Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis Lauren f. Winner
This is not a book everyone will love. I believe we are made up of our stories, and for me to know someone else I must know her stories. This book is some of the stories of how Lauren Winner found God (again) after her divorce and other events in her life. Although this is her story, you will find yourself in her stories. Your details may be different but the struggle to find God, to remain in relationship with God is not unique to her. I invite you to give this book a try as a companion on your journey when life is a struggle or as a reminder of where you have been if all is well in your world currently.
So what is this book? It is part spiritual memoir, part church history lesson (in a good way), lots of Scriptural interpretations, and so much more. The author describes it in this way, “this book is about the time when the things you thought you knew about the spiritual life turn out not to suffice for the life you are actually living. This books wants to know about that time, and then about the new ways you find, the new glory road that might not be a glory road after all but just an ordinary gravel byway” (xvi-xvii). She often refers to this part of life as not a beginning or an ending but a middle. What are the middles in our lives? How do we live through them?
Here are just some of the places I found her story and my story intersecting…
I love when I learn new ideas in books that I’d like to make happen in my life. She discusses the concept of “dislocated exegesis” (136). Basically this is the idea that you can be very influenced by where you read the Bible. One example she shares is her reading of Isaiah’s text of being on eagles’ wings while flying in a plane. I’d like to see this as a challenge to modify where I read to see how it influences my reading. If this works well, I’ll let you know how it changes my readings.
I was fascinated about her story in the chapter, Visits to My Mother’s Grace, about her singing to her mother. It made me ponder what is it I want my dead loved ones to know? What would I say/do if I visited their graves (if they all had one)? How do our stories today honor those who stories used to intersect with ours?
She shares the prayer of a Hassidic rabbi, “Until such time as I can pour out my heart like water before You, let me at least pour out my words” (51). And this made me wonder what can I pour out for God today?
In multiple places in this book, she makes the words of the desert fathers and mother come alive in ways that are applicable to us today. I appreciated this so much. “These desert people, Christians, left the cities after Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. The desert people knew that the faith’s new fashionableness was every bit as dangerous as the persecuting emperors of old, so they held the cities and the temptations of ease, to find God in the rigors of the desert” (55).
In her chapter, “Busyness during Lent”, she equates the sin of sloth with busyness. What if people remain so busy because they are scared of rest? I think this idea of sloth is everywhere in our overly scheduled world. And thankfully this chapter ends with the reassurance of an unnamed 14th century monk who said, “You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God” (108). So no matter how overscheduled our lives become, we all have time for God.
Purim is the Jewish holiday where the book of Esther is read. It is a lively celebration of life. Her are some important words from a rabbi on this holy day, “This may be the only book where God is not named, but God’s hiddenness is in fact shot all throughout the Torah. All throughout the Torah, we find people looking for God, and not finding God, because God doesn’t often conform to our expectations. God is somewhere other than the place we think to look. And our sages show that you can respond to God’s hiddenness in many different ways. You can, like the writer of Lamentations, respond to God’s hiddenness by mourning. Or, like the writer of Ecclesiastes, instead of asking where the God you thought you were looking for had gone, ask what God is like now. Or you can respond to God’s hiddenness by being like Esther: if God is hiding, then you must act on God’s behalf. If you look around the world and wonder where God has gone, why God isn’t intervening on behalf of just and righteous causes, your very wondering may be a nudge to work in God’s stead” (114-115).
Possibly only interesting to me is the fact that the hymn, “I Come to the Garden Alone”, was written by a pharmacist. His name was C. Austin Mills (45). (Just a personal shout out to the pharmacists in the world!).
I’d like to end this review with these words which I found humbling and inspirational. “I am not a saint. I am, however, beginning to learn that I am a small character in a story that is always fundamentally about God” (194).