If We Allow It...
Every once in a while, an author’s story catches my own in a way that gives me hope, grants me a sense of companionship or collegiality amidst the tumultuous or challenging sacred of the Christian. Ruth Burrows, OCD* is one of those voices, surprisingly. Her memoir, Before the Living God, was lent to me quite a while ago now, but I finally found an engrossing entrance into it yesterday. In the nudge to return it—finally—I actually opened it. I figured I’d browse it quickly, so to know what I was returning, mostly unread but at least enough to nod to it in passing.
It spoke to me deeply, unexpectedly, enough for me to even take some ‘energy points’ notes on the first chapters during my afternoon coffee-shop time. I awoke this morning, amidst my CrossFit rhythms, thinking about it, her. It’s been a while since I’ve felt a new Christian companionable voice, to be honest. So what are some of the first notes or tones of this gift?
I think I was initially drawn in by the numerous and strangely familiar observations of her own childhood. Something in me recognized something in her. I was born into this world with a tortured sensitivity, she writes. A bit dramatic, but familiar. Of family for me in ways my own dearly beloved family is not. Was never supposed to be.
Already within me, there was an image of myself as ugly and disgusting. I think I was born with this wound… I think that the sheer secrecy of my inner world, the fears, the nightmares…shut me off from [my parents]. Perhaps I instinctively knew that my inner world would never be understood, that if it were revealed I would be condemned. Oh my heavens, do I recognize this pattern. And then, at the end of the first chapter, she writes, This wound was only later healed by a friend God gave me, a friend who loved me with a deep love and in whom I have found joy. The trouble was on an emotional level and God came to me on the emotional level of friendship.
I knew I would spend the rest of the afternoon into the evening, night, finishing this book.
The middle chapters—Your Face I Seek and Groaning in Travail—were difficult ‘reads,’ detailing a lot of intra-monastery dynamics, or what living in community is actually like. Always challenging. But I think what I valued most was precisely this transparency, the hiddenness of Godde in human frailties or aggressions or injustices. They’re linked somehow though we attempt to keep them separate with accusations of sin, sinfulness, “of the other.” She never flattens into mystical ecstasy or utter despair. She witnesses to a life of faith I recognize, even if it is not my own.
Most significantly, she hones in on our call to trust Godde in all things, which is such a resonant theme in my own journeying these days. Surrender. Not to religious hierarchies or traditions’ doctrines. Surrender and trust Godde simply wants to love us. If we allow it…
*Ruth Burrows is the pen name of Sister Rachel (Gregory), a Carmelite Nun in the monastery at Quidenham in the county of Norfolk, England. She’s an author of two other books on prayer (at least), and seems to be a strong voice at the intersection of spirituality and theology.