Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner

When the joy and intensity of conversion wears off, what's next? What if after spending years believing in God, you suddenly find yourself up against a wall wondering if God does in fact exist? Life comes in three stages, right? Beginning, middle, and end, what's in the middle?

These are some of the things Lauren Winner addresses in her new book. I'm having a hard time formulating thoughts, because the book is more a collection of loosely related anecdotes about the journey in the middle of faith than a straightforward narrative. It's a lovely book, though, beautiful, compulsively readable, moving, unflinchingly honest. It's given me a lot to think about, and inspired me in some small ways which..I don't know whenever something inspires me lately it feels like a miracle.

Let me tell part of what I love about this book. Lauren Winner is an academic and a bookworm. There is no journey here that is separate from being a reader which is something I really related to. She derives a lot of inspiration and comfort from poets and authors and their journeys and what they've put down on paper for the ages. So you find in this book, Anne Sexton and Emily Dickinson and Jane Smiley and John Updike. She also finds meaning out of seemingly small moments in life, which I often do as well. She takes things in and mulls them over. As she's searching for the "what next" she tries different things. I really appreciated all of that.

The life of faith is not an easy one, but for whatever reason it is something that is hard to give up. I don't even know how to explain this since faith has always been there present in my life. And for a lot of people, in the beginning, when you first decide this is something you want to do, or you first find yourself believing that God is a lot more real than you ever thought he was before, it's exciting and there's a lot of joy. And you do things because you want to and there's like this hunger inside to lives this life of faith, to press close to God, to know his people. But that can't last forever, and eventually life rears its ugly head and things are hard, and you're left wondering if God is really real or all those things you once believed so fervently are true. Sometimes it happens with one big thing or maybe it's a gradual wearing away. And for Winner it was a combination of things but I think a lot of it was her divorce. Divorce is so frowned upon in Christian circles, marriage is seen as so sacred. So...getting a divorce would be a huge thing, I think, for a Christian, and especially someone like Winner who is a public Christian in many ways.

The book is divided into three sections kind of loosely based around the wall, movement, and presence. The second section where she sort of focuses on a Lent period in her life is where she also discusses the hiddeness of God in great length. I related to this part a lot. One of the things she talks a lot about is how good it is to go to church. And it made me feel really sad because I know this is true. But I haven't really been a part of a church for a long time, and I know it's problematic, but I have a problematic situation. I grew up in an evangelical church and I liked it. I like the style of worship, the kind of fellowship. I like the freedom in the service, I like wearing my jeans to church, heck I LOVE house based churches where the most significant meetings are held in living rooms, and it's impossible not to get close and talk for hours and deeply with the other people in your church. I don't really do superficial all that well. And yet, at the same time, I'm becoming increasingly liberal in both my politics and my theology. I often feel suffocated in churches when I visit now, either suffocated or bored. (which she also addresses) So many of the churches I visit have sort of bubble gum happy sermons and worship music and it's exhausting for me to concentrate. And before you start preaching at me, I know it's selfish. I know that part of going to church is setting aside self and I know that genuine relationships with people I wouldn't necessarily befriend otherwise is all part of community. And I miss it, I really do. I miss that sort of hard earned, heart breaking intimacy of truly sharing your life with a group of people thread together only by your shared desire to love God. But I feel like the churches I visit don't even allow for that sort of thing, everything is a smooth and polished surface and I don't know how to break through. And I don't know what to do with my anger over certain issues either, it flashes up so fast when things like homosexuality come up and I don't know how to be a part of a people with a heritage of hate. So while I was reading Still, I thought, she's so right, church is important and it's good to go to church and I should start all over again looking for a church. Who knows, maybe I will! I know that I am robbing myself and that it is hindering me in my spiritual life to stay away.

The boredom thing really got me too, because it's also true. I used to love theology. Like I loved discussing it and reading about it and I hungered for more, and now I can barely be interesting. Every once in awhile I'll look at the blogs in my google reader for example and find an article or two to read, but for the most part I find myself apathetic. And like I said, church services themselves bore me.

But it's not all negative! The last section she talks about moving towards something, new sort of remaking your faith in a new way. And I really really loved this part, especially the chapter on cooking and baking because it was kind of profound. But there's a coming to peace, with the unknown and the uncertainties and finding a way forward in a new kind of faith.

The book is lovely and for anyone who has ever wondered what exactly is going on in their spiritual lives, it's an invitation to consider many things. I recommend it!

Rating: 4.5/5
Source of Book: Received for Review
Publisher: HarperOne


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