A candidate for the gift-giving pile arrived earlier this week. The title didn't connect for me: At Home in This Life. It looked vaguely like something for stay-at-home moms, which I am not. The subtitle, "Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises" sounded like a line from Lifetime television. Bleah.
But something stopped me: the book felt really good in my hands. I can't quite describe it, but the paper and the heft of it sort of reminded me of the old Sears-Roebuck catalog we got when we were kids. And those invited me to look inside, so last Saturday night I opted to give a test-drive to this book rather than zone out on a movie from Apple TV.
I'm not gonna lie, I nearly put it down a couple of times at the start. I was encouraged by an opening quote by St. Teresa of Avila, but then she starts whining about wanting a house in the country and I rolled my eyes and thought, Not another mommy blogger with first-world problems... I find these books predictable: lots of sentences that pair high contrast words like "beauty" and "mess," "disaster" and "delight," and so on. Then they go on and on about the wonder of life and yet all their struggles, which seem like not-struggles to me but instead are just part and parcel of being an actual grown-up.
Nevertheless, the book kept feeling good in my hands. And when she quoted Phyllis Tickle, the Book of Jeremiah, and St. Benedict, I rallied. By page 49, I was in. In fact, Chapter Seven kicked my butt and challenged me hard. Overall, the book is an interesting balance of simple examples from her life that many women might find easy to connect with, coupled with a rich library of references and quotes from outstanding contemplative and mystical authors, spanning centuries. (The Notes in the back, pages 183-187, list all of those resources and it is an abundant reading list for anyone wanting to learn more about spiritual disciplines and contemplation.
My conclusion overall? I grew somewhat tired of her many examples from her own life (some of which seemed a little contrived and corny), but this was offset by some really good stuff to chew on. One sentence in particular, from a chapter regarding the slow and steady work required for God to heal and transform us, is staying with me:
"Take the vow of Conversion is a fancy monastic way of saying: I now agree to cooperate with God in my own transformation, doing the work set in front of me."
Immediately I thought, "Guilty as charged." All too often I insist on God doing 95% of the work and me stepping in with that reluctant, final 5%. How much better things would be if I would move from arm-wrestling with God to a deeper, reciprocal, interdependent relationship, where I am looking for him everywhere and in everything, choosing to join in what he is up to rather than sticking with my safe and unimaginative agenda. Yeah.
If you are looking for a book that is easy to read and yet pushes you to pause and think about how you are walking through your day-to-day life, this one just might do the trick.