It is a privilege and a worry to read a book that is written by friends. What if you like the book- will anyone really trust your recommendation? What if you don’t like the book- how can you celebrate a true accomplishment while keeping quiet about your opinion? What happens if you purchase the book for yourself because your free copy doesn’t come- are you then freer or more obligated?
I know Rachel Hackenberg and have been in awe of her writing for years. While we are in the same support community and have talked with each other, I don’t feel like I know her well. If she called me a friend, I’d be honored and thrilled.
I have stayed at Martha Spong’s house, wept over when I knew she was grieving, and prayed deeply for her as one whom my heart holds closely. She knows I will be kind and honest; I know that she is can still be surprised by her success and fierce in her protectiveness of what and whom she loves.
Prior to reading Denial is My Spiritual Practice: (And Other Failures of Faith), I would have said I felt closer to Rachel’s head (thinking) and Martha’s heart (feeling). Their joint memoir + devotional + spiritual guide flipped that for me. I found myself in awe of Rachel’s raw recollections and prompted by Martha’s thoughtful reflections.
The image that actually came up for me again and again for the book was a jellyfish. I know that sounds weird and I don’t believe I’ve ever compared a book to an organism before. Yet, Martha’s shorter, round sentences of self-control and gentling openness pumped the book along like the body of a jellyfish, while Rachel’s long descriptions felt like the tentacles that stung with their painful, beautiful truth.
In alternating voice, Rachel and Martha tell stories of their life and faith, interwoven with scripture, biblical imagination, and prayers. The stories of heartbreak, betrayal, learning, and hope are framed around laundry, hot drinks, therapy, and failed ways of prayer. Their frankness, given shape by their relationship to one another and the way they have learned to be honest with God, is the image of a swimming jellyfish. It can self-propel, but its horizontal motion is affected by the tide. Many tides have buffeted these two authors. Even in their claim of occasional rejection of tidal power, they have found themselves in both reflective cooperation and intentional resistance of its forces.
If there was such a thing as a spiritual grief group, this would be the book I would recommend. The grappling with scripture, where its promises deliver and where they don’t, is simultaneously consoling and provocative. The truth-telling about how faithfulness is experienced with the Real Presence and Felt Absence of the Divine Parent is desperately needed and, to me, is the balm of Gilead that this book delivers.
I bought the book. Thus, beholden to no one, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. And I can, truthfully, tell both of my friends– well done, so well done, well done. And thank you.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.
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