Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DEVOTION by Dani Shapiro

Oh, what a searingly honest memoir! This is not just one woman's story of her search for truth and for permanence in a transitory, troubled world, but it's every mother's experience with fear and protectiveness, every daughter's questioning look at her relationship with her parents. In a way, this is my story--even though it's not my faith journey.

I am a lot like author Dani Shapiro, in that I have a questioning mind--no, actually, it's almost obsessively virulent in its grasping for answers. I read her story and I'm nodding my head over and over, even though I have never tried Buddhist practises or meditative rituals. But I've searched, I've questioned. I've stood in massive cathedrals, the year I lived in Spain, and felt a stab of yearning for what the Catholics knew that I, an evangelical Christian, didn't. Things like the sense of kneeling in pews and reciting certain novenas that reduced you to smallness while God loomed majestically before you. As Dani writes, "It was a lesson I needed to learn over and over again: to stop and simply be. To recognize these moments and enter them--with reverence and an unprotected heart--as if walking into a cathedral."

And the year we lived up in the mountains of New Hampshire in a Jewish populated community-- oh, what a glorious time that was and I absorbed and questioned and made friends with the conservative, the orthodox, those of reform faith. There was Seymour and Ethel, and Mort and Adele, my Jewish neighbors who were dear friends. And of course our Catholic and slightly ballistic neighbor, Mr. Kaminski, who thought the world of my husband and me but chafed at the questionable boundary line between himself and his neighbors, Mort and Adele.

Religious discourse, or talking about what we believe, seems to bring up boundary lines--seen or unseen. Fear arises when people ask questions that a tightly compacted faith cannot answer. But Dani Shapiro, while honestly conveying the anxiety she battles, isn't afraid to go there. Neither is her son. "Jacob piped up from the back seat:'How do we know we're not dreaming right now?' The idea that we might be dreaming frightened him. He wanted to know what was real." And so do I.

And that, in a nutshell, is Shapiro's quest: it's not just for a life of devotion, but for the depth of a a true faith, a solid foundation of awe and yet security that perhaps we all long for. This is a beautifully written book for those who grapple and grasp for truth. I opened the pages of this book and heard her heart, saw her anxious questioning mind and her courage. "I've set myself on a course that doesn't allow me to be a coward" she writes; and yet she has no problem almost boldly telling you of the panic attacks and problems that plague her.

This is a memoir, not a didactic guide book for those used to going directly from A to B. This is an ongoing conversation and a journey. I explored with her--and I'm still asking my questions without pulling back.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I receive books free from publishers. I am not required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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