Girl Meets God: A Spiritual Memoir of Surprising Humor and Insight
A Vantage Point from Two Worlds
The affair started where most affairs start for me: plopped down on the floor, greedily turning pages, the first blush of attraction forming inside my giddy thoughts. Yet being the first date, I didn’t want to commit more. After all, I’d been burned before and still had the remnants lining my book shelf to prove it. Yet I remember thinking of that book from time to time with a fizzy excitement, always wondering when I would go back and pick it up again. I think deep down I knew that I was smitten. The affair progressed across a few more bookstores and “unplanned” dates before I finally sealed the deal and bought the book. That book, in case you’re curious, was Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner and unlike many Christianese putrid moralizing out there, this one quite breaks the mold. In fact, though it is written by a “Christian fundamentalist and evangelical Christian," it is written with a lot more nostalgia and longing for Judaism.
What’s striking about this memoir is although it comes from someone who describes herself as a fundamentalist (and at this, she describes some of her own sheepish embarrassment that comes with identifying herself in that way), it offers a transparent look at the spiritual journey from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity (Anglican in particular) with a lot of interesting, sometimes funny tidbits along the way. But still more interesting was the narrator, a book worm, intellectual kind of person who wore fishnet stockings and refused to shave her legs. Having read this charming memoir about five or six years ago, I can still remember feeling that rush of excitement and understanding when the narrator divulged the dilemma she faced as a child of getting some treat, possibly pizza, or a book each week when her parents gave her an allowance. When she admitted to living in a tiny, cramped New York apartment that somehow housed 2,000 books, I became instantly hooked.
In describing her spiritual journey, the author presents the book in the format of a liturgical religious year and begins to describe the process through which she became an Orthodox Jew. A lot of the book is spent describing her Jewish conversion, the kind of preparations she made and the experiences she had as a convert, good and bad. The love she carries for her Jewish background and experience carry through in the way she presents the details – it was because of her that I immersed myself in researching more about Judaism and the differences between the groups – and so when she decides to convert to Christianity, she describes it as a very anguishing experience much like a divorce.
The reasons that cause her to convert her to Christianity are not substantial on an intellectual level and will not satisfy those looking for something more. In essence, it is more an interior journey of the heart. In trying to explain her “Witness Story” to her friends, she says, “What I can tell them is that I grew up Jewish. I can tell them about the time I dreamed of Jesus rescuing me from a kidnapping; I can tell them about reading At Home in Mitford, a charming if somewhat saccharine novel about an Episcopal priest in North Carolina, a novel that left me wanting something Christians seemed to have.” Later, in an attempt to find some intellectual redemption for her being converted in part because of a book series, she notes that at least she didn’t convert because of the Left Behind series (and who can remember when that was the craze?).
A few of the people I’ve recommended this book to have agreed with me – the memoir is appreciably honest, with a wry humor at times. In talking about prayer, for instance, Winner mentions her friend's observation that you could spend a day in prayer or a day squeezing out a tube of toothpaste and at the end of the day, you feel you accomplished more by squeezing out a tube of toothpaste. Winner also portrays the aspects of Christianity that she dislikes – the people aren’t up to her intellectual caliber, the rituals are a bit embarrassing, the struggle of abstaining from sex until marriage – along with the parts she does like – the community, the freedom from ritual, the way she sees its connections to Judaism.
Because of her Jewish background, Winner is able to make some connections to her new faith that many Christians would not make. Coupled with her keen intellect and vast knowledge, this memoir distinguishes itself by the very uniqueness of the perspective that is being offered. In a culture where being Christian has become synonomous with something that is foisted upon youth by unknowing kids who grow up spouting what they don’t know, Winner provides a spiritual memoir of someone who thinks. Although Winner’s book and journey is not without its flaws, it is the kind of memoir that reflects a unique spiritual pilgrimage and rewards the reader with insight into the worlds she comes from.
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