Some book ideas are so brilliant, you kick yourself wishing you’d had them. Eat Pray Love was one of those. (Convince a publisher to pay you an advance to travel around the world to get over your divorce? I’m all in for that... except the divorce).
Denial is My Spiritual Practice: And Other Failures of Faith is another one of those “wish I’d thought of that” titles. But my admiration goes way deeper than my envy over Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. Here is a book that deeply resonates and that I gratefully admire. I’ve been on somewhat of a personal crusade to embody “World’s Okayest” lately, and this work shares a similar ethos: life is messy, grief-riddled, traumatic even. It is also beautiful, interesting, and grace-soaked.
Martha Spong and Rachel Hackenberg are the co-authors of this book of essays, weaving together scripture, personal narrative, and spiritual reflection. Works by multiple authors can be a tricky business; sometimes readers find themselves adoring one and merely tolerating the other. These two wise and funny clergywomen are well matched while being distinct voices from one another. Rachel* previously authored Writing to God and Sacred Pause, and Martha edited and contributed to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. (I’ll admit, I’m longing for a solo effort from Martha. Pretty please?)
The book is organized into nine sections, with twin essays in each section. The format makes it easy to read in small doses, but the writing is so immersive, you may find it hard to put down. Many of the experiences described in this book are harrowing—an abusive ex, a terrible car accident, a rape during college—but because Martha and Rachel are skilled narrators, the book is no parade of woe. They both embody the preaching dictum to “preach from your scars, not your wounds,” without sacrificing the immediacy and authenticity needed for such explorations to edify, encourage and illuminate.
Many readers know my deep love of singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer, bard of the sacred ordinary, whom I’ve credited with providing the soundtrack of my life for some two decades. The careful observations and warm turns of phrase in this book struck me as very Newcomer-ish. Many ideas here made me mentally (and in some cases audibly) gasp. Martha writes about the reaction of extended family when she comes out to them and observes, “Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me that the people who expressed the least interest in my inner workings were the most put off by knowing something true about me.” Boom, ouch, and wow.
Denial is My Spiritual Practice bills itself as a "companion for the wondering and struggling... The authors offer their own stories as evidence that God remains, both when faith fails and when faith finds new understanding.” It is, and they do, and God does.
*I hope they’ll both forgive the informality of my referring to them by their first names. Part of this is that I’ve known both of them personally and as colleagues for many years. The last name convention feels a little distancing. I admire them both for what they write and who they are!