"Where is God when you're lost? God is there, where am I?"A few years ago, I read Girl Meets God, by Lauren Winner, and I was disappointed. It wasn't Winner's fault―her writing is lovely. The problem I had was that I felt like the book's title was misleading. At the time, I felt like God had completely turned my life upside-down. I was having shattering mystical experiences and I hoped that Winner's book would help me make sense of some of what I was going through.
Lauren F. Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (31)
Really, I think Winner's first memoir should have been called Girl Meets Religion. Raised in a Reform Jewish home, Winner first converted to Orthodox Judaism, then became an Episcopalian. Though she was clearly a spiritual seeker, it seemed to me at the time that she spoke much more about the rituals in each of the religions than about her experiences of encountering God. But she was a bright and thoughtful writer, and I appreciated reading about the spiritual journey of a young woman close to my age, even if the book was not what I expected it to be (I later learned that Winner did not choose the title, her editor did).
Like many converts (and I include myself in that category), Winner became very passionate about her new faith and what it meant to call herself a Christian. After her first book, she began focusing on chastity and declared that she wanted to change how Christians have sex.
I was not interested.
After growing up in an evangelical culture where everyone I knew told me that sex was for marriage, period, and True Love Waits―I signed the paper, I had the ring―the last thing I wanted to read was one more person telling me about how Christians should be having sex. So I stopped paying attention to Winner's writing for a while.
Then Winner got married, and her marriage was an unhappy one. On top of that, three weeks before her wedding, her mother died. Winner's new memoir, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, is about her relationship with God through those hard times.
I couldn't put it down.
Just as so many books and movies end with a wedding, many books about faith end with a conversion, as if, by accepting the tenets, a person has arrived. But even though I have never been married, I know that the wedding is only the beginning and marriage can be hard work. I believe that being in a relationship with God can be just as challenging and rewarding, and Winner's book talks frankly about what happens after the initial glow of conversion fades.
In many ways, Still is the book that I hoped Girl Meets God would be. In short chapters, Winner describes how she experiences God's presence, often unexpectedly, and how that presence is fleeting. In a chapter where she talks about her struggles with prayer, she writes,
"I do not know why things shift. I've shown up for chapel at school, and there I stand, reciting a psalm. I must admit I have never much liked the psalms, they have never prayed easy to me. . . . [I]n fact I have found them dull for many years and mostly an occasion for woolgathering, and then in a moment I can only call mystery, I am standing there in chapel reciting Psalm 25, "Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted," and the words still me―there at Morning Prayer, those words are my words; they are the most straightforward expression of anything I might ever have to say to God, or to myself. For the space of eighteen syllables, I have, it seems, prayed.
I leave the chapel hoping this will happen every morning now, that this is the start of my completely new and different, totally fiery relationship with the Psalter. . . . Of course, that is not what happens. The next morning the psalms are dull again, and I am not even really paying attention; except their dullness is enlivened slightly by the small new knowledge that once (and so maybe again someday, maybe this day) the psalms prayed me." (65-66)As I was reading, I appreciated how honest Winner was about her doubts. It was also refreshing to read about a person going through a crisis of faith who continued to go to church. The book chronicles the small things that helped Winner find her way back to faith―not the same faith she had before, but a different, more mature relationship with God.
I enjoyed this memoir very much and I hope that Winner will continue to write as her faith changes and grows.