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AWESTRUCK by Joan Weimer

AWESTRUCK

A Skeptic's Pilgrimage

By Joan Weimer

Pub Date: Dec. 30th, 2005
ISBN: 1-59858-114-7

A lovely memoir of the quest for inner peace.

As English professor and secular Jew Weimer (Back Talk: Teaching Lost Selves to Speak, 1994) sits paralyzed by fear during a bumpy plane ride, she begins to feel a mysterious calming presence. Though she’s not sure how to interpret the experience, she’s certain that she shouldn’t tell her husband, David, a devout atheist. Instead, she confides in a friend, who matter-of-factly states, “ ‘Sounds like you met the Black Madonna.’ ” Intrigued by her friend’s comment, the author seeks to learn more about this embodiment of sacred maternal power. As she and David travel to Europe for a sabbatical, Weimer realizes that she desires to understand not only the Black Madonna, but also her late mother, with whom she shared a complex relationship. While David remains hostile to her sudden interest in prayer, she manages to transform the sabbatical into a spiritual quest, navigating a labyrinth in Ravenna, meandering alone through picturesque villages, sitting in chapels devoted to the Madonna and studying complicated texts about sacred sites. When the trip ends, Weimer continues her spiritual journey. Back at home, she attends a one-day “Walking Meditation” retreat, held at a local Episcopal church and led by a female rabbi, who teaches about female representations of the divine in Judaism and Islam. A final, shorter trip to Paris culminates in a general sense of ease and contentment. Throughout, the author demonstrates solid observation skills and a sharp eye for detail, as well as a skillful hand at metaphorical language. When she and her husband depart for foreign countries, they find that they discover each other anew, “with the same attention and wonder that we bring to a Gothic cathedral–craning our necks to admire the vaulted ceiling, descending into the crypt to stand on its ancient stones.”

An enjoyable sojourn into feminine spirituality.