Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com:] “Sharon Garlough Brown tells the moving story of four strangers as they embark together on a journey of spiritual formation: Hannah, a pastor who doesn’t realize how exhausted she is. Meg, a widow and recent empty-nester who is haunted by her past. Mara, a woman who has experienced a lifetime of rejection and is now trying to navigate a difficult marriage. Charissa, a hard-working graduate student who wants to get things right. You’re invited to join these four women as they reluctantly arrive at a retreat center and find themselves drawn out of their separate stories of isolation and struggle and into a collective journey of spiritual practice, mutual support and personal revelation. Along the way, readers will be taken into a new understanding of key spiritual practices and find tangible support for the deeper life with God.”
My Book Review: I first heard of this book on Midday Connection, where it was once recommended for one of their on-air book clubs. It never really seemed to appeal to me as far as reading genres go. No excitement, no adventure, intrigue, etc. But a lady from my church whom I highly respect and who is also in charge of our women’s ministry had an inspired idea to start a women’s book club throughout the summer with this book for discussion. It turns out, she personally knew the author Sharon Garlough Brown, and contacted her about visiting our church in October around the time the third in the Sensible Shoe trilogy was released. Well, how could I pass on something this neat? I signed up for the book club discussions, and got a copy of the book.
The book’s publisher, IVP, is not in the habit of printing fiction books. Their attention is directed toward non fiction (usually in the contemplative genre) that help people grow in their spiritual walk. But when Brown approached them with her manuscript, they decided to change their rules for once and publish it. They felt strongly that even though it was fiction, it taught great spiritual disciplines. Through the emotional medium of fictional characters, biblical truth can be effectively taught in a way non fiction can’t. This is what has meant so much to fans of the Sensible Shoes club. Truth climbs in the back door of our heart and helps us see that we truly are God’s beloved and we long to walk more closely with Him, overcoming the walls and barriers that have closed off life for so long.
At first, I had a hard time getting into the story. It still wasn’t my thing. It was well written, but just not exciting. One of the main reasons I had joined was because I knew that the topic of contemplative Christianity would be brought up, and I wanted to learn more about it. I had come to the right place. The four female characters in the book—Mara, Charissa, Meg, and Hannah—meet one another at a spiritual retreat center, where a wise spiritual director introduces them to disciplines that help them grow in their walk with the Lord.
There are probably some of you reading this review and already the hackles have gone on the back of your neck. You’ve heard about this strange “pagan form of New Age religion” called contemplative Christianity and you’re scared to death. I’m glad the author addresses those concerns in her book. It takes a mind fully bent on discerning truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and not someone who gets creeped out because of something new or outside of the comfortable box to embrace this book.
90 women showed up at our church to begin the book club discussions. Even our pastor picked it up to read and got into it. We split the book up into 3 chapters at a time and got together in smaller groups at a local log cabin retreat center (WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE!). We talked about the characters and how we identified or didn’t identify with them, and also about the spiritual disciplines taught along the way, and what God was teaching us through them. It was my first time being a part of a book club, and I really enjoyed the conversations.
As far as the story itself went, I finally started to get more into it around 2/3 of the way through. The plot gained some suspense and I wanted to know what happened next. I would probably say I identified the most with the character Hannah, though not in the way some in my group supposed I did. I knew God was wanting me to dig through some stuff I kept on wanting to shove under the rug. I would like to go back through the book again and incorporate the spiritual disciplines into my routine. It’s definitely something I want to explore more deeply.
October came and we had our big shebang at the end of the bookclub. when Sharon Garlough Brown came to visit our church. Unfortunately, the even started at 9:00 in the morning. Um, no. I don’t do mornings well. I got myself around the earliest as best I could and arrived an hour and a half late, but was able to sit in on the last half hour of her lecture. Amazingly, it was exactly at that spot in her speech that I needed to hear. She was talking on Romans 8:31-39 and it was like it was just for me! I took lots of notes.
We broke for lunch and reconvened later for music worship and then Sharon came on stage again to talk, mainly about her inspiration and background for writing the book. Then it was Q & A time and giveaway time. At the end of the afternoon, Sharon sat at a little card table with a flower in a vase and we lined up to get our copies autographed by her. That was so much fun! I even got my picture taken with her, but I don’t post my pic on the net. I’ll just post the one I took of her signing books.
Sharon Brown was a lovely person to meet, and such a regular-body, too. I found a video of her promoting her series, and more can be found on Youtube:
It seems these books are the type of thing you read and pass on to someone else, and they spread and grow among friends. I even recommended it to my uncle! I lent mine to another friend who appreciated it, but also said she felt like the problems the characters dealt with were gotten over ‘too quickly.’ She has a point– there are usually no quick fixes in life. But at the same time, a story arch has to fit within a certain page structure. Then too, there are two more in the series, so who knows what will occur in the next segment of their journey?
This is a highly recommended novel, because of how it causes one to examine their heart with God at the helm. If this scares you, I encourage you to give it a try in small parts anyway. A book won’t bite, and it gives the brain something to chew on.
Did you love this book? Why or why not?
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