|Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis|
|Written by KRIS HAIG|
|Monday, 14 May 2012 17:33|
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis
by Lauren Winner
HarperOne. 272 pages
reviewed by KRIS HAIG
In “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis,” Lauren Winner continues the spiritual saga she began in her highly acclaimed first book, “Girl Meets God.” A convert from Judaism to Christianity during graduate school in England, Winner now enters a time of personal loss and concomitant spiritual struggle, a time when “the things you thought you knew about the spiritual life turn out not to suffice for the life you are actually living.”
She is slammed into this middle space, a space from which God seems to be withdrawing, by two great losses: the death of her mother and the death of her marriage. That the six-year marriage had never been a happy one does not lessen the pain of its failure, especially for someone who is not accustomed to failing. She is 32 years old, teaches Christian spirituality at a divinity school, and suddenly her own spiritual life spirals into absence and anxiety. The powerful feelings of her conversion experience desert her, and she no longer knows where she is in the spiritual journey except that she is no longer at the beginning.
Still is her chronicle of reorientation as she moves “out of crisis and into a new odd calm.” Some might say it is the chronicle of spiritually “growing up” — moving into the sometimes boring, often frustrating space that is spiritual adulthood. Her honeymoon with God is over. In this respect, it seems a bit overstated to call her experience a “mid-faith crisis.” While her pain and confusion are no doubt very real to her, I doubt that she is in “mid-faith” yet (a fact she acknowledges in passing in a postlogue). She is in post-conversion certainly, but at 32 years old, and only some 10 years into the Christian faith, I suspect that anything approximating a true “middle” is still many years off.
The word “crisis” also led me to expect a more severe experience — Henri Nouwen’s breakdown, John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul” or the testimony of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who experienced God’s intimate presence only once early in her life, and afterward only an excruciating sense of God’s absence. Winner is very fortunate to have reached the other side of her crisis so quickly.
She acknowledges that she can be self-absorbed (her pastor says as much to her), and her naming of this quality makes her self-absorption a little easier to tolerate, but not entirely. (I was troubled by her unkind reference to another woman’s memoir of post-divorce questioning — clearly Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love” — as “Masticate, Meditate, Masturbate.”)
But, if one takes the book simply as Winner’s account of her post- conversion struggles, it is a winsome and engaging record of her wor- ries and insights, the support and guidance of friends and especially her pastor Ellie, and the wise counsel of the innumerable theologians, saints, poets, and other spiritual guides that she quotes extensively.
Winner has been compared to contemporary authors Barbara Brown Taylor and Anne Lamott, and there are similarities to both. If you like Taylor and Lamott, you probably will like “Still.”
KRIS HAIG is co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, W.Va., and a former staff member of the PC(USA) Office of Spiritual Formation.