Girl Meets God: A Memoir by Lauren F. Winner; published 2003 by Random House
Sorry I’ve been somewhat MIA lately. Working long hours, catching up on sleep, trying to avoid dessert, and whatnot… But it hasn’t stopped me from finishing Lauren F. Winner’s spiritual memoir, Girl Meets God.
I was surprised to find it complemented Lent very well. (Readers, you still have nine days before Easter – you can do it!) I didn’t really know much about it before I read it, so I had no expectations going in.
Ultimately, Girl Meets God is Winner’s story of how she, the child of a Jewish father and Baptist mother, embraced her Jewish heritage, becoming an Orthodox Jew, and then converted to Christianity. It’s not a blockbuster thriller of a horrible life turned drastically around. It’s the slow, steady turning of a heart to Christ. As she says in the book, when people ask her why she converted to Christianity, the only answer is that she felt Jesus calling. At first I was a little disappointed and bored, but then I realized that most conversions are like hers. It’s a process, a learning over and over again that you need Jesus. Certainly my own faith has been like that. I think she says it well:
“Evangelical friends of mine are always trying to trim the corners and smooth the rough edges of what they call My Witness in order to shove it into a tidy, born-again conversion narrative. They want an exact date, even an hour, and I never know what to tell them.”
I’ve felt the same way. There is a lot of pressure – when you meet new Christian brothers or sisters, when you become part of a church, when you lead a Bible study – to tell your “life story” or “testimony”, and people do expect that there be one moment in your life when you were radically transformed from sinner to redeemed. Some truly do have those stories, and that’s great, but for others it’s a more complicated journey. And that’s fine as well.
Sorry, I digress. The book is split into sections following the church calendar. Again, this is something many Evangelicals aren’t familiar with, which is a shame. It was probably my favorite aspect of the book. When Winner actually became a Christian, she was baptized in the Anglican church in England and learned the liturgy and traditions of that denomination. I can relate – when I studied abroad in Oxford, I was also captivated by the beautiful liturgy, and it led to a passion for the traditions of the Church. I like liturgy because it makes me feel connected not only to the people who are around me, who are saying the same words I’m saying, but also to the generations of Christians before me – in a sense, our ancestors. I’m interested in Church history the way someone of Japanese decent or Swedish decent is fascinated by the traditions of Japanese or Swedish culture.
I love what Winner writes about the rituals of the Church: they carry you even when you don’t feel God.
“I have never, not once, felt anything at the Eucharist. Not a thing. I have never felt stirred, or joyful, or peaceful, or sad. I have never felt closeness. I have never felt God at the communion rail… I keep hoping one day God will give me some feeling at communion. In the meantime, I figure He is helping me become something else. He is calling me to know Him in the Eucharist even though I don’t feel Him there. He is calling me to a place where He is truer than everything else, truer even than how I feel.”
Spiritual disciplines are such a beautiful thing. They’re the only thing that has kept my faith from completely crumbling in times when I was doubting.
Winner is refreshingly candid about her struggles as a Christian: struggles to remain pure, to not be ashamed, and to simply believe. I loved reading her book because, on just about every page, I was thinking, Me too.
Winner is an academic, and she loves literature, like I do. She states something truly beautiful about God:
“God is a novelist. He uses all sorts of literary devices: alliteration, assonance, rhyme, synecdoche, onomatopoeia. But of all these, His favorite is foreshadowing… Nothing came of the pamphlets, or the cross, or the midnight Mass, but that is how the clues God leaves sometimes work. Sometimes nothing comes of them. Sometimes, as in a great novel, you cannot see until you get to the end that God was leaving clues for you all along.”
Winner is able to put into words some of the emotions that accompany faith in a mysterious and wondrous God, weaving together her experiences in Judaism and how they relate to Christianity. I learned a lot about the Jewish faith, and about my own. It was a perfect book to read during Lent.