PUBLICATION DATE: JANUARY 31, 2012
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis is not a typical spiritual memoir. Instead, it’s more like a collection of the author’s reflections. Although the whole thing seems a bit pointless at times, the book is written in a beautiful, poetic style that resonated with me long after I’d finished it.
After her marriage ends in divorce, Lauren Winner, experiences a spiritual crisis. She writes about her feelings in gorgeous language:
“Another thing you think, when you have come to God’s absence is this: it is not God who is absent at all, it is you who are absent. This is a little like thinking about your own sin, but the thought has reshaped itself, maybe in a slightly more generous mold. The thought is turning more capacious, like a sweater that stretches out with age.”
Loosely chronological, the book doesn’t delve into why the author’s marriage ended but rather explores her “mid-faith crisis” after the divorce. For the most part, the chapters read like journal entries or blog posts; some are very short, just a few lines. The book is very well-written, and peppered throughout with memorable quotes from poets such as Anne Sexton and Emily Dickinson and from various other sources. It’s not surprising that Winner describes herself as “one of those overeducated literary types.” I enjoyed the literary references throughout the book and found them to be particularly relevant to the emotions that Winner was experiencing at the time.
Although I like the author’s conclusion that she is a “small character in a story that it always fundamentally about God,” my concern with Still is that it meanders along without any real sense of direction or point. In the comments, Winner explains that it is a book about her journey and about “middles,” the spaces between beginnings and ends. I can understand that, and I enjoyed reading the book, but I didn’t come away with any definite sense of its message or of how the author got past her “crisis,” other than by enduring the passage of time, praying, and attending church.
At times Winner sounds almost whiny. For example, she talks about how busy she is, and yet in another chapter, we read about how she spends hours by herself wandering around museums. We don’t get a good sense for her heart, her love of others, or her kindness. She seems to volunteer at her church and she has plenty of friends, but that doesn’t mean that she comes across as especially likeable—although there’s no question that she is very smart and extremely talented. I confess that I came to this book not having read Winner’s previous book, Girl Meets God, which I understand is a predecessor of sorts. I think the author probably would have been more familiar and more likeable if I’d read Girl Meets God first.
Despite these issues, the writing in Still is remarkable and I’m glad that I read it.