Lauren Winner wasn’t always interested in the Bible. The popular author, whose 2012 memoir, Still, was a pick for PW’s Best Religion Books and also took Christianity Today’s top award for spirituality books, viewed reading Christianity’s foundational text as an obligation, not a pleasure.
But as she recounts in her new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (HarperOne, Mar.), all that changed about five years ago when “Cupid came and shot me with a Bible arrow,” she says. Winner became obsessed with learning more about the Bible, and she hopes the new book will help Christians expand their imaginations while reading the Bible, just as her imagination has been enriched. Winner hits the road in April for appearances in Boston, Wichita, and Raleigh, among other places.
Christians have allowed just a few of the Bible’s images of God (shepherd, king, father) to dominate their thinking through the centuries, Winner says. But she notes the Bible is much richer, full of images drawn from everyday experience. God in the Bible might be a tree, a homeless person, a mother hen, a beekeeper, or a drunk. “My book isn’t just about overlooked biblical tropes for God, but everyday, ordinary quotidian tropes,” she says. “The way that God chose to reveal ‘Godself ‘ to us in the Scriptures was by drawing on totally ordinary things like clothing or food.”
In some ways, this new interest of Winner’s is an outgrowth of her previous books. Girl Meets God, her 2002 memoir from Algonquin, drew unique spiritual insights from her own life; Mudhouse Sabbath (Paraclete, 2003) looked at the spiritual aspects of everyday practices like eating; and Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Brazos, 2005) explored the human body as a glorious, if messy, gift from God.
All of those themes are present in Wearing God, which Winner thinks of all her books is the most like her. “With every other book I’ve written I’ve had a neurotic desire to just bury it in the backyard where no one could see it. I don’t want to say this book is the one most authentically me, but it’s the first where I haven’t tried at all to fit myself in someone else’s box.”
Winner actually has built a career on not fitting into boxes. After earning a PhD from Columbia University, she has managed a tricky dual career of being a full-time professor while pursuing her writing—of trade books, not academic tomes. She’s a historian and assistant professor of Christian spirituality at Duke Divinity School, soon up for tenure. She also is an Episcopal priest and recently took a quarter-time position as a vicar at a church in tiny Louisburg, North Carolina.
Winner’s conversion to Christianity came in part from reading Jan Karon’s Mitford series of novels, in which a country priest named Father Tim shepherds a fictional North Carolina village through its births, deaths, loves, and losses. Acknowledging the parallel, Winner says “I am no Father Tim"--what she calls her own “slightly bristly, introverted personality” is very different from Karon’s iconic protagonist. Still, “priest” is a role Winner has been happy to add to her overflowing resume.