Lauren Winner (Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath), assistant professor of Christian spirituality at Duke Divinity School and former book editor for Beliefnet.com, has just published Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (HarperOne, Jan.). The book explores a passage in her faith journey that caught her by surprise, a stage during which God seemed to be hiding. She spoke to RBL from her home in Durham, N.C.
What inspired you to write this book?
When I have a problem I read, so when I hit this spiritual wall I looked for instructive things to read. But in the memoirs I found, the narrators resolved their crises by leaving their faith community. I knew that wasn’t a path I wanted to take, but I couldn’t find much to read about having a faith crisis, hitting a wall, and staying put instead of fleeing. I also don’t understand anything unless I write about it. This was an uncomfortable topic. I thought it was worth giving attention to.
What does “the middle” mean to you?
That was a really fun place to write about. At first when I realized this is the middle, this is where I am, I thought yuck! “Middle” is such an uninspiring word: middle life, Middle Ages, middle school. So on a hunch I thought: can I hunt out any idiomatic uses of “middle” that seem life-giving and affirming? Reading linguistics about the middle voice, I realized that all these words that take the middle voice are religious words, like forgive, lament, ponder. I find that amazing.
In Still, you share a number of painful and anxious personal moments with candor and humor. What role does humor play in your faith journey?
It’s so funny that you say that. When my first book came out my father said 'You are funnier in your writing than in person.’ I’m not funny in conversation. As an actual human being I still need to cultivate not taking myself so seriously. I feel like I go through the world anguished, and would love humor to play a larger role in my spiritual life.
What is it about the theme of repeated self-reinvention that resonates so?
For me the biggest, the most surprising and new thing I learned through this experience of the ground shifting is that things would change again. I didn’t know that five years ago. Where I am spiritually at the moment feels fabulous and great, and I know it won’t stay like this. But I’m not undone by that knowledge.
What do you hope your readers will glean from this book?
I really will feel that I’ve failed if it reads like a book about me. I hope I’ve used the first-person narration to open up complicated questions about the middle of the spiritual journey. I hope people find companionship; I hope the narrator of the book, the “me“ character, is passing on things she’s received in her life. I hope that people find wisdom and insight that seems applicable to where they are. We all have moments when the ground shifts, and those moments are worth paying attention to, both in an individual life and in the spiritual community.
Do you feel writing and publishing is a calling?
Writing is definitely part of my calling. It’s how I make sense of things. I have no idea if what I’m supposed to do for the rest of my life is to write and publish. I feel extremely lucky that I’ve been able to do it for a decade. And because reading and books have played such an enormous part of my own spiritual life, it feels great to think I’m offering something back to other people.