A Review of Still by Mandy England Cole
When Sue Monk Kidd was experiencing her own time of reshaping, she wrote that, “whenever I’ve managed to find new consciousness and renewals of my work, my relationships and myself, it has been by going down into what seemed like a holy dark.” A holy dark–sacred space and time–seems exactly what Lauren Winner has invited us into through her latest work.
After the romantic notions of faith wear off and life deals out a portion of difficulty we often find ourselves, like Lauren, on pilgrimage. And as she noted from the wise words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, “pilgrimage is always a travelling to where I am.” At the heart of her story is the crisis we each find ourselves in, when we stand before a blank wall and find ourselves in a season where everything–our lives, our faith, ourselves–must be remade. A time when we must look deeply into the core of our being, of our faith, and walk through the sacred steps through a holy dark. By sharing her story, it is as if she has laid stone markers on the path for her fellow pilgrims. And, as we walk with her we find that her story reminds us of moments of holy darkness in our own lives. Her experience reminded me of the rhythmic process of being reformed, refined, and renewed that I have come to know as faith.
The stories of Still seem to fit the pattern of a labyrinth. The labyrinth is a divine feminine symbol for the womb and the journey of the labyrinth is ancient metaphor for the process of life, death, and rebirth.
Walking the path toward center is the dying phase, when, you place all your burdens on the altar. Some call this phase of the labyrinth’s journey releasing but I prefer to use Carolyn Hielbrun’s phrase, “marvelous dismantling” to describe the steps taken when we face the darkness of our lives and spirits, when we name our sins, when we lay down our burdens, when we let loose our doubt, fear, and anxiety. In essence, we are walking through the shadow of the valley of death with every step.
The second movement of the labyrinth is resting in the center. This is the core of where we are re-formed and fashioned by the hand of God. It is where we are remade. The third movement is when we journey on the path out from the center back into the world. This is when we find ourselves reoriented with renewed purpose and meaning.
By sharing her “crisis” with us, she is sharing the sacred journey she took of walking through a marvelous dismantling, of being re-formed, and of being reoriented and renewed.
There are those of us who resist this kind of pilgrimage for we fear such holy darkness. But, within the rhythms of our faith journey, like Lauren’s, lays abundant gifts of grace. What gift of grace is awaiting you in the rhythm of your faith journey?
Mandy England Cole is associate pastor of Sardis Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina.