The following is a review of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice by Rachel G. Hackenberg and Martha Spong. I received a complimentary copy of the book to review. Last May. And I'm thankful their book reminded me imperfection is okay.
Women of deep, messy faith get married. And then they get divorced. And then they get married again and divorced again. Or not.
They live with depression and PTSD and all sorts of illnesses that remind them and us we often collapse under the weight of things done to us and left undone to us and sometimes, many times, for no discernible reason at all. Because mental health matters are not signs of weakness or sin or bad living. They are part of life.
Women of deep faith have moments of beautiful, lyrical poetry and prayers and sometimes just sit in the fear and frailty of all that is life and realize they are one stolen truck shy of a country song.
Women of deep faith hate walking labyrinths but love the peaceful elixir that is a Starbucks chai latte.
Women of deep faith fall in love with people and are often surprised by that love and scared of sharing the joy of this love with their family members. They also would like to be surprised by love and a bouquet of flowers but realize the energy of cleaning the house for the flowers would just be too much, so single life is good.
In a world of books that tell women to wash our faces and simply live our best lives and love Jesus and all will be AMAZING, I am thankful for the messy, vulnerable, hilarious, and often painfully honest of the words Rachel Hackenberg and Martha Spong share in their book Denial Is My Spiritual Practice (And Other Failures of Faith). In essay pairings, they write of their faith that is less sure and certain and more stumbling, running, crawling, and on occasion traumatizing.
While the exact fact situations may not resonate (although my guess is in our darkened closets more of us have been victims of abusers, struggled with parenting, and questioned our assumptions about sexuality than not), the emotions will resonate. Their deft narratives of love, hate, fear, fragility, gratitude, doubt, frustration, joy, and more love are excellent reflections for any person of faith who needs to hear the words of God that life is hard, hurtful, and messy and is glorious, joyful, and loving and all of these are necessary. I deeply appreciate that neither Martha nor Rachel felt compelled to end the essays with tidy resolution. A few find their way to a sort-of ending, but most invite us to reflect, to feel unsettled, and to allow their words to start a conversation in our own souls.
Full and fair disclosure - I received this book early this summer to review, but life is messy and plans fall to the side and I finally got around to reading and re-reading this book now. And I think it’s a wonderful book for Advent. As we sit in the ever-growing darkness of the natural world and sometimes feel like love’s grip on the world is failing, find a moment. Light a candle and breathe a bit. Really breathe, like wear yoga pants so nothing constricts you breathe.
Then read some of the essays. Sit with the feelings they release in you. Remember your own life stories. Maybe read this book a part of a small group and listen to the stories these words birth from one another.
And remember all the stories, the ones from these two women of faith, from the people who read these words, and the stories of our own lives, the ones we shout from the mountains and the ones we keep buried deeply in the boxes of our souls…all these stories…are held in love.
And then end your time with Rachel’s amazing version of I Corinthians 13.