"I trusted God to be God even if I could not say who God was for sure. I trusted God to sustain the world although I could not say for sure how that happened. I trusted God to hold me and those I loved, in life and in death, without giving me one shred of conclusive evidence that it was so. While this understanding had the welcome effect of changing faith from a noun to a verb for me, it was an understanding that told me how far I had strayed from the center of my old spiritual map."
from Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor
It's unclear what one is seeking when reading someone else's faith memoir. Is it understanding? A light in their own darkness? A general interest in the way God does or does not show up? Are we hoping to prove or disprove our own theories by reading a description of another befuddled heart?
For a long time I didn't read much about other's people struggles or victories with their faith. I didn't purposely avoid it, but it didn't appeal to me so I rarely picked something like that up. Then I started reading Christian blogs and made the startling (and welcome) discovery that most grown people were no longer espousing youth group theology.
Naturally, I started reading a few faith books as well. I brought Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor (right now $3.79 on kindle) with me when I took a few days away alone in Palm Springs and it is one of the best faith memoirs I've ever read. I read certain paragraphs and had to put it down and pause, let those words sink in.
This, for example, which took my breath away:
"Because I was not brought up in church, I had no religious language for what happened in that golden-lit field or in any of the other woods or fields that followed it. I had no picture in my mind of a fantastic-looking old man named God who lived in a heaven above my head. I did not know to close my eyes and bow my head to speak to this God, and I certainly did not know that there was anything wrong with that field or what I experienced in it. If anyone had tried to tell me that creation was fallen or that I should care more for heaven than earth, I would have gone off to lie in the sweet grass by myself."
Or this about church,
"What if people were invited to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they are supposed to believe? What if they were blessed for what they are doing in the world instead of chastened for not doing more at church? What if church felt more like a way station than a destination? What if the church’s job were to move people out the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church?"
I loved Leaving Church for several reasons. Brown Taylor's prose is simple and effective. She's a woman, writing from a place of authority as an Episcopal priest, yet she's approachable and unsure about some of the same things most people are. She seems wise and friendly, and in a full book sharing a story spanning years, she doesn't appear once to sell out anyone else in the telling.
Leaving Church touched me deeply. Memoir is one of my favorite genres, faith journeys not as much, especially from a stranger. I've shared this book over and over in the last few months as one of the best non-fiction I've read in awhile. I felt passionately enough about Leaving Church that I immediately purchased two of Brown Taylor's other books: An Altar In the World (also $3.79 on kindle right now, and people have told me is even better) and Learning To Walk In the Dark.
I'll leave you with this, something from Leaving Church that I think most of us relate to more than we're allowed to say:
"When my friend Matilda lay dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, she said that she had been prepared all of her life to choose between good and evil. What no one had prepared her for, she lamented, was to choose between the good, the better, and the best—and yet this capacity turned out to be the one she most needed as she watched the sands of her life run out."
Tell me what you're reading, no matter the genre. It's my favorite subject.
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