What a great read – Sensible Shoes: A Story About the Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown. In this novel I met four women who attend a course at a local retreat center – a three month spiritual exploration of spiritual disciplines. As you might expect, they all come for different reasons and from different backgrounds. Woven into their lives over these months are new spiritual practices that the guide of this sacred journey, Katherine, shares and encourages them to experience as a way to draw closer to God.
- Walking a labyrinth
- Practicing lectio divina
- Praying imaginatively
- Working through the examen
- Entering spiritual direction
- Creating a rule of life
None of these women find it easy to slip into these new practices. In fact they each fight some of disciplines as they encounter pain and discomfort. Slowly they begin the process of clearing away brambles and roadblocks – both sin and circumstances – as they gain a greater awareness of God and walk along the transformed paths before them. Over the months this group of women form an unlikely community that encourages one another through the pain of meeting hidden sins and the joy of removing years of masks.
I was drawn to enter the lives of these women – a pastor, mother, graduate student, widow – caring for them as they address their grief and guilt together. Though I have read about and practice many of these disciplines, it was compelling to see these disciplines not in the abstract, but in the mess of life. Over the years I have wanted to practice being more attentive to God through these tools, but they have so easily become one more thing to check off my daily or weekly task list. Seeing them in action in community provided a new perspective in relation to my own spiritual practices and writing.
With regard to spiritual practices I want to dive back into some of these disciplines, but this time with others. If I’m honest, my lone wolf MO really doesn’t work very often. It leads to one-sided views of the world and a smaller self as I attempt to perfectly practice these disciplines. I want to ‘get it’ and go on. As I entered this narrative, I entered the lives of women who were also trying to go it alone, and failing. Hannah and Charissa, who are so eager to be perfect and hide behind masks of spirituality, reflected part of myself back to me. Yet, they didn’t stay stuck. New people in their lives and time away from their normal ways of working helped God to break through – Charissa with her scholarly perfection and Hannah with her productive ministry.
Oh, to be in a group that encourages and challenges me in a new way. A group that helps be fall into the arms of the Beloved – Jesus Christ. It wouldn’t be bad, either, if a single, male professor came on the scene to sweep me away – or for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to be the next step. But also the simple practices of sharing coffee and spending time with others is something for which I yearn. I would love to step into or even gather a group like this. But I’m not sure how to get it started this when I myself am fearful of breaking down. This is when ideas from pilgrimages meet the road of practice. In these places and times when we are between known places and times (liminality), relationships take on new and deeper meaning (communitas).
Also, this book opens up some new ways of thinking about my writing – especially this book on literary pilgrimage. Narrative already surrounds the draft of an exploration into the writings and places of three authors. But the practices of pilgrimage and spiritual disciplines are not always clear or present in the work. As I was reading Sensible Shoes, I wondered what about this writing on journey, place, literature, and faith can become more personal, can draw people into a practice, can reflect on Christ? The pieces are there, but it’s time to open up more. Now doubt it will require some blood-letting on my part. I’ve been trying to be so safe. But, maybe that’s the problem.
Fears, like the fears each of the women in this novel face, and that I again see that I face, keep us away from the life God has in store. Yet, into this fear God speaks his words of comfort to not be afraid and that he is with us. Garlough Brown’s adventure, along which she invites readers to journey, provides a view into how God speaks into our lives, especially in their brokenness. Now it’s time to put on the sensible shoes of life, listening to God more closely and walking along his way.