Duke Divinity School professor Winner (A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia, 2008, etc.) examines her struggle to keep her faith.
In a previous memoir, Girl Meets God (2002), the author detailed her religious conversion to Orthodox Judaism and then Christianity. A decade and a divorce later, she looks at her Episcopalian life post-conversion. Shaken by her failed marriage and her mother’s death, Winner found herself in what she characterizes as an unsettling “middle” moment, “when the things you thought you knew about the spiritual life turn out not to suffice for the life you are actually living.” Throughout this provocative memoir, Winner maintains her insistent deflection of the personal. She claims the book is neither a “manual for ‘getting through’ the middle,” nor a “defense of Christianity,” nor a memoir—“it is not consistently storied enough to count, by my lights, as a memoir.” Yet the book’s most poignant moments are those obviously gleaned from intimate self-reflection or personal experience. While these “notes” may not adhere to the tight chronology characteristic of many memoirs, they do outline a linear spiritual progression common to Christian belief. These kinds of introspective works only succeed when the authors own their doubts and inspiration, which Winner does here, try as she might to claim otherwise. Note, for example, this evocative passage on the plight of losing the ability to pray: “when you don’t know what you believe…prayer sounds like a barefoot hike from Asheville to Paris: it would be nice if you got there, you are sure there is a nice glass of wine and a nice slice of brie waiting for you at some café somewhere, but there is really no way you can imagine actually making the walk.”
Second-person posturing and Lady Macbeth protestations aside, an open, honest contemplation of a spiritual impasse.