Lauren Winner’s Faith

All week, I’ll be posting about Lauren Winner’s new book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. I’m doing so because I think it’s an important book, and I hope that you all read it.

Maybe you guessed this is how my series would end. That even through divorce, loneliness, depression, and the occasional bourbon, Lauren has stayed faithful.

Well, that’s not exactly right. It’s not faith, exactly, that has grounded her during her mid-life tumult. It’s religion. She writes,

Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith. And yet I continue to live in a world the way a religious person lives in the world.

That sentence is key, I think. And it is one that I could have written myself. My faith ebbs and flows. I’m more of an agnostic than a believer on most days. And yet I choose to live as a religious person. I go to church, I pray, I read the Bible, I take communion with my community of faith.

Lauren’s book is rife with the patterns of a very religious life — notes about Lent, the Eucharist, fasting, confession, and the like. The patterns of a religious life — specifically, an Episcopal religious life — are what keep Lauren from falling into the abyss.

Me too, Lauren. Me too.

I’ll have a video interview with Lauren here on Monday. Are there any questions you’d like me to ask her?

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  • Scot Miller

    Interesting. I know that the “spiritual but not religious” meme is widespread, but I find my own experience is now more “religious but not spiritual.” I had given up on the institutional church long ago when I became comfortable with my doubts and religious skepticism. (At one time I felt I had “lost” my faith, which was sad, but eventually I came to embrace my skepticism and doubt as a different kind of faith.) But I only returned to church life after I met my wife nine years ago (I could tolerate the Disciples of Christ, but not the Southern Baptists), and it’s been a good thing. In particular, there’s something satisfying being part of a rather diverse community of people trying to make sense of their religious experience. By coming back to church (and by relatively recent exposure to the emergent church) I’ve been able to recover some of the values that I had discarded.

  • ME

    If you can choose to be a religious person, can you not also choose to believe? You still will have doubts, but, you can give in to belief, live the life not of a religious person, but the life of a believer.

    Your post reminded me of this lecture by William James which is meaningful to me.

    “So long as any secular safeguard is retained, so long as any residual prudential guarantee is clung to, so long the surrender is incomplete, the vital crisis is not passed, fear still stands sentinel, and mistrust of the divine obtains: we hold by two anchors, looking to God, it is true, after a fashion, but also holding by our proper machinations. In certain medical experiences we have the same critical point to overcome. A drunkard, or a morphine or cocaine maniac, offers himself to be cured. He appeals to the doctor to wean him from his enemy, but he dares not face blank abstinence. The tyrannical drug is still an anchor to windward: he hides supplies of it among his clothing; arranges secretly to have it smuggled in in case of need. Even so an incompletely regenerate man still trusts in his own expedients. His money is like the sleeping potion which the chronically wakeful patient keeps beside his bed; he throws himself on God, but if he should need the other help, there it will be also. Every one knows cases of this incomplete and ineffective desire for reform,- drunkards whom, with all their self-reproaches and resolves, one perceives to be quite unwilling seriously to contemplate never being drunk again! Really to give up anything on which we have relied, to give it up definitively, ‘for good and all’ and forever, signifies one of those radical alterations of character. In it the inner man rolls over into an entirely different position of equilibrium, lives in a new centre of energy from this time on, and the turning-point and hinge of all such operations seems usually to involve the sincere acceptance of certain nakednesses and destitutions.

    Accordingly, throughout the annals of the saintly life, we find this ever-recurring note: Fling yourself upon God’s providence without making any reserve whatever,- take no thought for the morrow,- sell all you have and give it to the poor, only when the sacrifice is ruthless and reckless will the higher safety really arrive.”

    • Evelyn

      Short reply: While it is important to wean ourselves from excesses and ego identification with material goods, I think that God is looking for partners and not fools. We need to be able to maintain both our physical body and mental states in such a way that they aren’t a burden to our spiritual endeavors.

      • ME

        Agree completely.

  • I’ve admittedly not read this whole series on the book, nor have I kept up with Lauren’s thoughts and philosophies as much as I’d like, so please forgive me if this has already been answered (in her book, in this blog, or elsewhere), but I’m DYING to know…

    Background: My partner and I read Lauren’s book “Real Sex” while we were dating, and we gleaned a lot of really good things from it. It sounds like from reviews of this new book that Lauren has been (per usual) gut-wrenchingly honest about her journey, and I’m curious to know:

    Since writing “Real Sex”, are there any main thoughts or concepts in the book that she regrets writing, or perhaps has had a change of heart or mind on? And if so, has the change been influenced by her experiences which Tony has highlighted from the book (i.e., “divorce, loneliness, depression, and the occasional bourbon”)?

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