Sacred Compass Interview

This is the “interview” I conducted with J. Brent Bill, author of Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment. I am not confident of winning the contest, but I am impressed with Brent’s willingness to engage with the somewhat random questions that inquiring minds might send.

Because my life is so crazy this week that I don’t really have time to write anything else, I’m going to publish this interview in installments. One question per day. Great blog fodder for ten whole days. Subject to interruption if I have something more urgent to write about…

In each case, I have listed the question, as I sent it to him: these are in italics with an R. Then I have given his answers, marked with a B, and then my replies marked with an R but not in italics. Brent hasn’t seen this third part yet, but I hope to open up the conversation to you, my dear blog reader, to be part of this dialogue too. I can not promise that Brent Bill himself will answer your questions here – or even read them here – but I will try to continue the discussion if you’re interested in one of the topics.

As a final point to this introduction, I want to be clear that I’ve already read the whole book and I really liked it. I’ve already started recommending it to people in San Francisco. I commend it to your attention - ask for it at your local library or bookstore or order it from Quaker Books.

R: How/why did you decide to use a compass as your central metaphor?

B: The decision to use "compass" came about three weeks before the due date. Prior to that, the themes were of pilgrimage, discovery, and as way opens. But they needed something to hold them together. A reader I didn't know came up with the thought that a compass seemed to be the metaphor that could hold it together -- and they were right. As I began to think about it, a compass seems exactly right in this GPS age. A compass is never exact about how to get somewhere -- it mostly just points to true north. In the spiritual sense, to God. And a compass does not really help us avoid obstacles. When reading a compass, it doesn't say, "Watch out for that tree!" Instead, you have to walk around the tree, the swamp, the cliff, or whatever and then look at the compass to get back on track or pick up the trail. That idea really resonated with my experience of spiritual discernment and a life of pilgrimage.

R: One of my favorite insights, not original to me, about the spiritual path is that if you realize you’re off track, you can just decide to get back on the path and you’re there. I think that came from Hannah Whitall Smith. I really like the idea of having a spiritual compass to help you figure out which way to go from where you are.

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