Review of a fab novel about spiritual formation

Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey

by Sharon Garlough Brown (IVP, 978-0830843053)

Some books come with a buzz. I don’t mean that reading them will cause an altered reality, but that people become so gripped and changed by these books that they want to share them with others – resulting in a buzz. Sensible Shoes is such a novel. I first heard of it on social networks, for Kathy Lee Gifford recommended it on one of the influential US talk shows. Intrigued that a book about the spiritual journey would receive such a big mention, I got myself a copy. From the promotional material I thought it was a how-to book about the spiritual disciplines, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found it was a novel.

9780830843053The story charts the journey of four unlikely friends who bond through a spiritual formation course. Each woman is running from wounds of the past. Through their friendship and their engagement with spiritual practices such as lectio divina, praying with the labyrinth and imaginative prayer (Ignatian practices), they find peace. They also move into the adventures of a life partnering with God.

I could relate to each of the women’s struggles as those I’ve addressed in my own journey of faith. Such as Hannah, who tries to prove her worth to God by serving others unswervingly, to the point of exhaustion and ignoring her own needs. Or Mara, who, feeling rejected, turns to food for comfort. Or Meg, who battles a critical voice in her head. Or Charissa, who seeks perfection and loves a controlled environment.

One point that the author makes is that God often uses the irritants in our lives to wake us up to the issues we should face. As one of the spiritual directors says: “Remember, Charissa – the things that annoy, irritate, and disappoint us have just as much power to reveal the truth about ourselves as anything else. Learn to linger with what provokes you. You may just find the Spirit of God moving there” (p. 80). The prayer of examen, in which we look back at our day in the presence of God, can help us as we bring to mind those things or people that made our blood pressure rise. We can ask God to show us why we lost our temper – was it something physical like we were tired or hungry? Or something deeper, such as one of the deadly sins – pride, envy, anger and so on. When we’re transparent before God, he can bring his healing touch, filling the places that are yearning for love and affirmation. And he can lead us to repent, or spur us on to love our neighbor.

And Sensible Shoes? Although they could have called it something with a bit more zing, it’s a book I’ll keep recommending.

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