A memoir recommended for those who have experienced the dark night of the soul and have felt the absence of God.
Lauren F. Winner teaches at Duke University School in Durham, North Carolina, and has written several books including Girl Meets God where she describes her conversion from Judaism to Christianity. In this well-written and fascinating memoir, Winner continues her spiritual journey as she mourns the death of her mother, stumbles through a messy and painful divorce, and goes through her own dark night of the soul.
With these three burdens weighing on her shoulders, the author feels the need to hide out on her screen porch:
"The porch is a good place to stay when you think that God is gone, made up, fictive, and when you are a person who is choosing to hold on to jagged things. You can stay there and do yoga and read Maureen Dowd."
Luckily, Winner has some good friends who encourage her and offer wise counsel when she is feeling sorry for herself. At one point, Winner gets the distinct impression that her friend Ruth is a desert father reincarnated. She follows her advice and sits with her loneliness, asking what it can give her. This process, however, does help her much.
Then there is her communing with poets Anne Sexton and Emily Dickinson: they speak to her soul like ancestors would in long ago times and places. They seem to have had the same kinds of bouts with anxiety:
"Sometimes my anxiety takes long naps. Sometimes it throws parties. But I don't imagine it will ever tire of this neighborhood and move out for good."
Winner's activities fill her time but do not take away her sense of doubt. She takes a pilgrimage to Manchester-by-the-sea, helps out in various Anglican churches, misses the celebrations and routines of Jewish life, fights waves of boredom, ponders the strange life of James Pike, and talks with her spiritual director. Near the end of this book, Winner quotes Ryan Netzley:
"Loving God, it turns out, is hard precisely because it does not promise the reassuring logic of accomplishment or failure."
Sometimes living with doubt or feeling the absence of God are essential parts of the spiritual journey which at bottom is always about acknowledging and honoring the mysteries of the Holy One and of the human heart. With a little help from her friends, the poets she loves, and a spiritual director, Winner makes it through her mid-faith crisis.