Review: Chris Webb, God-Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017).
Having grown up in the church, stories of Jesus are woven into my earliest memories. When I was nine, I responded to a presentation of the gospel. I’ve heard countless sermons, attended bible studies, and shared my questions with trusted mentors. Despite this long history with God’s word, some years ago I found myself looking afresh at Jesus’s familiar proclamation of the good news, “The kingdom of God has come near,” (Mark 1:15) and wondering to myself just what exactly the kingdom of God really was.
Since then, I’ve been on my own journey of discovering more about the kingdom of God and what it means for me to a citizen of this kingdom. Chris Webb’s book, God Soaked Life, speaks to that very issue. He offers a fresh perspective on the essential character of God’s kingdom as well as a poetic invitation to participate in God’s kingdom here on earth in the normal, everyday moments that we live.
Chris Webb, a Benedictine Anglican priest from the UK, served as the president of Renovare USA, a spiritual renewal movement, and currently runs the Launde Abbey retreat house in England. He draws on scripture, historical Christian writings, and his experience as a priest and spiritual director to present the kingdom of God as fundamentally a community of love. God is triune and He is in a loving relationship with Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From His own internal relationship of love, He invites us to join His loving community—His divine kingdom—that will revolutionize how we relate to Him, to ourselves, and to others in this world.
The kingdom is not merely something for us to enjoy in the future, but a reality awaiting our participation in the here and now. He urges, “You dwell in eternity now” (p. 4). This is the “God soaked life”—God’s love demonstrated all around us and within us—in the faces we see every day, in our own spirits, and in the created world in which we live.
The seven chapters of the book take the reader through a journey of contemplating the kingdom, the renewal we need to live in accordance with the kingdom, the intimacy with God available to us in the kingdom, and the opportunity to share His kingdom with the world around us. Webb ends each chapter with a helpful summary as well as a series of scriptures that enable the reader to go deeper into personal application of the chapter’s contents.
One of the most helpful sections of the book for me was chapter 5, “God in Everyday Life.” Webb discusses the difficulty of actually seeing the kingdom in this chapter. He suggests, “Knowing that the kingdom can be seen and actually seeing it are two very different things. It takes practice to develop that kind of discernment, and the truth is that most of us struggle to see the simplest things right under our noses” (p. 110).
He tells a story about one of his own attempts to see the kingdom by standing outside in his front yard and looking at a tree every day for several months. Inspired by Brother Lawrence’s experience recorded in The Practice of the Presence of God, he was trying to receive the spiritual ability of seeing. He didn’t want to just see the tree, but to see the kingdom of God uniquely expressed through this individual tree.
After a series of months, he had a breakthrough. Sitting in church, he saw a tree outside through the window. He started to see the beauty of this tree, the buds beginning to form, and he connected with the life of this individual tree. After rushing home, he looked again at the tree in his yard, the one he had been gazing at for months. He was able to really see this tree too, in all of its subtlety and beauty, and through the tree he experienced a fresh encounter with the kingdom of God.
Inspired by Webb’s story, I tried this practice a couple of weeks ago myself. I was sitting near a river with a friend, resting under the shade of a tree. My friend left me for a while to walk around by herself, and I was alone with the breeze, with the water, with the grass, and with the trees in front of me by the river. I looked at one of the trees and allowed myself to gaze at it. I noticed its individual leaves, its green-ness, and its vibrancy as it moved with the rhythm of the wind.
As I gave myself permission to just be with the tree, I noticed myself breathing more deeply and resting more fully in this one moment I had been given. And in that moment, sitting with the breeze and the river and the grass and the tree was enough. I didn’t need anything more. I was experiencing a characteristic of the kingdom of God—not lacking anything, being cared for by the creator of the beauty around me, noticing the gentleness of my Shepherd (Psalm 23).
I know that it is easy for me to forget the sanctity of each tree, of each person I encounter, and of my own experience as I walk through this world. This is truly a God-soaked life, and yet I quickly find myself engaging each day as a series of duties and experiences rather than as sacraments of God’s presence. Webb’s book reminded me to look again and to cherish each moment as an opportunity to participate more fully in God’s marvelous and supernatural kingdom.
The book begins with an invitation to imagine the day after your death. Webb walks the reader through a beautiful heavenly reality wherein each person is living out his or her individuality as expressions of God’s love in community. He draws a picture of an existence wherein everything throbs with the glory of God. And then he closes this imaginative exercise by stating that this kind of existence is not just waiting for us after we die, but it is God’s dream for our reality here on earth today.
The book ends with a similar invitation, but this time it is to imagine the day before your death. Webb invites us to think about all the beauty we will have encountered, the relationships that will have been life-changing for us, and the friendship that we will have developed with God. Then he invites us to imagine asking ourselves the question, “Why was I so afraid? Why did I worry so much?” (p. 181).
At the end of our lives we will know that all along the “song of God” was being sung over us with “ravishing delight” (p. 181) and that every moment had been soaked with the love of God. In light of that knowledge, Webb invites us to realize that this is not the day before our death, but “simply today” (p. 181). How will we live now, knowing that we have the opportunity to explore and encounter God’s kingdom everywhere we turn?
The answer is up to us.