When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questionsby Sue Monk Kidd
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Blending her own experiences with an intimate grasp of spirituality, Sue Monk Kidd relates the passionate and moving tale of her spiritual crisis, when life seemed to have lost meaning and her longing for a hasty escape from the pain yielded to a discipline of 'active waiting.'
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 5.32(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.59(d)
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Chapter One: The Long Way Round
Midway this way of life we're bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone....
It is so bitter it goes nigh to death.
Patience is everything.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Overhead a thickening of clouds wreathed everything in grayness. It was February, when the earth of South Carolina seems mired in the dregs of winter. I had been walking for miles; I don't know how many. I could feel neither my toes inside my shoes nor the wind on my face. I could feel nothing at all but an intense aching in my soul.
For some months I had been lost in a baffling crisis of spirit. Back in the autumn I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in my depths were crying out. A whole chorus of voices. Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me, and-they came with a force and dazzle that I couldn't contain. They seemed to explode the boundaries of my existence. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.Midlife Darkness
I was standing on the shifting ground of midlife, having come upon that time in life when one is summoned to an inner transformation, to a crossing over from one identity to another. When change-winds swirl through our lives, especially at midlife, they often call us to undertake a new passage of the spiritual journey that of confronting the lost and counterfeit places within us and releasing our deeper, innermost self our trueself. They call us to come home to ourselves, to become who we really are.
Thatwinter of my discontent, I had no real idea of any of this. I was mystified by the inner upheaval I felt. This sort of thing couldn't be happening to me, I told myself. I had already been on an inner spiritual quest one that had begun eight years earlier with an experience of chest pains and stress. My journey had taught me a more contemplative way of being in the world and had given me the first real centeredness I'd known. Discovering myself loved by God and forging new dimensions of intimacy with God's presence had brought much healing to my fragmented life.
I should have remembered, though, that the life of the spirit is never static. We're born on one level, only to find some new struggle toward wholeness gestating within. That's the sacred intent of life, of God to move us continuously toward growth, toward recovering all that is lost and orphaned within us and restoring the divine image imprinted on our soul. And rarely do significant shifts come without a sense of our being lost in dark woods, or in what T. S. Eliot called the "vacant interstellar spaces."'
I kept walking through the fogged afternoon light as if the mere ritual of putting one foot in front of the other would lead me out of my pain. I buried my hands in the pockets of my coat and watched the wind blow a paper cup along the gutter. I was approaching the college campus. Was it possible that I had walked so far? The sun was beginning to fade now. I started to turn back but felt weighted inside, as if I couldn't move.
I dragged myself to a little bench wedged among the trees. Sitting there, I studied their bony arms and felt their emptiness, their desperate reach for sky and light. Tears rimmed my eyes and burned on my cheeks. It made no sense. I'd never really believed in midlife crises. They had seemed too trendy, another cliché-ridden piece of Americana. But here I was having one, and it was frighteningly real.
The familiar circles of my life left me with a suffocating feeling. My marriage suddenly seemed stale, unfulfilling; my religious structures, stifling. Things that used to matter no longer did; things that had never mattered were paramount. My life had curled up into the frightening mark of a question.
Each day I went about my responsibilities as always, writing through the morning and early afternoon, picking my children up from school, answering mail, shopping for groceries, cooking plowing through the never-ending list of duties. I've always been accomplished at being dutiful (even during a crisis). Outwardly I appeared just fine. Inside I was in turmoil.
My husband, Sandy, was as exasperated by my experience as he was bewildered. He wanted things to go back to the comfortable way they were before. He wanted me to "snap out of it." I did too, of course. I had ordered myself to do just that numerous times. But it was sort of like looking at an encroaching wave and telling it to recede. Demanding didn't make it happen.
I sighed, my mind wandering to the picture I'd sketched the night before. (I have a hobby of charcoal drawing, and lately I'd found solace in my sketch pad.) The previous evening I'd drawn a tent in the middle of some wind-howling woods. The stakes that secured the bottom of the tent were uprooted, and the flaps were flailing in the wind. As I put down my pencil, I said to myself, "That's my life." Indeed, it seemed as if the stakes that had secured my neat, safe existence stakes that I had spent most of my life carefully nailing down had been pulled up, and everything was tossing about. Underneath the sketch I wrote, "Midlife."
Now, as I thought of the drawing, I recognized what a tent dweller I had been. Maybe I was supposed to go wandering in a new part of my inner landscape. Maybe that's what midlife was about: pilgrimage.
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Meet the Author
Sue Monk Kidd is the author of the bestselling novels The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, as well as the award-winning The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and God's Joyful Surprise.
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Place of Birth:
- Albany, Georgia
- B.S., Texas Christian University, 1970
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This is truly one of the most insightful books I have ever read. I highly recommend it. As a woman going through a mid-life crisis myself, I could relate to what the author was feeling. Her spiritual insights have helped me to accept this stage of my life as one of learning, growth and transformation rather than one of dread and fear. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for spiritual guidance during a transitional period of life.
I read this book at a time when I was searching for answers to many life questions, recently divorced at age 65. It provided me with a framework to construct my own time of waiting with my heart and my mind, for finding spiritual growth and peace. I have recently given this book to a 50 year old friend who is going through a "period of forced reflection". Sue Monk Kidd has, through her own time of reflection, offered up a well written chronicle of passing through life phases and coming out of the cocoon with fresh life.
Sue Monk Kidd offers an incredibly personal, journal-like account of her struggle to find herself. Even though she was already a successful career writer and wife/mother, she knew something was missing and that something was herself. The symbol of the chrysalis was engaging and down to earth. It gave added meaning to her need to wait and allow the changes to happen to her, rather than to control her future. Her true self emerged in new and beautiful ways that give hope to all of us who struggle with the same life transitions.
Enjoy her wide ranging talent on multiple subjects. Most of her books are inspiritng in one way or another. Only one I felt was out our her norm was Mermaid's Chair. I felt she was experimenting with that book.