Many of us met Lauren F. Winner first in her autobiographical Girl Meets God: A Memoir (2003). Lauren, the daughter of a Jewish father and a lapsed Southern Baptist mother, celebrates the beauty of both ways to God. And though she becomes a Christian (and today is an Episcopal priest), she has always been a passionate and articulate spokesperson for the rich, beautiful, and essential practices of Judaism (see also her book Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline, 2008).
Her latest book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (2012)— jottings and musings written in a period of anxiety and doubts following the death of her mother and her own painful divorce—contains much brittle beauty, honest self-probing, and bittersweet hope for seekers in similar straits.
“You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God,” she quotes, from the fourteenth-century text of the unnamed English monk who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing.
“The words slap,” she writes. “Busyness is not much of an excuse if it only takes a minute or two to move toward God. But the monk’s words console, too. For, of time and person, it seems that scraps are all I have to bring forward. That my ways of coming to God these days are all scraps.”
But what “scraps” they are: Her reflections on God’s hiddenness (as opposed to God’s absence), based on the Book of Esther and the Jewish holiday of Purim, for instance; and her insights on Emily Dickinson’s belief [“we both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble”] are truly outstanding.
Lauren admits to boredom and inability to commit to her marriage, and that she chose to leave her husband—who comes off in her respectful telling as nearly a saint, without fault in the matter. In fact, there is no real sense of a dynamic between them, or even of his presence; this is a book about Lauren’s own “middle stage” struggles. Accepting it as such opens up the text as a guide to others journeying on past failure in the midst of various circumstances.
In the “Author Q & A” at the end of the book, editor Mary Kenagy Mitchell asks Lauren what she might write next. The answer is that “Regardless of how I might frame other books, I suspect that spiritually there will be many more middles.”
I finished reading Still sincerely hoping that there will be further reports from the “middle” of the spiritual journey from Lauren Winner.
Isabel Anders’ latest book is Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold: A Tapestry of Mother-Daughter Wisdom.