Book Review: Still
Posted July 14, 2012on:
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner, HarperOne, 2012, 244 pp.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book as a gift from the author via an offer at RevGalBlogPals back in the spring.
When I read Mudhouse Sabbath a few months ago, part of what charmed me about the book was the freshness of Lauren Winner’s faith. She had the energy and glory of a new convert, even though she had been a Christian for years by that time. Like all those new to our faith, Winner was able to reveal for us an outsider’s perspective on what made Christianity so wonderful, along with suggestions for its continued improvement. Mudhouse Sabbath seemed full of a lover’s passion and free of cynical doubt.
With Still, Winner confronts her first crisis of faith in her Christian journey. The book itself is all about that difficult crisis, a narrative exploration of what happens when doubt and sorrow and cynicism threaten to undo one’s relationship with God altogether. In the preface, she writes, “In my case, as everything else was dying, my faith seemed to die, too. God had been there. God had been alive to me. And then, it seemed, nothing was alive—not even God.” (xv) I believe anyone who has led a life of faith has experienced these times when God feels absent, and I have come to understand them as simply a part of the marathon course of a faith journey. There is even language in our tradition to talk about these difficult stretches—wilderness, desert, dark night of the soul. For Winner, however—perhaps again displaying the insight and heart of a convert—this seems like a new and abject experience. Her response is to probe deeper and more passionately, and we receive the gift of that quest in Still.
Winner speaks of this difficult season as the middle of faith, with baptism or conversion at the beginning and eternity at the end. The book unfolds an awakening about this middle time. Initially, she is thrust there by the death of her mother and a divorce with her husband, so it feels like a place of affliction. By the book’s end, though, her wrestling has helped her make peace.
Perhaps middle tint is the palette of faithfulness. Middle tint is going to church each week, opening the prayer book each day. This is rote, unshowy behavior and you would not notice it if you weren’t looking for it, but it is necessary; it is most of the canvas; it is the palette that makes possible the gashes of white, the outlines of black; it is indeed that by which the palette will succeed or fail. (190)
The middle of spiritual life is indeed that gray place of everyday faithful living, sometimes disrupted by despair and punctuated by occasional glimpses of glory. Somehow those moments of transcendence make sense of all the rest.
This book would be an ideal read for companionship and comfort for anyone navigating a crisis of faith. Like the Psalmist, Winner gives voice to our aching need and hurting heart when we feel “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and she keeps to the prayer of faith, “you are my strength, come quickly to help me.” (Psalm 22:1, 19) Winner brings that same passion to this difficult part of the journey as she does to the joyous parts, and that, along with her eloquence, makes this a helpful addition to the spiritual library.
When I read Still, it was out of season for my life. I was in a place of strong communion with God, and so I did not connect with it in a visceral way. I imagine I will return to this book when I again feel lost in the middle.