Unilluminating tale of one woman’s lost faith.
Sentilles (A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit, 2008, etc.) recounts a childhood torn between two faiths—Catholic and Episcopalian—before deciding to become an Episcopal priest. While completing a doctorate program at Harvard Divinity School, the author finally admitted something she had long sequestered in the back of her mind—she does not really believe in God. Less a spiritual memoir than a cathartic exercise, Sentilles places the reader in the unwanted role of therapist as she shares the details of an upper-middle-class life gone awry. What becomes clear early is that the author’s understanding of God never developed beyond the childish concept of deity as a completely anthropomorphic figure, making her graduate studies that much more difficult. Sentilles was obviously not prepared to begin preparation for the priesthood (she admits to having never owned a Bible before entering seminary), and readers will be easily convinced that her faith was based far more upon herself than God. Though filled with unwarranted shame and guilt and plagued with a strikingly low sense of self, Sentilles manages to portray herself as completely self-absorbed at every point in her story: “The good things I did in the world had an ugly underside: I didn’t do them for others. I did them for myself. I did them to make people love me.” As the author moves slowly toward an obvious and inevitable conclusion, she forces unwanted tidbits on readers—the tale of her eating disorder, intimate details from failed relationships with men (“We kissed. He sucked on my toes.”) and even a graphic depiction of her urine test for Teach for America. Finally, after a tortured relationship, Sentilles broke up with God—a God she never saw as more than a boyfriend.
A disappointing spiritual memoir.