The Red Couch: Reluctant Pilgrim Discussion

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To learn more about Reluctant Pilgrim, please read the introductory post. Be sure to peruse The Nightstand in that post, which has resources for those wanting to learn more about the topic and themes of this month’s selection.

 

When I read a synopsis of Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community that described it as “Part Augustine, part Jane Austen with a side of Anne Lamott,” I knew this book would have so much to teach me.

From the words of prayer that opened every chapter to Okoro’s personal re-telling of the Apostles Creed, I felt like her words were from an old friend – that our similarities outweighed our differences—despite the fact that she was raised in places like Nigeria and New York—whilst I grew up near wheat fields in a small city, clamoring for culture and, like Okoro, missing my own Father.

Enuma addresses deeper spiritual themes by sharing insights gleaned from her own struggles and experiences with grace, prayer, communion and community.

“I needed to ask what certain words meant to me, words I had taken for granted but that now had to bear real definitions for me.  I felt compelled to understand them in order to make better sense of my faith…

So clearly if I write anything about my spiritual journey it’s not going to be about how I grew into this wise, self-sacrificing woman of God…

Its going to be about me finding bits and pieces of God’s grace the more I realized just how unlike Jesus I actually am. It’s going to be about my rocky on-again, mostly off-again love affair with the idea of church, and the painful process of learning that community and church are not always synonymous.” {pgs. 22,23}

I love this book’s subtitle— A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community.  Though I’m the farthest thing from an introvert {most of the time}, I have been known to have self-indulgent tendencies, and there’s no question I’ve been searching for spiritual community for as long as I can remember.

Like Okoro, I have found God’s light and grace in an unexpected Jesus-hodge-podge of places.  Among my thinly veiled places were a Presbyterian summer camp, a Catholic choir loft, and a women’s small group study full of actors and opera singers.   They all chiseled Christ’s light in one way or another into my needy heart.

Unfortunately, I have struggled to find genuine friendship and connection amongst my current church community. Being thought of as ‘less than’ and ‘too much’ have led to ‘left out’ and ‘not enough’ in the one place I should have felt accepted and loved.

I resonated all too well with Enuma’s description of the kind of church home she yearns for:

I want to find a church that teaches me something about carrying each other’s burdens, about living into the gift of God’s grace so we are free to be the persons and community God calls us to be. I want a church that teaches me to find joy in the somewhat disjointed experiences of life, because in God I understand there is no rush to get healed and perfect this side of heaven. Perhaps freedom in Christ is freedom from the modern pressures to have life figured out by a certain time… {p.80}

I also was struck by a particular handful of pages that wrestled through Scripture concerning an ever present issue in my life: barrenness.

I sat in the candlelit room quietly telling God how I felt, naming the spaces of barrenness in my life, and praying for new life to take root in me, life blessed by God, whatever that might look like.  And I prayed for what I thought God wanted me to give birth to–a more fruitful writing life, a clearer sense of vocation, a larger heart capable of holding both joy and sorrow, and a healed imagination. {p.99}

Thankfully, the hard places weren’t the only areas of resonance for me in this memoir, and hopefully for you too. Okoro’s thoughts on grace in Chapter 9 and on prayer in Chapter 12 were hopeful and encouraging, full of questions themselves yet tempered with wisdom.

I particularly loved Enuma’s words about hope that, for me, echoed the themes of her entire memoir – grace amongst pain, questions in the silence, and the face of God in friends and loved ones when dealing with tragedy and grief:

Hope has walls, even though sometimes our arms don’t seem long enough to reach them.  But that’s when I think God stretches us, and when our fingertips brush up against the surface of hope, we find out that it’s soft in some places and hard in others.  We find out that the walls of hope are textured and that leaning against them can be both comfortable and painful.  Then the walls push out a little more and we’re ready for more stretching. {p.85} 

In the Red Couch’s introduction of this book, Liana Norheim so eloquently invited us to take Enuma’s hand through her story.

As we continue to journey through her words in discussion, let’s remember to grab each other’s hands along the way, to reflect, to ruminate, and to listen–each of us taking our unique pilgrimage, yet celebrating one another along the way.

 

Questions for Discussion:

  1.  What chapter or aspect of Enuma’s story resonated with you the most?
  2. How has your experience with community in the church affected your walk of faith?
  3. What role, if any, does ‘mystery’ have in your faith life?
  4. One of the people in Enuma’s life talks about ‘reframing’ her longings, rather than condemning them.  Have you ever tried this approach in your own faith walk? How might it help you?
  5. How has Enuma’s journey shed light on your own life pilgrimages?

 

What’s Next? A Note From the Red Couch Editor

This discussion marks our last for the year. But take heart! We have some amazing books picked out for next year. Stay tuned for that announcement. In the meantime, be sure to follow along in the Red Couch Facebook group. Thank you for being a part of our reading community! I have loved hearing your thoughts about each book and the ways they’ve encouraged and challenged you.

 

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Sarah Caldwell
Sarah Caldwell is the Chief Creative Curator at All Manner of Inspiration, where she gathers everyday inspiration and encourages artists of all makes and models. A musical theatre performer and book lover, Sarah aspires to shed a bright light on the Creative Process that draws others to see their dreams more clearly. When she’s not auditioning, performing, or blogging, Sarah is seeking out ‘the perfect pen’, reading an ever-growing stack of books, and spending time with her friends and family. She’s currently chasing the next inspirational spark and her sweet pup Daphne in the heart of Fort Worth, Texas with her husband Frank.
Sarah Caldwell
Sarah Caldwell

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Sarah Caldwell
  • Chapter 3 resonated for me with its sad beginning of secrets and the beyond-her-years wisdom that Enuma tried to bring into those confusing days. Somehow, in retrospect, she has managed to view both parents with grace. That’s a gift to her parents and to herself.

    As a mum whose children are starting to fly from the nest, I swing back and forth between the rose-colored glasses and the gray filter of doom when I view my early parenting years, but the view that really matters is the four-way memory bank of my sons and Enuma’s prayer that launched Chapter 3: “Father of all creation, make your imprint on my heart, so that your image is the standard by which all others are seen.”

    My kids are His image-bearers, not mine. This is a reason to rejoice.

    Thanks, Sarah and Liana, for your commitment to this process. Looking forward to the next round of books!

    • Thank you for sharing Michele! Your experiences gives a new depth to that prayer. It is nice to see your regular comments here in the book club. I’m also looking forward to 2017!

  • I was surprised at how much this book did resonate with me – our life stories are so different. And yet. it did. Her journey of questioning, of learning what that “perfect” church community is, of finding strength in unexpected community. I loved her honesty and the fact that not all questions are answerable. She made me relook at my own mundane, seemingly typical life as a pilgrimage.

    • This is beautiful Annie! I’m so glad it resonated with and inspired you.

  • “Hope has walls, even though sometimes our arms don’t seem long enough to reach them. But that’s when I think God stretches us, and when our fingertips brush up against the surface of hope, we find out that it’s soft in some places and hard in others. We find out that the walls of hope are textured and that leaning against them can be both comfortable and painful. Then the walls push out a little more and we’re ready for more stretching.”

    I love this. Soft and hard spots in the wall. Hope as comfort and pain.

    What a powerful thought…

    Just beautiful.