Amena Brown, Breaking Old Rhythms: Answering the Call of a Creative God, Intervarsity Press, 2013, 144. pps., $10 / £6.30.
“We are God’s poetry. What God does in our life has rhythm, has rhyme, and is poetry” (135). These two sentences succinctly encapsulate Amena Brown’s thoughts on life, and these thoughts are the basis for her book Breaking Old Rhythms.
As a poet and a dancer, Brown sets about exploring creative ways for finding and moving to the rhythm that God creates all around us. Brown sees rhythm in every corner of life, and believes that it is important to learn to move to the specific rhythms that God creates. It is a lifelong pursuit, she warns, but one she encourages us to consider.
In this very practical vein, Brown advises an increased awareness of all that is going on—both good and bad. For Brown, this awareness can show when some thing is off balance. In her chapter “The Blessing of Irritation,” Brown writes that ordinary irritation can actually offer an important cessation of routine habits of thought and so may signal at times that God is trying to get our attention. She writes, “Irritation is God’s alarm clock. It’s how he wakes us up, to respond, to change” (30). As an illustration, Brown reflects upon a time when this irritation presented itself through a unique and lasting discomfort in her career. It was this discomfort which pushed her gradually to pursue poetry. Throughout the book, Brown employs such anecdotes to emphasize that being aware of one’s surroundings can often illuminate where God is moving or is not moving in one’s life.
It is this penchant for personal anecdote that moves the book’s more meditative ambition toward the day-to-day introspection of memoir. She takes the audience through the highs and lows of her life as a means of exemplifying the broader point of fostering a greater awareness of God’s presence. These stories help ground Brown’s advice and allow the audience to connect in a personal way to the author. In one chapter she recounts a tale of heartbreak and recovery. She uses this story to show that how God is faithful even in times of struggle and to show how God is needed in life. She writes, “We need God and we need love. If this life with God were safe, we’d never have a need to come to him” (65). Similarly, Brown recalls advice from her grandmother, fights in middle school, changing jobs, and when she started dating the man who eventually became her husband, as benchmarks within which God’s voice could be heard in her life.
More engaging than Brown’s tendency for personal recollection is her steady appeal to the arts, and music in particular, as a means of communing with God. Poetic and literary quotes are littered throughout the book, and Brown’s love for hip-hop and dancing is evident. She compares learning how to be led in a dance class to learning how to let God lead her life. Also she describes God as a DJ that creates the rhythm we should move to. These pictures she draws are creative and accessible even if one does not know anything about the art she is using in the metaphor. The chapters are structured in a way that weaves her story, examples from art and culture, and her argument into a compelling and enjoyable read.
This book is a deeply personal book. To be sure, this is not an academic engagement with the correlation of the ideas of rhythm and God. So if you are looking for an academic read this is not the book you are looking for. That does not mean, however, that this book is shallow. The thoughts within it are deep and poignant. A lot of thought, time, and experience have gone into this small book. Brown shows her heart and her story for all to read, and it makes this book very moving and endearing.