Today’s post is an interview with Micha Boyett, author of a spiritual memoir Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer, available now for pre-order and releases April 1. Micha (pronounced “MY-cah”) is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. A born and raised Texan, Micha lives in San Francisco with her husband, Chris, and their two sons. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at at her blog Mama Monk at michaboyett.com.
Found is Micha’s candid account of her own rediscovery of prayer–and faith–through Benedictine spirituality, a large part of which involves claiming the parts of the day as times and places where one meets God in prayer.
My wife Sue read it first and loved it. When it was my turn, she felt like it might be over my head and suggested I stick to sports biographies. Not only do I just generally not “get” life, but Micha’s journey is deeply connected to her sense of self as a mother and wife. I am a “guy.”
I read the book anyway. I loved it, too, and I recommend this book for anyone tired of thinking of prayer as performance, faith as the crushing need for certainty, and God as sitting around waiting to grade our lives with a red pen.
And for those guys out there who may need help, just replace any references to children with “chain saw,” “tractor,” or “sports bar” and you’ll be fine.
Most of the books we talk about around here deal with theological topics surrounding the Bible. But Found is creative nonfiction, a memoir of prayer. I know why I want people to read it (to help keep theology from residing solely in our heads), but tell us why you think people should read it?
The books that have most profoundly shaped my life have been stories. Humans are drawn to art and music and story because we don’t necessarily want to be told what to believe, we want to discover what we believe.
It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not necessarily facts about God or rules about God. I really believe we’re more shaped by our stories of how we’ve experienced God, than we are by heady discussions about God.
It’s not that we don’t need theology. We absolutely do. And theology informs this book. It’s just there under the surface. Just like in a daily life of faith.
Do you see a theological framework in your book? You consider a lot of abstract ideas: the prayerful work of “paying attention,” gratefulness, wholeheartedness, etc. How does your theology hold those concepts up?
Over the past five years, during the time I was working on this book, I was greatly influenced by the notion of Narrative Theology: the Bible as a Story, God as the Great Narrator, and myself and the world around me as players in this beautiful, broken, always-being-redeemed story God is telling. That has deeply changed how I interact with scripture and how I see my life of faith.
These days I hold a lot less pressure for certainty and performance in faith. And letting go of those heavy burdens has allowed me to enter the life-long process of learning to live gratefully, to love God with my whole heart, and to love people. Love is the deep work of faith. And we’re all learning how to manifest it in our daily, ordinary lives.
What writers have influenced you on your journey?
I could list poets and fiction writers I love, but I’ll refrain and stick with memoir, since my book is memoir.
I was greatly influenced by two spiritual memoirs in my twenties that really opened up my eyes to the kind of writing I wanted to do: Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner and The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. Before discovering those books in 2002, I was convinced that it was impossible to write about God without being trite and saccharine.
I have been most influenced by Mary Karr, who I had the privilege of studying with ten years ago in graduate school. I could read her memoir Lit everyday and still sigh out loud at the way she shapes a sentence. Her prose is gorgeous and powerful. And she speaks of God in a way that undoes me. I had Mary Karr’s voice in my head on repeat while I wrote this book.
As a memoir of your prayer life over the course of two years as it’s worked out in the midst of your life with young children, it seems Found is a sort of conversion story as well. It’s hard not to sense that with the title’s “lost to found” reference. Do you consider the journey of your story a sort of “second conversion”?
In many ways I do. Though I’d probably define it as a fifth or sixth or fiftieth conversion story in my life.
In the Evangelical circles of my upbringing, people didn’t often talk about conversion happening over and over throughout a believer’s life, but I have learned that in order to live a life of faith, I have to choose Jesus over and over, moment by moment.
Found isn’t a story of having strayed from my faith and then returning. It’s really a story of the daily choosing of faith, the growing up of faith. It’s also a story of learning to believe that it is always God who finds us.
In this book I set out to rediscover prayer, and what is revealed is my own inability to live up that task. I need to be rescued. I need to be discovered by God.
This is really the story of how motherhood illuminated the parts of me that were already broken, especially where my faith was concerned. So it’s not about my “returning to prayer.” It’s really more about my recognition that the journey of faith is always a crashing and rising again, being rescued over and over by a Great Rescuer.
In that sense, I’ve already been found, but I’ll be found again tomorrow. It’s continual. That’s the work of the Spirit.
I’ve noticed that in other places you describe yourself as “relearning prayer.” What do you mean by that?
I always came to prayer as if it were a task to accomplish, a commitment to live up to. I’m a Christian; therefore I pray. God is waiting for me to meet with him, and if I don’t, God will be unhappy. And, really, we can’t have a spiritual life without prayer, right?
So when I started to sense that prayer as I’d known it—before having children—had disappeared from my life, I felt a frantic need to recover it. I wanted to prove myself capable to living up to spiritual life I was supposed to own. There was a lot of baggage there for me, a fear that my life was disappointing to God.
The best thing I did was let myself throw all the old prayer rules out the window. I began to study monasticism, mostly because it felt like the furthest thing from the evangelical rules that had become constricting for my mind. I came to St. Benedict’s Rule in particular because it’s always easier for me to read a book than spend my time in quiet prayer.
So I read and read about prayer, and eventually found myself asking God to give me a new way to pray, without all the baggage of “prayer as performance” that I’d carried with me into motherhood.
I still strive to have time in the morning for prayer. Some days that happens and some days it doesn’t. But what has changed most for me is that I don’t feel ruined when I haven’t started my day with prayer. I actually believe that God is here, right now, loving me. And because God is here, I can look up and notice. The noticing and turning that moment into gratitude have really rescued prayer for me. It’s so much more simple than I used to think it was.
So if my first prayer in the morning is a tiny thank you at 11 am, God is still honored and I am still being changed.
The notion of God’s grace is much broader than I will ever grasp. But my weaknesses are a window into God’s deep and abiding love. And I hope I will keep acknowledging those weaknesses and then walking through them into God’s sweet presence.