This month's book response comes from Steffeny Feld who serves as a Deacon at Cornerstone.
As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.
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Have you ever had a moment where you read something or met someone and just clicked? Somewhere in a deep place of the heart or mind? A deep connection. Like, I get this. Or this gets me?
I’ve been lucky enough to have those experiences sprinkled into my life – meeting a close friend for the first time, randomly stumbling upon a church that would become my home for the next 7 years, and more often, losing (or finding) myself in a good-for-the-soul book. I love to read. I pretty much devour books, non-fiction, much to my husband’s chagrin. I’ve had those moments with authors. Henri Nouwen has time and time again captured my heart. And recently Walter Brueggeman infiltrated my mind. (In the best way possible!)
I didn’t expect that to happen when I picked up Wearing God. I wasn’t super impressed or interested by the title. But every chapter of this book captured my heart and mind in deep and mysterious ways. It is simple and profound. It’s left me undone and built up. Inspired and content. It deepened my experience of God’s with-ness and reinvigorated in me a love for the Scriptures. It totally got me.
I’m super happy to share with you a taste of this book. Honestly, it’s definitely made it to my top 10. And I want Lauren Winner (the author) to be my best friend. (She’s a professor at Duke Divinity School and yes, I have already considered moving there and enrolling immediately.) I am pretty confident that I cannot convey to you all the awesome stuff in this book. So this truly is a sampling, a smattering, if you will, of some of the goodness that has stuck with me. If you like what you hear, go pick up a copy for yourself. I really could not recommend it more.
The book opens with the author talking about a season (years) of feeling God’s absence, which she later refers to as her “tutorial in God’s mystery”. This tutorial made her realize that her pictures of God were outdated. They were so familiar that they had become stale. So she set out to explore the Scriptures for new, fresh ways to see God. On her journey it became clear that many of the images and pictures used to describe God in the Bible were taken from everyday life: seeds, sheep, vines, rocks, and weeds. The chapters of the book focus on different images of God and her reflections of meeting with God through engagement with them via reflection and contemplation, historical study, social justice, or just plain normal life. The book includes chapters on clothing, smell, bread and vine, the laboring woman, laughter, and flame. These reflections are full. Depth and Breadth. I was blessed to enter into God’s with-ness in each of these topics. Lauren is insanely brilliant and pulls from so many different resources: quotes and historical accounts, cookbooks, and poetry. There is definitely a bit of whimsy. But it’s grounded in a deep honesty and theological precision. With each page I felt my heart come alive and sink deeper into my center, my Truest Self as I engaged these fresh, new pictures of God.
I was touched by how our experience with clothing helps us to understand what it means to be clothed by God. How remembering the smell of a loved one lost leads us to wonder about God’s experience of grief when His beloved are distant. How knowing the joy of serving a good meal helps us connect to the joy God feels at the communion table. That we can experience the delight of God and divine intoxication by partaking of the vine. I was struck by the connection of laughter and justice, as we laugh at our enemies. And by how knowing the power of the flame to destroy and bring flourishing teaches us about God’s use of suffering in our lives. All of these were profound to me, but nothing touched me deeper than the chapter about the Laboring Woman.
The chapter of the Laboring Woman immediately had my full attention. As I child I was fixated on the terror and beauty of the birthing experience. And in recent years I have been fascinated and drawn to Isaiah’s description of God:
“For a long time I have held my peace,
I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor,
I will gasp and pant” (Isaiah 42).
The book brings out so many reflections about how we can see God anew in this image. First and foremost being that it is really uncomfortable to picture God panting and groaning. Lauren suggests that this may imply, “The work of bringing forth new life does not come without effort and cost on God’s part.” This is both bizarre and thought provoking. We typically think of God bringing life to Adam simply by breathing into his lungs. But perhaps this is not the life that the laboring God points us to. The imagine of God in Labor pulls the curtain to expose us to God’s suffering, God’s vulnerability, God’s willingness to face pain unto death – which is exactly what we see in the Crucifixion. That perhaps, and, indeed, God’s bringing of new life, a new order, came at a very high cost and the experience of child birthing gives us a much more concrete and intimate knowledge of how high a cost God paid.
This chapter also describes God as midwife. The God who delivers us. The God who comforts, encourages, and speaks words of reassurance. Lauren reflects, “I like to think that this is the kind of midwife God is: the kind who delivers us, and the kind who attends our deaths, literal and figurative, with tenderness and dignity.” I connected and identified with this picture so deeply. I’m still crunching and chewing and feeling and meeting this midwife God.
The shocking and moving image in this chapter is the reimagining of the Trinity: God as laboring woman. God as midwife. God as infant child. Obviously this could raise some eyebrows. Lauren puts a careful disclaimer, which I believe is really the heart of the book:
Since we can’t love what we don’t know, such an understanding will help the church love God better. Augustine suggests that Christians should look around the created order and find things that might help develop this understanding. Almost anything in creation, says Augustine, might help – so long as we understand how whatever triad-in-creation we are pondering is both like and unlike the triune Lord. Augustine rehearses many possibly helpful triads-in-nature, ultimately concluding that some of them are of very limited use (Lover, beloved, Love; the things we see, the act of seeing, and the attention of the mind on the thing seen), and that the one that works best works only because it remains deeply inadequate.
The beauty and mystery of the book is that it points out new pictures of God. Those pictures guide us but they are, as Augustine points out, woefully inadequate to capture the fullness of God.
In the end, the book gifted me with a curiosity and renewed desire to be present in the moment and learn to open myself to the presence of God, the pictures and revelations of God that are accessible in our daily, simple, mundane moments of life. How those experiences can make us new and guide us into deeper communion with the One who is with us. That we don’t have to settle with the same old stale pictures of God. That there are infinite ways to know and engage our infinite God.
Blessings to you on the journey. Blessings to you in this season where we remember together God’s costly choice to dwell among us. May our pictures not grow cold or stale, but become fresh, tasty, and nourishing to our bones, our souls, our hearts and minds.