"I was carried to the middle of my spiritual life by two particular events: my mother died, and I got married, and the marriage was an unhappy one. Had you asked me before — before my mother got sick, before I found myself to be a person thinking about divorce — I would have told you that these were precisely the circumstances in which one would be glad for religious faith. Faith, after all, is supposed to sustain you through hard times — and I'm sure for many people faith does just that. But it wasn't so for me. 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.

"Intuition and conversation persuade me that most of us arrive at a spiritual middle, probably we arrive at many middles, and there are many ways to get there. The events that brought me to the middle of my spiritual life were dramatic, they were interruptions, they were grief.

"But grief and failure and drama are not the only paths to a spiritual middle. Sometimes a whole life of straightforward churchgoing takes you to a middle. Sometimes it is not about a conversion giving way, or the shock of God's absence. Sometimes a life of wandering takes you to a middle. Sometimes you come to the middle quietly.

"You may arrive at the spiritual middle exhausted, in agony, in what saints of the Christian tradition have called desolation.

"Or your journey to the middle may be a little easier, a little calmer — it is not that God is absent — it is, rather, that your spiritual life seems to have faded, like fabric. Some days the fading doesn't trouble you at all; other days, it seems a hollowing loss. You're not as interested as you once were in attending to God. You no longer find it easy to make time for church, for prayer.

"Whether you feel a wrenching anguish or simply a kind of distracted listlessness, the middle looks unfamiliar when you get there. The assumptions and habits that sustained you in your faith life in earlier years no longer seem to hold you. A God who was once close seems somehow farther away, maybe in hiding."