Traditions of the Ancients: Vintage Faith Practices for the 21st CenturyTraditions of the Ancients: Vintage Faith Practices for the 21st Century
Marcia Ford
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Contemporary Christians are searching for a deeper faith experience---and they're finding what they need in the study and application of ancient worship practices. Ford offers an informative look at spiritual formats such as mysticism, asking God for the gift of tears, and reciting the Jesus Prayer. Probing and prompting! 240 pages, softcover from B&H.

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Marcia Ford is a frequent contributor to Publishers Weekly and is the former managing editor of Christian Retailing magazine. She is the author of seventeen books, including Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan, coauthored with Scott Marshall. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

Marcia Ford: As a writer, I think of myself primarily as a journalist, and that has colored much of my life and the way I live it. I became a reporter back when objectivity was still considered an important attribute for a journalist to have. As a result, for example, I am now an Episcopalian, but no faction within the church could ever claim me as its poster child. The same holds true for political parties; I'm a diehard centrist and independent. Life is too complex for black-and-white answers and too short for an us-versus-them mentality.

My husband, John, and I have been married since 1982. We have two adult daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah, and live in Central Florida. How did you become interested in writing?

Marcia Ford: My glib answer would be that I never actually became interested in writing; it was clearly a talent I had, and I was called to write whether I was interested in it or not. I think that's often true of nonfiction writers like me. Novelists have all these stories that they need to get out of their heads, and so you'll often hear them say that they can't not write. For me, and probably for many other nonfiction writers, it isn't so much the writing as it is our nature to investigate and explore and research and try to understand life, and then share what we've learned with others. Some people share through speaking and teaching, others through writing---and some, like me, through all three means. What compelled you to write a book on this subject?

Marcia Ford: I feel as if I woke up one day and realized that either I had been sold a bill of goods when I began to follow Jesus, or there was much more to life as a Christian than I knew about. I came to Christ during the heady days of the Jesus Movement and looked forward to a life of radical risk, but eventually what I got was the pressure to conform to the cultural image of a nice, safe, church-going, brownie-baking woman. As I began to venture beyond the confines of what the churches at that time were imposing on me, I learned about the great treasures hidden away from us because they were considered to be outside the evangelical way of doing things---rituals and practices and traditions that were either used only by other denominations or that had fallen into disuse entirely. As I explored these wonderful means of worshiping God, I realized that most of them in no way contradicted evangelical belief. Instead, they enhanced my relationship with God. I knew there were many evangelicals out there who wanted to develop a deeper way of expressing their love to God, and so I wrote a book about these ancient traditions specifically for an evangelical audience. What is the main theme or point you want readers to understand from reading your book? Are there any other themes present in the book?

Marcia Ford: I want readers to see that there is so much variety in the ways they can experience God, and I want to encourage them to discover the spiritual practices that resonate with them. Are there some specific lessons you hope readers will learn and apply to their lives after reading your book?

Marcia Ford: The main "lesson," or rather principle, is that they shouldn't be afraid or hesitant to explore other ways of worshiping God than they are accustomed to. Meditation is a good example. When Eastern religions, and their meditation practices, began to make significant inroads into Western culture in the 1960s, the mainstream American church became wary of meditation. But it's a practice firmly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and it's well worth rediscovering in our always-on-the-go, 24/7 society. Do you have a favorite part of the book or a favorite chapter?

Marcia Ford: Not really ... that would be like preferring one of your children over the other. What makes your book different from any other books similar to yours that are in circulation today?

Marcia Ford: Two factors distinguish my book from others on rediscovering ancient practices. One would be the scope. Other books focus on a handful of better-known practices, such as those associated with the contemplative tradition. But there are many other means of expressing our faith, and I wanted to help readers expand their awareness of practices that were used by other believers, particularly the early Christians, in the past. The second factor is the writing style; too many books on faith practices are dry and pedantic. I wanted to liven things up a bit; my writing style tends to be casual and always includes subtle humor. How does the book intertwine with God's call on your life and how you are currently serving him?

Marcia Ford: I can give you a partial answer; there are so many ways I could respond to this, and I'm sure I'll think of other responses later on. Here goes: The ancient practices fulfill my decades-long desire for a deeper relationship with God. In recent years, I have identified closely with the emerging church, and these practices fit beautifully with that faith expression. God's call on my life includes writing and teaching; the book is a response to the call to write, and my role as mentor for a theology program (which frequently involves discussion of faith practices as well as their actual use) covers the teaching call. Finally, as a hospice volunteer, I have discovered that many of these practices have helped prepare me spiritually to serve the dying and their families. Do you have a favorite Scripture verse? What is it and why is it important to you?

Marcia Ford: Psalm 139. From the earliest days of my walk with God, I have treasured this psalm because of the promise of intimacy with God that it holds. Are there any authors that either influenced you personally or influenced your style of writing? Who are they and how did they influence you?

Marcia Ford: The one direct influence would be Guideposts editor Elizabeth Sherrill, who many years ago taught me the importance of incorporating concrete images into my writing. Two other writers who have influenced me are worlds apart in just about every aspect of their lives and their writing: C.S. Lewis and Dave Barry. Lewis will always be my favorite author; no one comes close to him when it comes to writing with depth, clarity, precision, and humor. As a humor writer, Barry is a genius, though Iíve learned in the humor-writing workshops I teach that some people just don't get him. Some of the techniques he uses reflect my way of thinking, and those techniques just naturally find their way into my writing. When you are not writing, what do you like to do? Do you have any hobbies?

Marcia Ford: Ironically, my pastime of choice these days is one I rediscovered in my pursuit of ancient faith practices. My spiritual director at a silent retreat center advised me to sit in a rocking chair and knit when I found it difficult to silence the noise in my head. My first thought was, "You've got to be kidding me." Knitting seemed so antiquated. Plus, I had tried it as a teenager and gave it up soon after. Well, now I find it hard to put down my knitting needles; it's a truly contemplative activity, and with all the funky yarns on the market today, it's also a highly creative activity. Right now I'm knitting preemie caps to be sent to emerging nations, where exposure contributes to high infant mortality rates. I also knit chemo caps for cancer victims who have lost their hair and prayer shawls that are distributed to patients in nursing homes, hospitals, and hospices. And I knit fun stuff for my daughters out of all that funky yarn.