Lauren F. Winner’s new book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis is one of those books I feel inadequate to review. However, I find her writing extraordinarily compelling, to the point that I read this book like I might read a suspense novel–always with an eye to the last page, eyeballing how far I’ve read and far I have yet to go, always wanting to get back to it. I like this book a lot, mostly because I can identify with a mid-faith crisis; sometimes I feel like most of my adult life has been a mid-faith crisis. (Not to be overly dramatic, but I’ve had that feeling like something’s not quite right through much of my adult life, like I haven’t quite cornered the market on how to actually live a life of faith and walk in the Spirit.) What I’ve concluded is that perhaps I’ve been looking at it wrong all along, and I sort of think that’s the conclusion that Winner reaches, too. Anyway, rather than give my opinion of the book, I think I’ll just share some passages I like a lot.
I went to church by habit. I went prompted by some deep-buried intuition. Most days I went brittle, like a dry cake of gingerbread. Like the hinges of an old book. (9)
I am one of those overeducated library types who might be expected to look down her nose at self-helf books–but the whole bookstore is a self-help section to me. When something needs to be fixed, my first and abiding instinct is to read. I think I can read my way to a solution. Or at least an evasion. (23)
My friend S. often talks about his wife–that she feels God is there for her in a way that he does not. Unmediated. Present. There. When I ask if he envies her God’s thereness, S. says it’s not necessarily a good thing to be so naturally receptive to God’s presence. It can be good, he says. But then: “to be naturally anything can make one not have to undergo the training necessary to make that which is immediate a habit.” His wife, S. tells me, has undergone the training, has made the immediate also habitual. But as for himself, and as for me, S. says, “one of God’s gifts to some of us is just not to be immediate, so that we have to undergo the kind of discipline necessary to have what others seem to have so effortlessly.”
This is something of a comfort. (102)
I think the bottom line for me is that I like Lauren Winner because she writes about books and reading and literature and thinking and faith, all jumbled up together. This is a lot like the way I see the world. She and I come from vastly different backgrounds (though we’re more similar than we seem, as I realized when I read Girl Meets God ), but I think we reach some of the same conclusions about faith and life. Honestly, what prompted this period of spiritual stillness in her life, a divorce from her husband for no apparent good reason (just her own unhappiness, which she readily admits) is off-putting for me. However, she doesn’t dwell on the divorce too much; instead, she moves on to think through God’s hiddenness (as opposed to his absence). The point of (momentary?) resolution that she reaches here is one that I identify with:
On any given morning, I might not be able to list for you the facts I know about God. But I can tell you what I wish to commit myself to, what I want for the foundation of my life, how I want to see. When I stand with the faithful at Holy Comforter and declare that we believe in one God. . .I am saying, Let this be my scaffolding. Let this be the place I work, struggle, play, rest. I commit myself to this. (169)
I think what I like best about this book probably is its title. I love how the word still means different things: still, as in unmoving or at rest–be still; still, as in “I’m still here,” or rather, “God’s still here with me.” That’s really nice. (Oh, and I was quite tickled to figure that out myself at the beginning of the book, but then I was a little deflated that she actually discusses it in the Q & A section at the end of the book. I like to feel like I’m “in the know” without having it pointed out to me. So much for my literary analysis skills!)
Bottom line? Read it if you like meandering, thoughtful prose about a life of faith. (HarperOne, 2012)
Thanks to the folks at HarperOne for sending this book my way. The book was free to me; the opinions are my own.