Expand

Still

A powerful book about finding faith when God goes silent.

There's a term in the academy to describe the space that exists between identities. It refers to that place we find ourselves when the structures, institutions and traditions we've always put our faith in, built our identities upon, fall or are stripped away, and we are left … in transition. If you've ever lived that doubt on the other side of faith, you know what I'm talking about.

Academics call it "liminal space." In her new book, Still, Lauren Winner simply calls it "the Middle."

Largely thanks to her own writings, Winner's entire Christian experience has been well-chronicled. Both a beloved author and a professor at Duke Divinity school, Winner describes herself among other things as a "professional Christian" (yes, with the appropriate amount of self-awareness).

Recently, Winner's mother died and shortly after, she and her husband of five years divorced. Both events shook Winner to her core and she found herself in a liminal space, a Middle, she was not prepared to face. Surrounded by doubts, beset by a sense of failure, Winner's faith shifted beneath her. In her own words, the Middle is a place where:

“The assumptions and habits that sustained you in your faith life in earlier years no longer seem to hold you. … This book is about the time when the things you thought you knew about the spiritual life turn out not to suffice for the life you are actually living.”

With this, Winner invites us into this middle of her spiritual journey. We walk through her Middle with her, experiencing both her disillusionment with her faith and the salvation she finds in the Church.

If that sounds peculiar, it's probably because many of our Church traditions don't focus too heavily on what happens after we choose to follow Jesus.

“In the American church, we have a long tradition of telling spiritual stories that culminate in conversion, in the narrator’s joining the church, getting dunked in the waters of baptism, getting saved. But … the baptism, the conversion, is just the beginning, and what follows is a middle, and the middle may be long, and it may have little to do with whatever it was that got you to the font.”

Winner's Middle is a terrifying place, if only because there's no rhyme or reason to it. None of the practices she'd found comfort in—prayer, reading the Scriptures, liturgy—offer her any succor.

The God she knew and loved seems silent and absent. Instead of all the joy and contentment we so often associate with the faith-filled life, Winner faces loneliness and worry as often as not.

Still grasps for faith in a Middle space and discovers a stranger, bigger and more faithful God than we expected.

Winner finds solace in the larger Christian community, in the brothers and sisters who have walked this journey before her, who have navigated their own Middles. When Winner confesses her fear of loneliness to her friend Ruth, for instance:

“What Ruth says is: Maybe I should try to stay in the loneliness, just for five minutes, just for 10 minutes. Maybe the loneliness has something for me. Maybe I should see what that something is.”

As Winner has grown and changed, so too must her faith. She needs a faith that actually applies to the life she's living, to her here-and-now world. Rather than flee from her life, she must embrace it:

“You cannot fast if you have not first noticed that you are hungry … It seems to me that Ruth is saying much the same thing when she tells me to sit with the loneliness.”

Less a narrative story of her Middle than a collection of thoughts, insights and questions, the book is made to pour over again and again. You'll fill the pages with underlines, the margins with notes. Each short chapter is loaded with insights that don't so much build on one another as weave a rich tapestry of possibilities in the midst of a spiritual desert.

In Still, Winner invites us into that place beyond Conversion we don't like to talk about: the Middle where the Faith that got us started doesn't sustain us. The practices we once found so meaningful seem empty. The God once so close seems distant, if not absent.

The Middle becomes the End for many, who give up their Faith here. But Winner dares us to hope that our Faith hasn't fallen away, but rather opened up.

Our Middles are the places we grow up. Where we take responsibility for our own faith. The space in which we take off the training wheels and figure out our faith for ourselves. The Middle is rife with opportunity. The desert holds a surprising variety of life. To borrow Winner's chess metaphor:

“There is a standard repertoire of openings in chess, only so many plausible ways to start a game—the Queen’s Gambit, the Ruy Lopez. But in the middle game, very little is scripted. The middle game is where creativity begins, where tactical daring and subtlety take over. In the middle game, everything is open.”

Honest and authentic, Winner's story isn't exactly a guide for those lost in the desert, but it is a wonderful oasis. Whether you're in a liminal space or you know someone living a Middle of their own, Still makes an excellent traveling companion.

Bottom line: Still inspires us to make the most of each moment of our spiritual journey, and challenges us to take responsibility for our own faith.

12 Comments

85,072

Tenndad60 reviewed…

By the time I reached 50 I thought I had all the answers. Then like Job, things fell apart. I leaned back on my "faith" and found myself free falling. Nothing but silence and darkness. Now I'm almost 60. Looking back I realize I was living by a code not a faith- based genuine relationship with the living God.
Fortunately over the years I had built a core group of friends who sustained me though this time. They were the body of Christ to me, God in the flesh. They sought me and rescued me. I could not have found my way with the spiritual disciplines.
Two things I learned are that you need people in your life who know you and yet still love you. People who know when you have lost your way and who are willing to come for you. And I learned that one's faith is an unknown until tested. Once you have walked through the valley of darkness, you have compassion for those who are traveling the same journey. Eccl 4:9-12

85,072

Brian Choi reviewed…

Is there any way to remove the doubt without resorting to ignoring and wishful thinking? I know some friendly acquaintances who were once Christians, but now have turned because "There's not enough evidence" (to which I start going "WTH?! There is enough evidence!")

I have the sick optimism that, yesm everything will eventually turn out okay, but I'm really wracking my head over about what I'm supposed to be doing now about this crisis. I've had the similar web of brothers and sisters in Christ thing, and they've been helping, but . . . DANG IT WHY IS THIS SO MURKY!?!?!

paul

20

paul reviewed…

Crisis' of faith i think are bound to happen to most sincere Christians. Sometimes i think God, really wants to see what is at the core of us during these times...and for us to be aware of it ourselves, beyond our platitudes of love talk to Him....true and deep intimacy with God probably cannot develop in a vacuum of happiness and successes....suffering and doubt as much as it can be an incredibly painful and isolating experience, must be necessary for growth and to foster the type of relationships that God seeks with us...

JR Forasteros

51

JR Forasteros reviewed…

Honestly, there's not a great single cure to doubt. Are you familiar with Peter Rollins? His work is really good, and deals extensively with how to face doubt head-on. His book "Insurrection" is great.

http://www.relevantmagazine.co...

85,072

JM reviewed…

You know, I used to feel and think the same way up until about a year ago. I used to wonder why is seemed as if the Holy Spirit remained silent in my life. You know, those times when things are tough and you feel like you're in a spiritual dessert. Things improved though when I realized that I was in my own idolatry. I was expecting God to manifest Himself in a way that I desired Him to...not the way that He actually WILL. I have learned that I end up creating the silence between myself and God. How do I know this? Because God speaks through his Word. Honestly, we have to admit that we ignore the scriptures in tough times. We refuse to look at our own sin and examine our own lives in accordance with scripture. And, if we do find ourselves looking to the Bible for answers, we end up distorting or reading ourselves into the text and prohibit God from truly working and changing our hearts.

Simply put...there is no silence between you and God unless YOU are creating it. And if you are, you are in sin. So repent! (keep in mind, I'm talking to myself here too!) Open the Word and know that God speaks through it always! You can trust His Word...you can rely on it...you can grow from it...and it can converse with your heart more than you could ever understand.

Don't create silence between yourself and God! Let it flourish by reading the Word and reading it correctly! God Bless!

Please log in or register to review