I'm not going to lie, this book took a long time for me to read. It's not because I couldn't get into it. In fact, it was quite the contrary. I was SO into it, it wasn't just a mental exercise, but was a very emotional experience as well. I get really into books. I identify with characters and will laugh out loud at funny stuff and tear up at sad stuff. But this was a whole new level of experience for me. When I write reviews, I try to be as objective as I can while still claiming my own experience. But there was no objectivity in this reading so there can be no objectivity in my writing about it. Just consider that my disclaimer.
Beginning on page 60, the chapter about "Middles" seems to have particular significance to me, especially now as I enter my Season of Sabbath and a new middle of of my own. Ms. Winner says that "middles are often defined by what they are not" which definitely hooked me. This idea of the middle defined by what it isn't is how my first theology class at Vanderbilt Divinity School was taught, and it really threw me for a loop, but has become an important part of how I think, and I'm pretty proud of it! The connection to "the spiritual equivalent of middle school" was quite painful, but something worth thinking about. The fact that she claimed her own dislike of the same idea was quite comforting to me! The idea of the middle game as the beginning of creativity was a new one to me, and gave me a lot of hope for my own middle, and this new journey.
Later, on page 132, she states "this is a condition of the middle: you take wisdom where you find it" to which I wrote the comment "A thousand amens!" (Which I decided would be a great subtitle for this post, because that has generally been my response to this whole book!)
The writing about anxiety definitely hit home with me (as if everything else didn't!) because anxiety has been a huge battle for at least the last 10 years of my life, maybe even more. I'm finally getting to a point where my life isn't as controlled by my anxiety, but that produces its own anxiety because it's such a new and foreign thing to me. The second chapter on anxiety, beginning on page 88, had me underlining and writing probably more than any other chapter. The idea of "living by quarter hours" gave me a very concrete suggestion for a way of being in the world. While I haven't actively practiced this yet, the idea stays with me and I think it will be lived out and lived into at some point in the not so distant future.
When I came across the line taken from the desert fathers, "after noticing a thought, replace it with prayer." I immediately thought of the phrase "wrap it in prayer" which has always been a little uncomfortable for me. But as I turned this phrase over and over in my mind, this is what I came up with and wrote in my book:
"Wrap it in prayer" - not trying to hide or smother whatever it is, but to hold, comfort, or protect it. Sort of like wrapping something (or someone) in a quilt or in a hug.
Let it go. It doesn't mean that whatever it is will leave, but it does mean that because you aren't holding on to that thing, you are free to hold onto something else.
In a slightly unrelated note, I appreciated that, when she made reference to "the Jesus Prayer," she wrote it out! I have often heard of "the Jesus Prayer" and read about ways people use it or times they say it, but I never knew exactly what it was! That simple gift of not making assumptions was especially touching to me, and a good reminder about why it's important to not make assumptions about what people, even life-long "church people", know!
I'm going to read this book again, but not for a while. I'm already thinking of the idea of using this as a sort of Lenten devotion for next year because I am expecting to have my mind and heart in a very different place as a result of my Season of Sabbath and time at the Academy. Check back with me this time next year to see what else I have to say!
And if you want the short version, YES I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO EVERYONE!