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2 Stars Out Of 5
March 2, 2013
I attended an Episcopal church for about a year and concluded that the liturgical ("bells and smells") churches are not my cup of tea, even though I accept that many people feel right at home in them. It hit me one day when attending Episcopal worship: this is a religion of showing up, or literally "going through the motions." The Christian life is a Sunday thing, plus weddings, funerals, and ordinations. For me, that isn't enough. The rituals and the general "prettiness" of that sort of church have nothing at all to do with loving God or loving our neighbor, so I left for greener pastures.
So I read this book as someone who knew the Episcopal scene and found it lacking, meaning I was prepared to sympathize with the author. After all, how could anyone find any satisfaction in going through the same rituals Sunday after Sunday, cultivating a religion of prettiness, politeness, gestures? Apparently she did not, so, thankfully, she left her position as priestess - something I applaud, as I applaud any person leaving the ministry if the call of God is not there. If only all the other uncalled clergy would make that step!
However, I did not enjoy this book. I share the author's fascination with nature, but her constant descriptions of nature become tiresome after awhile, as if her goal is to get us to admire her writing, not to admire nature itself. I hope this won't sound unkind, but the author seems extremely self-absorbed. Obviously a personal memoir like this has to focus some on the author, but as I waded through the dense prose, it occurred to me that God plays almost no role in her universe, she is fascinated by herself and her reactions to the beauties of nature, and if God is there at all, he is the Deists' God - hovering in the background, the Creator (maybe), but not too involved in the present world. Frankly, since she was one of the first women to be ordained by the Episcopalians, I can't help but think that the novelty of that was one of the main attractions of her "call" to the priesthood, the excitement of being part of that "first wave" of priestesses, which has long ago worn off, given that there are now more women than men in Episc seminaries.
While I attended an Episcopal church, one thing I was painfully aware of was that, even though most of the people in my congregation were very well-educated and well-read, very few of them read the Bible or religious books. You may be aware that the Episcs' three-year lectionary mandates Old and New Testament readings for every worship service, so if you attend worship and pay attention, you can't help but be exposed to a lot of the Bible. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to "take" with most Episcopalians, and it didn't surprise me at all when the survey done by the Association of Religion Data Archives showed that very few Episcopalians read the Bible outside of church. Having been reared in a church that put a LOT of emphasis on reading the Bible for oneself, I had trouble understanding the neglect of the Bible. For the Episcopalians, it's "there," an essential part of worship, but seems to have no more actual influence than the candles, incense, and robes. As I read this book, it struck me that the author didn't have a very high opinion of the Bible, that she clearly values it less than her own experiences. Not surprisingly for someone who has a low opinion of the Bible, she has little use for some of the core doctrines of Christianity - original sin, the atonement, etc. But as she revealed her attitude toward the Bible and doctrine, I found myself thinking, "Thank you SO much for leaving the ministry!" And it hit me: No wonder this denomination is in such decline. She found no spiritual satisfaction in this church built on rituals and prettiness and a general disdain for the Bible and doctrine - many others in the mainline churches are equally dissatisfied. The efforts to inject some zing into those churches by becoming the religious wing of political liberalism are not paying off in terms of numbers. I think the author left her church for the obvious reason: God isn't there. Maybe if she had studied the Bible more closely she would have seen that this goes all the way back to the Old Testament, where God mocks "the noise of your solemn assemblies."
I could not put this book down. The Christian journey is a winding one, with unexpected disappointments and joys along the way. The author has succeeded in recording this unique journey (unique for each of us)in a very credible way. Her story will not appeal to those who see things in black and white, but those who have also experienced life in shades and color will no doubt react as I did - "Yes!!" It has also spoken to the problem of the modern church and why so many of us are disconnecting from it. The only negative was that I would have spent the extra on the hardcover version to pass along to friends.
Theres a lot of spiritual salad out there. Thankfully, this offering is not in that group. From the moment you crack open the cover, it sings. Her story of earthy, fragrant devotion to God is refreshing and very alive. It breathes the living life of Christ and speaks from the still beating but wounded heart of the church. Thankfully, Taylor veers only briefly into the sordid realm of political hot button issues, and for good reason.With fifteen years in the pastoral crucible under her belt, and an evident love for all of us, Taylor comes across as someone you can trust. Her words in this precious memoir are nourishing, full of flavor and, like the vegetables in her Georgia garden, entirely organic.