Denial is My Spiritual Practice (And Other Failures of Faith) is a collection of personal essays written by two United Church of Christ clergywomen, Rachel Hackenberg and Martha Spong. They are my colleagues and my dear friends. When they collaborate, good things happen, so I have been anticipating this book. I received a review copy and — spoiler alert — I loved reading every one of their stories! I am pleased to offer my honest review.
The inspiration for Martha and Rachel to author this book was their discovery of common themes in their life experiences, church experiences, and their relationships with God and Scripture. The title of the book comes from Rachel and Martha assessing their actions in these stories as “failures of faith,” one of which is their self-described tendency to employ the “spiritual practice” of “denial.”
The title foreshadows a book about living the God life as human beings in a broken world. The title strongly hints that this most certainly will not be an altogether victory-in-Jesus piece of Christian feel-good memoir. Spoiler alert #2: Don’t expect fairy-tale endings or neatly-tied bows. This book will not offer you that.
Do expect to unwrap a gift of authentic tales and captivating adventures in questioning, struggling, and suffering. Martha and Rachel alternate telling stories, each story pair under a heading that loosely ties them together by life subject and theological theme. On one level, this is an easy, very enjoyable read. Each story, though, offers deeper ways to more fully explore their stories (and our own) by focusing on God’s role; the role of church, family &/or others: and/or the Bible connection.
Do expect to find even more gifts nestled inside of each one of their story gifts. Look for some surprising pathways between human “failure” and God’s appearance. Search out the unexpected ways that God redeems, or fails to redeem, in each situation. Open up to your own life stories that might appear in the light of hearing theirs.
Finally, don’t expect to remain a voyeur to what you have read. As Rachel writes in the afterword: “Our best hope is not that you read these stories and say, ‘Wow, what cool dirty laundry,’ but that you find a mirror for your spirit . . . that you recognize yourself in God’s broader story.” Their stories pop open all kinds of possibilities for achieving that outcome.
“Denial is My Spiritual Practice” is a provocative title for this book, and it is a courageous, self-revealing statement. This statement falls short, however, in describing the actual content of the book and the strong faith actions of Martha and Rachel in writing it. This book is really all about a different, more potent spiritual practice than “denial.” The authors expertly “show and tell” for us our oldest, faith-based spiritual practice: the spiritual practice of storytelling. In telling these stories, Rachel Hackenberg and Martha Spong have invited us to embark on that same spiritual practice. In telling our own life stories, we can discover for ourselves where God might be ready to surprise us as we struggle with own perceived “failures of faith.”
I enthusiastically recommend this book! Get it for yourself and get more copies to spread around. Use their stories as “starters” to get real and get regular in sharing “failures in faith” in personal devotion, in church group study, or among friends. Telling our own life stories as spiritual practice might very well be the antidote to our own denial.
I very much look forward to reading what’s next from these two powerfully gifted clergywomen!