Lauren Winner's STILL is a book about faith and doubt, loss and grief, honesty and despair, community and loneliness --- and a glimmer of hope. In other words, it's a book about many things, but it's mostly a collection of "notes" on the author's crisis of faith following the death of her mother, her unhappy six-year marriage, and her subsequent divorce.
"[Winner's] longtime readers will not be disappointed, and there's no question that she'll pick up a few more faithful followers who can identify with her crisis of faith."
"Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith," writes Winner in the preface. Bear in mind that Winner not only teaches at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., but that she also was recently ordained to the Episcopal priesthood --- which means that as she was writing STILL, she was in the process of discernment regarding her call to the ministry. Winner’s public transparency about her doubts, especially as she was preparing to become a priest, is both unusual and refreshing; her openness will likely give other Christians the freedom and permission to express the doubts they've been afraid or reluctant to confess. Likewise, her honesty about her contribution to the failure of her marriage and the reality of being a divorced Christian no doubt will be appealing to many who feel stigmatized by their divorced status.
Winner's life of faith began to unravel following her mother's death three weeks before her marriage in 2003. Somewhere along the line, the personal God she once believed in had become an abstraction, she writes. She began wondering if she had simply imagined that God was real, along with everything that went with God, such as sin and redemption. In STILL, Winner describes her spiritual crisis in three parts, consisting first of an image of her standing motionless at the wall of God's absence from her life, second the picture of her wrestling with the whole idea of God and whether or not God is actually absent, and third a moment in which she realizes that "something will show up…and what shows up will be faith."
Each chapter in the book reads like a thoughtful blog entry that captures a moment in Winner's life rather than a reflection on a faith crisis viewed through the lens of time. Reading the book is like walking through a crisis with a friend in real time; STILL chronicles the details of a "mid-faith" crisis so fresh that the author is actually working through it as she writes. Calling this a mid-faith event when she doesn't know how long her faith journey will last is a bit bewildering; even Winner admits that she just might be at the beginning of her mid-faith crisis, and there could be several more phases awaiting her. In fact, although Winner makes her way back to faith, the crisis does not appear to be fully resolved.
The book includes a question-and-answer interview with Winner, in which she better defines the concept of the "middle" of faith, explains why she chose STILL for the title, and reflects on other concepts related to faith. Although the Q&A definitely belongs at the end of the book --- no author, publisher, or reader would want it at the beginning --- I wish I had read it first, because her answers clarified so much that I had wondered about as I was reading the main part of the book.
In STILL, Winner writes with the same literary elegance that characterized her previous books. Her longtime readers will not be disappointed, and there's no question that she'll pick up a few more faithful followers who can identify with her crisis of faith.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on February 27, 2012