THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE by Doris Grumbach

THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE

On Prayers and an Epiphany

KIRKUS REVIEW

A disjointed but provocative account of a spiritual journey. Grumbach (Fifty Days of Solitude, 1994, etc.) has continued her recent spate of autobiographical writing with this brief but insightful glimpse into contemplative prayer. After losing her individual religious quest in the busy-ness of parish life, Grumbach quit attending church and focused instead on recapturing a certain spiritual epiphany of her young adulthood, never repeated since. In characteristic fashion, her quest brings us into dialogue with various poets, mystics, and philosophers; this memoir is particularly influenced by Simone Weil, Thomas Merton, Kathleen Norris, and Julian of Norwich. (Grumbach includes a helpful bibliography for further reading.) A hideously painful bout with shingles challenges her meditative practice, and she finds that prayer is often impossible under such circumstances. She thus eschews praying for healing to seek out God’s presence and turns also to the discipline of daily psalm reading (—How long, O Lord, wilt thou forsake me?—). She expresses qualms throughout that her exclusive personal quest may be leading her further from true prayer, which others—including Norris, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and her own seminary-administrator daughter—attest can only be experienced in community. In truth, Grumbach’s journey even borders on the cantankerous: —I wanted to use the time I had left seeking Him out intimately, and loving my neighbor at a distance.— Though brilliant, the writing is chaotic in its organization; the penultimate chapter succumbs to a mÇlange of quotations on prayer that Grumbach has collected on her journey. Even the author seems somewhat aware of her memoir’s dissatisfactions: in the epilogue she notes that in her manuscript she came to replace every ’solid-seeming noun— with —tentative adjectives and gerunds.—

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8070-7084-X
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998




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