I’ve been reading Lauren Winner these days. I think she’s great. Her most recent book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis was published over a year ago, and I bought it immediately and intended to read it soon after. But, as it happens, I read other books first, and just now have gotten around to picking it up. Also as it happens sometimes with books, I think the timing is right. Still was written partly as a way to process what happened in Lauren’s spiritual life after her divorce, and some of her words about loneliness have especially resonated with me in this season. She has a way of ending her short chapters with a huge punch; the narrative or theme grows and builds, and then WHOA the chapter is over and your eyes are wide and you need to re-read that page over again because it was just….whoa. So: here are some loved words from Lauren F. Winner.
Here is a way of telling you everything I just told you, more succinctly: This is a book about God moving away at the same time that God took away the ground. First goes this. Then goes this. Gone are mother, marriage, the confidence of conversion. Then a small light dots the dark hills. And then two.
The loneliness came in an instant, more sudden than weather. For the first three hours of this day, I was perfectly placid in my seclusion; now I feel as though I am about to disappear. But I can stay in this for five minutes, I tell myself. I don’t have to exercycle or open a bottle of gin. I can ask the loneliness what she has for me. I tell the loneliness to pull up a seat. I notice she does not look so very threatening after all–she has a touch of the dowager about her, actually. She is clutching a handbag made of fat white beads, and she smells of rose water. We sit next to each other on my screen-porch sofa, with its faded hibiscus fabric and fraying wicker. I lean back. I breathe. I ask her where she’s from, and she says over the mountain. (What mountain, I wonder. I haven’t lived near a mountain for years.) I ask her what she has for me. She takes a letter opener from her bag and tells me she can kill me if she wants to.
I am sitting on a bench in a museum. The museum is a five-minute walk from my office, and I come here often, to be spelled in the middle of the day by thirty minutes of silence. Seated next to me is an old white woman who is looking at a portrait of a young black man. In my lap, the Bible is open to the fifth chapter of Luke, one of Jesus’ healings, this time a man with leprosy (I confess that most of Jesus’ healings blur together in my mind, like colors running in the wash). The story ends with Luke’s telling us that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray. A little like escaping to the quiet of a museum, I think. What can it mean for a place to be lonely? A place, lonely like Jesus? Lonely like me? Maybe I can make my loneliness into an invitation–to Jesus–that he might withdraw into me and pray.
Or again, there is a mountain, swathed in darkness. The mountain is God, and the mountain is your movement toward God. This is what it is like to ascend to God: you are standing on the edge of an abyss, at the foot of a mountain that seems impassable. All is soaked in darkness. You are fearful. Yet you want to go on.
Good, right? Get it. Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. HarperOne, 2012.