I‘m wondering what to write about, the day after Easter, and it seems only natural to cite N.T. Wright’s spectacular recent book Surprised by Hope (Harper; $24.95.) You surely know, if you’ve read BookNotes for long, that we despise the unbiblical dualism that sets the so-called secular against the sacred; those ideas of Plato that wiggled their pernicious way into the church so that true spirituality was segregated from ordinary life, where Christ’s teachings were seen to be relevant not for here and now, but for another place, or just for the super-spiritual. God’s intention is seen not as the promised restoration of all things, a new creation created out of the shell of the old (to paraphrase Dorothy Day) but as an ethereal pie in the sky. Wright has stood against this unhelpful way of thinking with wisdom and Biblical balance for years. He stands strong on the doctrine of creation and the way in which Christ’s reign is proclaimed here, “on Earth as it is in Heaven” given his insightful appreciation for Jesus’ Jewish messiahship. His serious work on resurrection has explored that deeply, and in this new one, he ponders the various meanings and true hope we have in resurrection. It is perfect to help us realize just how momentous yesterday’s celebration was.
Still, I want to write about something else, one of the best books I’ve read in a while. A writer who posts here from time to time, and whose blog I’ve commended, (Seedlings in Stone), L.L. Barkat, just released her collection of Bible reflections, based not only on her solid and sane reading, her immense and articulate understand of the Bible, but on her own troubled life. Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places (IVP; $15) is much more than a typical “basic Christian growth”Â book of insight into discipleship—she tells with an artist’s eye the keen memories of her difficult childhood, her coming of age, her college and young adult years. The second half of the book unfolds insights from her marriage and relationship with her multitude of stepparents and stepsiblings, narrating in gorgeous prose snapshots from her life, memories of her past as they come into God’s healing light, and moments of her on-going steps toward a sane lifestyle and faithful discipleship.
This glorious book is thoughtful without being laborious, literate without being self-conscious. She has a great eye for details, and a luminous style that revels in God’s presence in the day-to-day. She is drawing lessons from life, and is candid about her ups and downs. And, boy, has she has some. Yet, God’s great grace in her life has kept her from bitterness and she has emerged as an obviously mature, wise, and articulate citizen of God’s healing land. I had to fight back tears on Good Friday and Holy Saturday as I sat with this, dropping the book to my knees as I looked to the heavens to whisper a thanks to God for her fine work, and Christ’s reign over the caste of characters on this stony road.
Yes, stones are the main metaphor here, as she steps on stones in the rivers of her youth, picks up smooth ones to cherish, visits caves and walls and works and reworks writerly memes and theological themes that have to do with the rocks, stones and stonewalls. I really enjoyed her deft handling of these images, and, more importantly, learned much, and was reminded of even more, of how God’s grace works to bring healing and hope to a rough-hewn life.
Ms Barkat loves Annie Dillard, and quotes other creative types (from Make Fujumaro’s essay in Comment or Toni Morrison to a particularly powerful story from a Salvador Dali biography or the John Donne stuff in Wit.) She is delightfully fluent in solid Biblical scholarship, too, citing good guys, Lyland Ryken to Tremper Longman to Iain Provane. It isn’t too far off when Scot McKnight (on the back cover) likens her to Eugene Peterson.
Each of the 20 chapters of memoir/Bible study/story unfolds a particular theme—-forgiveness, inclusion, doubt, humility, baptism, gratitude, to name a few. They unfold increasingly, showing her growth and maturity, even though the book is technically not a biography. Still, as she tells her story, opens up Scriptural insight, we come to see not only a life touched and graced by the Resurrected Christ, but we see just how tangible—-solid as a stone—God’s grace can be.
This is a perfect book for Eastertide; it is real, hard, and yet, gently triumphant. God is at work among His people, slowly, but surely. Stone Crossings chronicles this joyful, good, truth graciously and helpfully, and we are happy to commend it to you. There are discussion questions, too, making it ideal for a book club or small group. And, she now has a stonecrossings website dedicated to the book, for readers to join a virtual community. There, you can read an interview with Barkat, see some PR stuff, and listen to some chapter’s being read. Check it out, and return to our website and place an order. You won’t regret it.