cover image The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape

The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape

Phyllis Tickle. Doubleday Books, $25.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49755-8

Tickle (PW's contributing editor in religion and author of The Divine Hours) offers an enthralling spiritual memoir of her early life in Tennessee, recording academic and religious awakenings and her evolving understanding of prayer. Though her mind is numinous, Tickle's life has never been ascetic. Always the demands of the spirit competed with and were complemented by teaching duties, marriage to a country doctor and the needs of her children. (Although the memoir closes when Tickle is pregnant with her third child, she went on to have four more.) Because of this, Tickle's memoir is reminiscent of the best writing of Madeleine L'Engle, in that the business of spirituality is conducted while stirring the sauce. Several of Tickle's most holy realizations occurred while she engaged in domestic tasks: sorting the china after her wedding or scrubbing out smelly socks in the bathtub. Tickle is quite simply a marvelous writer, continually delighting the reader by her facility not only with the English language but with the human character. In recounting her own life, she pauses to appreciate the mentors, both in the flesh and on the printed page, who assisted in her spiritual formation. Many laugh-out-loud moments balance the frank acknowledgments of dark times, as when she struggled through depression or miscarriage. Even when discussing the more painful memories of her early life, Tickle's writing shines with a joy that is transcendent of circumstance. (Apr.)