving the highway of life.

"Hiya, babe," the man drawled into the phone, flashing a shiny grin that had probably worked miracles for him in the past. But soon his face darkened and his jaw muscles rippled under that tanned skin at whatever the woman on the other end was saying. "Now Nikki, hold on a minute," the man said firmly.

But Nikki didn't hold on. She just kept right on talking, and his face turned crimson.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," the boarding agent announced. "We're now ready to begin our boarding process. Unlike you crazies, sane people sleep in Saturdays. That means we'll be boarding all groups at once. Please make sure your boarding passes are out and available as you approach the podium."

With his free hand, Mr. Harley-Davidson pulled out a bristle of keys and started working on his handcuff. We stood—most of us, that is—and made our way toward the podium, trying to remember where we'd stuffed our tickets to ride.

The guy with the tan stayed seated in the corner, the situation escalating.

"Now that's not fair!" he yelled. "We talked about this and you said—" But Nikki cut him off again.

"Good morning, Mr. Yankoski," the gate agent said once he'd scanned my boarding pass.

"You're in a better mood than I am," I mumbled.

"Enjoy your flight."

"You too," I said, and staggered down the jet bridge. As I neared the plane I could still hear the guy on the phone behind me, shouting.

I seem to have relatively good luck on airplanes. I've only had drinks spilled on me three times, lost my luggage twice, and been projectile-vomited on by a newborn once. And that's just the daytime flights. On my last red-eye I sat next to a broad-shouldered, flailing-snoring-farter who was remarkably capable at making sure that I didn't sleep for more than a few minutes at a time during the whole five-hour flight.

So it was par for the course when the Shouter threw his bag onto the seat directly across the aisle from me, ensuring that I'd have a front-row seat to the rest of his early morning tirade. I crammed in both of my earbuds and cranked up the volume to try and drown out the yelling. I'd almost managed to fall asleep when the flight attendant knocked on my shoulder.

I looked up, blinking at her for a moment, surprised by how well she could harmonize with Bon Iver. Then the song ended and her lips kept moving.

I yanked out an earbud. "Huh?"

"Turn off your MP3 player please, sir," the flight attendant said again. Then she turned to the man across the aisle.

The Shouter hadn't abated. "That's absurd, Nikki! You always do this. This is just like last time. I can't even—" But Nikki cut him off.

Now it was the flight attendant's turn to get frustrated. "Sir! I'm not going to tell you again. The main cabin door is closed. We are ready to depart. Turn off your phone!"

"Nikki, I've got to go," the man yelled. "Yeah, uh-huh. Like I believe that."

"Sir!" the flight attendant shouted, stamping her foot.

The man held up a silencing finger at the flight attendant and bellowed into the phone.

"Well excuse me, Nikki, for ruining your miserable little life!" With that the man ended the call and hurled his phone at the floor of the plane, where it shattered into several pieces. He glared up at the flight attendant. "There. It's off now. Are you happy?"

She was more than a little surprised, as was I. So were the other nine zombies on the plane that morning, all leaning out into the aisle to see what was happening. Somebody needed to get this guy some Valium, and fast.

"Thank you, sir," the flight attendant said. After a sarcastic curtsy she walked away.

The man swore under his breath, clicked off his seat belt, and started picking up the shrapnel from his phone.

Once he was safely restrained in his seat, I ventured a question across the aisle. "Rough morning, huh?"

The man bared his Hollywood-straight teeth and glared out the window at the darkness. "You have no idea." He slipped the wedding band from his finger and began playing with it absentmindedly.

As we accelerated down the runway, I put my earbuds back in, reclined my seat a full half-inch, and tried to sleep. When we landed an hour or so later, the man across the aisle leaped up and stormed to the front of the plane before I'd even managed to click off my seatbelt. As the main cabin door opened, I heard him toss an awkward "sorry about that" to the flight attendant.

She responded with a halfhearted smile. "Don't worry about it, sir. I'm sure it happens all the time."

He stiffened at this, obviously contemplating a retort, but then thought better of it and vanished off the plane.

I didn't expect to think more about what I'd seen that morning. It was just another marital argument; another shouting, cussing couple; another man with a confident, polished exterior and a frazzled, fraying interior.

Then I arrived at the conference.

The Change Our World conference it was called—or something both audacious and cheesy as only a crowd of well-meaning Christians can be. Thousands of people had come from all over the country to attend and learn and discuss ways they might individually and collectively help shape our world for good. It was a well-attended, well-funded, and well-produced affair. Even the welcome folder I was handed at check-in felt posh, with lots of swag and full-color prints crammed inside.

My arrival time meant I had missed most of the first session, but I was able to slip into the auditorium just before the afternoon session started. Duplicate images of a flashy, bouncy timer counted backward on the two jumbo screens at the front of the room, with each tick-tock of the clock accompanied by an amplified drumbeat that made you feel like you were getting punched in the stomach in a dark alley. You could feel the energy in the room rising as the zero-minute approached, and when at last we reached liftoff, the theme song from Rocky began screaming over the expensive speakers.

The emcee bounded up on stage with a bright shirt and manicured fingernails, all visible and larger than life on the expensive jumbo screens. "Welcome, welcome, welcome, my blessed brothers and sisters, to the Change Our World conference!" he yelled into his microphone. A blinding shot of a chemically whitened smile burst on the screens, and the audience cheered. "I don't know about y'all, but I can feel it down deep in my bones—God is in the house." The audience cheered again, and I rolled my eyes.

The emcee raised his hand like a rock star and hushed the audience. "Now we have a real treat in store for y'all this afternoon. Our next guest here at Change Our World has been an internationally renowned Christian comedian for more than twenty years. He's been featured on every radio show you can think of and has even been a guest on the major network late-night talk shows. But despite all that, everybody knows he has a real heart for the Lord, and a heart to change the world too. Just like all of you. So, now join with me and let's give him a raise-the-roof, Change Our World welcome!"

The music and the cheering reached fever pitch as a surprisingly bright-eyed, sandy-haired fellow with flawless clothes, straight teeth, and an impressive tan swaggered out onto the stage.

I blinked several times, speechless. There he was—the Shouter from across the aisle—peacocking his way back and forth across the brightly lit stage, tan and radiant as ever.

The world gave a sort of sickening half-turn at that point. I couldn't help but cringe at the sight of him up there—for I saw myself in him as well—all swagger and smile, a spectacle strutting his song and dance for all to see, making others laugh with a memorized routine at a conference that pitched itself as helping "make the world a better place" while inside ... well, who ever really knows what's going on down in our depths. Except that every so often we watch in horror as the turmoil within splashes over the sides of our carefully maintained facades and we chew out an innocent bystander, or sleep with a coworker, or wake up in a cold sweat after a nightmare in which we were the hamster running, running, running endlessly on the miniature Ferris wheel.

Before he'd even gotten into his routine, I stood up and bolted from the darkened auditorium, wondering if I was going to be sick. I ran toward the greenroom reserved for the conference's speakers and musicians, hoping to hide out there and collect myself until it was my turn to step on stage with my own song and dance. I practically crashed into three members of the headlining band as they stormed past me, pushing their way out of the greenroom with evident disgust. Inside the greenroom, the band's well-dressed manager was midstream in her harangue against two of the conference organizers.

"This is unthinkable," she seethed, her long silver earrings flickering like lightning with each syllable. "Completely unacceptable."

"Really, I am so very, very sorry," one of the conference organizers said. Her tone was genuinely apologetic, and she looked like she was about to burst into tears.

But the manager didn't hear a word. "Sometimes I wonder if you people even read the contract before you sign it. How can you mess up something as simple as this?"

The same organizer looked at me standing there in the doorway, a pleading expression on her face, and gently asked, "Would you mind excusing us for a little while, so the band can have their privacy until we get this sorted out?"

"I don't mind at all," I said. I scurried out of the room before the band manager could throw something at me. And I didn't mind. Whatever they were so furious about, I certainly didn't want to be there when the band returned.

* * *

The Shouter and the run-in with the high-maintenance band manager sparked an existential crisis on the plane flight home. Handcuffed to my suitcase, strapped into my seat at thirty thousand feet, I couldn't help but wonder if I was just another pawn in the brightly lit song-and-dance called "American Christianity," leading a life offstage that didn't actually warrant what I was saying on stage. Was my life deeply grounded in the living God and thus an indication of faith, hope, and love, or were the edges of my own life cracked and fraying?

When at last I arrived home from that trip, I decided to disappear for a week to a local Benedictine monastery. It was either that or check myself into the psychiatric ward of a local hospital for close observation.

It's hard to say what I was hoping for as I fled east from Vancouver toward the rolling, green farmland of the Fraser Valley. I'd never stayed at the monastery before, but several friends had highly recommended it to me, describing the quieter, more intentional life within the cloister's walls as a sort of healing balm on all their frenzy. After everything I'd been through in the past few days, I was looking for something—anything, really—by which to buoy and anchor myself amid the turbulence.

I parked my car outside the monastery and went through a sort of curved entryway. A young monk, dressed in a black habit and reminding me of someone I knew but couldn't place, welcomed me and offered to show me the way to my room.

As we walked the dark corridor, the silence of the place resonated all around us. We walked for quite a while, turning here and there down this hallway and that, passing the occasional black-robed monk who nodded and smiled at us but did not speak as we passed. There were no bright lights, no thudding speakers, no countdown timers, just the heartbeat of a life of work and prayer that was deeper, more substantial than words.

Suddenly I realized who the monk reminded me of. "Has anyone ever mentioned that you look like Luke Skywalker?"

The monk laughed and nodded. "It's the habit," he said, pulling on the coarse material he wore. "You know that George Lucas modeled the Jedi Knights after real monks, don't you?"

I thought for a moment, rearranging my mental chronology a little. "Of course he did," I said after a lengthy delay. "At least, I think I knew that."

"Here's your room," the monk said, stopping beside a door. "Dinner will be served in the main dining hall this evening at six o'clock, but be advised that it is a silent meal. Breakfast begins every morning at six thirty, and you're of course welcome to join us in the main chapel for any of our prayer services. But know that you are not obliged to do anything while you are here. Stay in your room the whole time, if you'd like, and rest. Or join in with the rhythms and life of this place. May I answer any questions?"


Excerpted from The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski. Copyright © 2014 Michael George Yankoski III. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

1 What Color Is Jaded? 1

Section I Depth with Self

2 Single Tasking: The Practice of Attentiveness 17

3 Life and Death: The Practice of Daily Examen 33

4 Daily Bread: The Practice of Sustenance 47

5 Freedom in Downward Mobility: The Practice of Simplicity 65

6 Let There BE!: The Practice of Creativity 87

Section II Depth with God

8 Guilty as Diagnosed: The Practice of Confession 123

9 Is Anybody Listening?: The Practice of Listening Prayer 139

10 Taste and Become: The Practices of Lectio Divina and Regular Eucharist 155

11 Resonant Loneliness: The Practice of Still, Silent Solitude 167

12 A Deep, Deep Breath: The Practice of Sabbath 183

13 Into the Wild: The Practice of Wilderness 195

14 Saunter On: The Practice of Pilgrimage 209

Section III Depth with Others

15 Requisite Thunder: The Practice of Gratitude 229

16 All for It: The Practice of Protest 243

17 Unto Others #1: The Practice of Pursuing Justice 259

18 Life Together: The Practice of Community 285

19 Unto Others #2: The Practice of Caring 301

20 Year-End Review 319

Appendix A Additional Resources 327

Appendix B Almost Answered: AQA with the Author 333

Acknowledgments 339

A Brief Note on Anonymity and Privacy 342

Notes 343

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