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By Lauren F. Winner
It happens, I think, to almost everyone who pursues a spiritual life: at some point, you hit a wall. The energy that animated your spiritual life seems to have evaporated.
I have come to call this - a little cheekily - a mid-faith crisis.
When I arrived at my own mid-faith crisis, I did what I always do when I have a problem: I read. I read because I thought I might find in books a solution to, or at least an evasion of, the crisis - a way around, or at least a way of avoiding, the wall. Books did not, on their own, "solve" my mid-faith crisis, but they certainly provided companionship, solace, and inspiration along the way. (In fact, they helped me understand that a mid-faith crisis is not something to be solved, but to be lived into.)
Herewith, ten books that may be good company when hit a spiritual wall, when you come into a mid-faith crisis, when you arrive at a season of spiritual dryness, or just spiritual change.
Lawrence Kushner, God Was In This Place and I, I Did Not Know
Rabbi Kushner's long, erudite riff on Genesis 28:16 rewards many rereadings. My favorite section is the page before the prologue, where Kushner describes giving a tour of his synagogue's prayer hall to a group of pre-schoolers. Rabbi Kushner runs out of time to show the students the Torah scrolls, which live in the ark, cloaked by a heavy curtain. He promises to introduce the kids to the ark on another visit. The pre-school teacher later reported to Kushner that after leaving the prayer hall, the students had a heated discussion about what they would find in the ark when the rabbi finally showed them. One child said he thought the ark was empty; another said he thought the curtains hid a new car. A third child said "You're all wrong. When the rabbi opens that curtain next week, there will just be a big mirror."
Renita Weems, Listening for God: A Minister's Journey Through Silence and Doubt
In this wonderful (and at times scary) memoir, Methodist minister Weems describes her sense that God has withdrawn from her. "No one is ever prepared to endure the long silence that follows intimacy," writes Weems.
Thich Nhat Hahn, The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation
I am not an expert on Buddhism by any means; my knowledge of it begins and ends with one class I took from Robert Thurman in college. (It was rumored that the previous year, Uma had come in to borrow $5 from her pop, and our class sat all semester hoping she would appear again. She did not.) But I do have one suspicion: Buddhism, which has devoted centuries to learning the habit of mindfulness, has much to teach the rest of us about focus and attention. Thich Nhat Hahn's beautiful, touching guide has helped me both set aside worry and stay in the present moment, even when the present moment is uncomfortable, or full of pain.
Nicole Mazzarella, This Heavy Silence
This novel takes readers into the complicated inner life of a farmer named Dottie Connell. It culminates in the most wonderful final image - an "amaryllis [that] had bloomed without soil."
John Updike, A Month of Sundays
One of the trilogy of novels in which Updike retells The Scarlet Letter, A Month of Sundays traces the spiritual breakdown of a minister named Thomas Marshfield. It's a bracing book. I read it once a year.
Sybil MacBeth, Praying in Color
You don't have to be artistically gifted to make use of Sybil McBeth's guide to praying with colored pens and a sketch pad. I myself can't draw a credible stick figure, but I've found my prayer life wholly transformed by this guide to praying through doodling. I love this doodling prayer because it gets me away from words, and helps me avoid the temptation to think my way out of actually praying.
Emilie Griffin, Doors Into Prayer: An Invitation
Whenever my prayer grows stale, I return to Griffin's short, insightful musings on what prayer is and where it comes from.
Anne Sexton, The Awful Rowing Toward God
Published after Sexton killed herself, this is the poet's most overtly spiritual book. It's come in for criticism from some readers, including Sexton's biographer Diane Middlebrook, and the reviewer and literary critic Patricia Meyers Spacks ("embarrassments of religious pretension," wrote Spacks in the New York Times). But I side with Alicia Ostriker, writing in The Women's Review of Books: Sexton "hits her stride when she stops trying to sound like Robert Lowell." I find these last, furied poems stirring and profound; they have offered me a way of approaching the sacred I didn't have before.
Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems
Emily Dickinson sits well, wisely, with both faith and doubt. She names God's alien-ness, God's illegibility, and then on the next page she names Jesus' friendship.
Songs of Kabir, selected and translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
There are a lot of poets on this list of ten. Poetry has been a good companion for me in moments of spiritual crisis and spiritual change, in part because, as Richard Rohr says in Falling Upward, "silence and poetry start being our more natural voice and our more beautiful ear" as we move into new places, second halves, of our spiritual lives. I hadn't heard of the fifteenth-century poet Kabir or the later tradition of Kabir poetry until I encountered some of Mehrotra's translations in a recent issue of Poetry magazine. The ulatbamsi, or "upside-down poems," especially, are disorienting and delightful: "Brother, I've seen some/astonishing sights/A lion keeping watch over pasturing cows...This verse, says Kabir,/is your key to the universe./If you can figure it out." These, Merhorta explains, are meant to "force the reader…into new ways of thinking and seeing." Indeed.
Posted February 1, 2012
In her critically-acclaimed memoir Girl Meets God, Lauren F. Winner explores her religious identity as she made the transition from Judaism to Christianity. A thought-provoking glimpse into 21st century religion, Winner was praised as "insatiable, and dauntless, in her search for religious truth at whatever the personal cost" by the New York Times.
In Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren offers readers a quietly powerful and fiercely honest exploration of love, loss and what it means to land at the "middle stage" of the spiritual life. Taking her spiritual quest even deeper, she navigates difficult new terrain as she confronts the spiritual aftermath of personal tragedy.
At a time of crisis - grieving her mother's death, navigating a painful divorce - Lauren finds that she is mourning her faith as well. She hasn't lost sight of God entirely, but she's watching him gradually fade away. She offers us a "picture of the end of darkness, of the stumbling out of the darkness into something new."
I received Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis compliments of Authors On The Web for my honest review and have to say, no matter where we are at in our religious beliefs, we've all come to a place where we find ourselves in the middle. Whether we are waiting on answers for prayer, looking for water in the desert when we find ourselves parched and searching, we all hit our dry spells. This is just the point that Lauren takes the readers into her personal life. Between experiencing the newness of finding God and the moment when we find ourselves just accepting life as it is, until we can find our way back to God at some point. An interesting look at something most Christians don't share in their walk with others this is a refreshing look at things from a different perspective not often talked about and for that reason I rate this a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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Posted April 23, 2012
Not as strong a narrative as Girl Meets God -- but somehow more beguiling. The book sneaks up on you, and just when you're feeling a bit rudderless for how (understandably) cagey Winner is being about the circumstances surrounding her divorce, the little gorgeous moments begin to accrue -- the epiphanies with their roots not in certainties or conscious, and demanding, responses from God or from Scripture (one is reminded of the speaking-in-tongues section in Girl Meets God), but rather in the act of humbling oneself, of making room for Christ to do what he will in us, on whatever timetable, however mysteriously. When she writes, for instance, of one's loneliness as an environment that Christ might inhabit or about Dickinson's poems reflecting a a relationship with Christ deeper and richer than scholars tend to recognize, I found myself thrilling at the observations and what those observations might mean for me.
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Posted December 6, 2012
The writing was beautiful as always, but it was particularly helpfuj since I am also in a middle. It doesn't give answers, it gives us an honest view of someon walking through a period qhere God feels absent.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 4, 2012
Posted October 15, 2012
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