Grinding Machine

I’ve had some time to read today and find that I can’t really ingest any more of The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction without pausing to reflect. This excerpt in particular, quoted from Charles Darwin, captures my attention:

Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds… gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays… But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music…

My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organized or better constituted than mine, would not, I suppose, have thus suffered; and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

I can’t help but think of the common core initiative with its heavy bias toward nonfiction. What kind of people will such a view of “education” turn out? I find this passage sobering because it reminds me that our minds are formed by what they dwell upon. Nicholas Carr wrote of the plasticity of the brain, and this means that changes to the quality of our thought lives can be undone or refined. But Darwin here suggests what I suppose I already know: there can be a point of no return.

How much better and wiser it would be to offer our children the widest possible range of literature and art, as well as science and mathematics, so that they can have a greater choice in who they will become.

 

Consider the lilies

I’ve been thinking about God sending the Israelites into the wilderness for 40 years to discipline them for their unbelief. On Sunday a picture of the desert was projected on a screen in church, and what struck me most was how utterly barren it was.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There is no way the Israelites could provide anything for themselves. They couldn’t raise crops or pasture livestock. They couldn’t barter with the hostile neighbors for clothing. Yet we’re told that God provided manna to eat, water to drink, and clothing that didn’t wear out.

It ties in with Jesus’ teaching much later to “consider the lilies” in Matthew 6. Don’t worry about tomorrow, he tells us; God provides for the birds and the flowers, and he will provide for you.

Even if outward circumstances are reduced to the most barren desert conceivable — freedoms withdrawn, income reduced, all visible reference points of security or identity lost — God provides for his children. For nations? Personally I don’t think so. But for his children who trust him, he provides for every need.

Living from the Heart

A friend posted a link to this article, titled “What Not to Say to a Working Mother.” It’s a good article, and it really raised my awareness. What’s interesting to me is that though I doubt that I would ever actually say any of the things on the list, it includes things I have heard working moms say themselves. I don’t know any working mothers who are without angst about it at some level.

But I am not without my share of angst about my chosen parenting course either. The article got me thinking about things people have said that have bothered me, and I initially thought I might post my own list of things not to say to a stay-at-home mom. But someone else has already done it. (I could only really relate to #6, but it’s a pretty funny list.)

The thing about me is that it doesn’t even have to be said to me to bug me; overhearing something said to or about someone else gets included in the accounting, thanks to the distributive property of Janet. So hearing someone say of another mom with an advanced degree, “…and now she’s at home with all those children!” (sympathetic shake of the head) — that counts as an insult to me. Hearing someone say to another mom who has just re-entered the work force and has said she would rather be at home, “Now you’re a mother and a professional” — that counts too. It doesn’t matter that in cases like this, the people are honestly trying to affirm some gifting in the women of/to whom they speak. I absorb the negative — like some bacteria-eating organism.

That’s not to say there aren’t times I’ve gotten it full in the face. There was the time when my oldest was still in diapers and we bought a car in my name. The loan officer approved the loan, but as we left the office she said nervously, “Just be sure you go back to work soon!” Or the time I wrote a check at a local grocery store and watched the clerk write “unemployed” across the top because my husband was the breadwinner. Or the many times I feel that inward flinch in response to the common and harmless question, “Where do you work?”

I could go on. I often feel like I get the double stigma of being both a SAHM and a homeschooler, each with its own caricature. But the truth is, I see these things as very personal decisions. It’s one of the reasons I’d never tell someone else they should home school. I know from my own parents’ experience as public school teachers that some children receive better basic care and nurture in school than they do at home; I remember my mother having to ask parents repeatedly if she could supply their children with winter coats because they were coming to school in hooded sweatshirts in New York winters. Recently I heard a news story about school lunches being some children’s main source of nutrition, making them dread vacations.

As a Christian I regard these choices as issues of calling and vocation (to the extent that they aren’t dictated by financial imperatives), for which God has unique purposes for all of us. I don’t know how long I’ll be staying at home or home educating, but I know it’s where I’m supposed to be for now. I try not to talk about it a lot with friends who see their role differently because it seems that most of us have just enough insecurity to feel judged by others’ choices at times, even if they don’t say as much in words. It’s as though we hear things like the statements on the lists mentioned above, whether they are actually said or not.

faithThis is part of living in community: managing the tension of such differences. I guess it’s now obvious that I don’t always manage it very well myself. But lately I have been realizing that my level of security in my chosen life path doesn’t depend on others learning to self-censor around me. It depends on my ability to live from the heart.

That’s something John Eldredge talks about a lot — living from the heart. It always sounds inspiring to me, yet only very recently have I begun to understand what it means. It means operating from that core deep down inside that holds firmly to what I believe. I may spend a great deal of energy stewing over surface issues and slights and insensitivity, but if I really cared about all that I could change. I could stop homeschooling and go to work. I could try to become more like the product it sometimes seems like people would prefer me to be. I don’t because at heart, I really don’t want to. I’m finally aware of that deeper place within, that place that’s unmoved by the surface storms. That’s where the power is anyway; why not learn to dwell there deliberately?

Again, I think of John Eldredge: “Let other people feel the weight of who you are, and let them deal with it.” It sounds kind of insensitive. But I have a feeling that it’s key to other people feeling equally free to be who they are when they’re around us. It’s not about my many trip-wires that detonate a blast of insecurity whenever you unsuspectingly step on one; my list of things I wish you wouldn’t say goes out the window. It’s about me being centered in my own heart where, as a Christian, I believe God is directing me through my deepest desires and serving as my most — really, my only — significant audience.

Intuition

Sometimes a passage just has to be shared. That’s how I feel about this one, from a book I’m reading by Barbara Brown Taylor. She is describing her and her husband’s decision to leave city life, and her account of the way they process the decision is both beautifully expressed and true to my experience:

Since we are both intuitive types, we do not decide things as much as we gravitate toward them. This is not very theological language, I know, but on the subject of divine guidance I side with Susan B. Anthony. “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do,” she once said, “because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” Having been somewhat of an expert on the sanctification of my own desires, I try not to pin them on God anymore. At the same time, I recognize the enormous energy in them, which strikes me as something God might be able to use.

When I read the stories in the Bible about people such as Sarah, Jacob, or David, what stands out is not their virtue but their very strong wants. Sarah wants her son to prevail over Hagar’s son, Jacob wants his older brother’s blessing, and David wants Bathsheba. While these cravings clearly bought them all kinds of well-deserved trouble, they also kept these characters very, very alive. Their desires propelled them in ways that God could use, better than God could use those who never colored outside the lines. Based on their example, I decided to take responsibility for what I wanted and to trust God to take it from there.

Intuition may be one way of speaking about how God does that — takes things from here to there, I mean. Since intuition operates lower down than the frontal lobe, it is not easy to talk about how it works. In general, I tend not to pay much attention to it until I have completed all of my research, compiled my lists of pros and cons, and made a rational decision based on facts. Then, when I cannot sleep because the rational decision seems all wrong to me, I start paying attention to the gyroscope of my intuition, which operates below the radar of my reason. I pay attention to recurring dreams and interesting coincidences. I let my feelings off the leash and follow them around. When something moves in my peripheral vision, I leave the path to investigate, since it would be a shame to walk right by a burning bush. At this point, reason is all but useless to me. All that remains is trust. Will I trust my intuition or won’t I? The more I do, the more intuitive I become. This is as close as I can come to describing the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith)

I find it hard to trust my intuition, but I believe that I too am someone with “strong wants.” It takes me awhile to identify or be honest about them because at some level it seems like it’s not permissible.Yet what Taylor writes here rings true. She blows the dust off the mechanism so that I can see how it works.

I appreciate the careful way Taylor examines something so subtle. It takes courage to write that way. It takes courage to live in a way that’s consistent with that belief.

How to listen

My feelings toward homeschooling have been all over the map lately.

I feel restless. It’s odd that I recently reaffirmed my sense that my full-time job right now is being a mother and educator to my children — only to begin wrestling with the desire to bring this phase to a close. I do a good job of providing some things that they need — a rich imaginative and spiritual world, minimal screen time, books and stories, hands-on science and nature study, strong relationships within the family, and a richer social world than incarceration with a pack of same-age kids would allow. “You are doing a superior job with these kids!” says my father, marveling at their industriousness. (It means a lot, coming from a retired 36-year public school teacher.)

But there are other things I don’t do a good job with at all. Scheduled enrichment activities. In-depth opportunities in their areas of interest. Playdates. Deep expertise in math and science (I am not looking forward to calculus and frog dissection). Lately I’ve begun to wonder as well how to facilitate the transition to adulthood. How does a middle-schooler who spends so much time around Mom find the space to explore who she is?

Today we took a nature walk, then stopped at the store to pick up Pillsbury pie crusts and a few other things. (My Thanksgiving contribution is going to be the desserts, but pie crust is not my spiritual gift.) I remembered the other things but forgot the pie crusts, so I headed back out. The girls did math in the back seat and retraced the well-worn path of whose pencil was whose, and how the size of the eraser made it all too apparent, and how the pencil had better be returned to its proper owner or else. It was pitiful. They shouldn’t have to be dragged around and do math in the back seat. (Yes, I usually save errands for after school. But this was urgent. You never know when there may be a run on pie crust during Thanksgiving week.) Suddenly I felt very tired. All I could think was, “They’d be better off in school.”

But later in the afternoon, after the math and grammar and writing and all that good stuff was completed, they surrounded me on the couch and I read to them. Then we all read silently. The house was quiet, the air was thick with concentration, and I realized how much the girls enjoy one another and care about one another. I drank in the satisfaction of the experience of quietness together, that unique balance of privacy and togetherness we were sharing, and how it happens often because we have the time and freedom to build it into the structure of life together. And I thought, “They’re better off here.”

Then there’s me, and the question of purpose. I have certain gifts and abilities and desires. There’s no question that foremost among them, in these years that our children are growing up, is the desire to be available to the girls, and not to exhaust or divide my energies so that I’m emotionally absent to them. But I’ve been thinking about different possibilities for working outside the home, too… and wondering what all my calling involves, and when.

I pray about this a lot. But I’m truly not sure how to hear God’s answer. My usual method is to imagine myself in different situations, which reveals how I feel about this or that. But God speaks in a still, small voice, somewhere beneath the noise of my always-assertive emotions. I don’t want to be led by my emotions. I don’t want to be led by my reasonings — at least, not exclusively. I don’t want to be led by fear of the future, or awareness of need. I want to be led by God. Maybe it’s my perfectionism, and the desperate desire not to make a mistake. But maybe, just maybe, it’s that I do in fact trust him — trust him to have a better plan than I in my small-mindedness could come up with. An “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” kind of plan.

Somewhere, there is a balance between faith and feeling, between trusting God and using common sense. I’m not sure I’ve ever really been certain of finding that place of assurance. I’ve made lots of decisions, usually by assembling all of my emotions and reasoning and then, experimentally, knocking on a door. It’s easier for God to steer a moving ship than a becalmed one, after all.

But how is this any different from the way someone who doesn’t believe in God makes a decision?

True Community

I can’t say Jerry Bridges’ True Community bowled me over. It’s not that kind of book. But it did validate the hunger I feel for more depth of spiritual fellowship. It’s mainly a definitional book that explores the different aspects of the biblical concept of “koinonia,” by which Bridges means “sharing of a common life.” It involves more than the superficial socializing that can be had at church gatherings, and more than a feeling of being a dedicated member of an institution.

Bridges takes up a number of different aspects of community as exemplified in the Bible, including the fellowships of serving, suffering, and sharing possessions. Obviously it’s a challenging book because it goes beyond the institutional perspective that views the church in terms of its staff or its mission statement or its administrative practices.

There isn’t a lot of “how to” advice to be had in this book; it’s not a “strategic planning for small group ministry” book. It’s based on the assumption that where the Holy Spirit is present and active in the body of Christ, and where biblical teaching is understood, there will be results. “One of the marks of a truly good church or Christian group on a campus or a military base should be the warmth of its fellowship,” writes Bridges at one point.

I think that there is great emphasis on the preaching of the Word in evangelicalism, and this is important. I learned years ago, when I gave up on church for awhile and found myself making a series of very foolish decisions, that I need to be part of a church; it provides guardrails against self-deception. Theoretically, it also provides accountability.

But at this point I am coming to recognize that fellowship may be my number one need from the body of Christ. Without it, the facts and understandings gained from good teaching, or reading, or even from the Bible itself, pale into abstractions. We are made not just to exist in restored relationship with God, but to be connected with one another. That’s where truth is validated, and where, when my own experience seems to contradict what the word of God says, I can see it or be reminded of it in the love and the testimony of others. It’s one of the first things we learn in Genesis: “it is not good for humans to be alone.” God said that even when he was in perfect fellowship with Adam, before any disruption from sin. It resonates even more in the isolated and self-sufficient modern world we’ve created.

A good question

Does our mind spontaneously return to God when not intensely occupied, as the needle of the compass turns to the North Pole when removed from nearer magnetic sources? (Dallas Willard, quoted in Jerry Bridges’ True Community)

I read this question last night and thought it was worth considering. What someone does with their discretionary thinking time can be revealing indeed. I’m not really sure what my “home base” is, but I’ll be paying attention today.

An Altar in the World

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith is a beautifully written contemplation on the ways ordinary living can intersect with the divine. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about the everyday disciplines that become portals into God’s presence: paying attention, wearing skin, getting lost, encountering others, feeling pain. It was not surprising to discover late in the book that Brother Lawrence is one of Taylor’s spiritual mentors, because in one important way her perspective resembles his: no earthly activity is too humble to be a meeting place with God.

An Altar in the World is an eminently practical book. Each chapter proposes not a theory or teaching, but a practice. I liked this feeling of being anchored in the good world God made. Taylor writes poetically, and with a wit that reminded me a little of Anne Lamott without the shock value. Taylor is an Episcopal priest who left parish ministry to teach college, and though I come from a different theological background I found her to be a delightful guide — honest, wry, and at times profound.

I’ve quoted several passages from the book over the last few days. But I wanted to include another from the chapter on feeling pain, where Taylor discusses the book of Job. She comments,

One night of real pain is enough to strip away your illusions about how strong you are, how brave, how patient and faithful. Who would have thought that a torn cornea could hurt all the way down to the soles of your feet? Who would have imagined that a really bad case of food poisoning could make you doubt the mercy of God? You do not need a torturer standing over you to recognize the direct link between pain and truth. Pain is so real that less-real things like who you thought you were and how you meant to act vanish like drops of water flung on a hot stove. Your virtues can become as abstract as algebra, your beliefs as porous as clouds.

See what I mean? Over and over as I read, I felt the pull to buy the book (I read a library copy) just for the pleasure of owning words like that. The chapters on pain, Sabbath, paying attention, and wearing skin were favorites out of the dozen practices addressed.

The chapter on prayer didn’t resonate with me as well; I felt a little lost. I couldn’t really relate to Taylor’s reluctance to say that God answers prayer:

The meaning we give to what happens in our lives is our final, inviolable freedom. Only you can say whether God answered you. If you have any sense, you will ask someone with more experience than you to help you decide what the answer means, but even then the choice is yours. Are you still waiting for God to answer you, or is your life the answer you have been seeking, hiding in plain view?

While I would agree that God’s dialogue with us is personal — a fact that Jesus illustrates over and over in the gospels by answering other questions than the ones people are actually asking him — I don’t think it’s helpful to open up a question about whether he answers at all. Scripture seems pretty plain on that: he does. Even though we all struggle at times with what seems like his silence.

I also think that though Brother Lawrence was onto something in offering his activities and bodily life to God — we are to do “everything in word or deed as unto God” — there is also a verbal component to prayer that I certainly need. I get tired of it sometimes; it’s a burden to be always having to formulate words in prayer, and I will lapse into phases of wordless, rather vague meditation “in God’s presence.” But then I’ll wake up in the middle of the night some night — as happened recently — and realize, “I miss you, God.” It’s my words that somehow form a bridge, a meeting ground. They offer some terms in which God’s answers can be recognized, whether through insight or solution or event or transformed perspective. I need the mundane labor of words, and I need the commitment of words, in my relationship with God — even though temperamentally, I’m someone who seems always to be craving silence.

An Altar in the World engaged me on several levels and I found it deeply satisfying. It sends me back into my life with a heightened sense of its richness. It is full of altars, and full of purpose — something I know, but which seems more real after having read this.

From the Notebook: Joy

I received this notebook for Christmas. It’s a present from my husband and daughters. They know I love notebooks and journals, and I’ve been wanting a new one. Inside is an encouraging message about my writing, written by my husband.

Like so many bloggers, I think of myself as a writer. I even have one book to show for it. But my usual reflex when someone says, “You should write a book” is, “I have nothing to say.” Nevertheless, when my husband asks me, as he occasionally does, “What do you want to do?” my answer is, “Write.” I’m a verbalizer, a generator of words, a stalker of experiences the meaning of which can be spelled out and shaped into sentences.

So I’ve been writing a little in my new notebook. No perfectly formed book is leaping from my fevered brain. But I feel already that the writing is valuable, that it is an act of discovery. And what I’m discovering is how little joy I have in my life. It’s not because I am emotionally depressed. It’s because I am chronically distracted — distracted with a distraction I have actively pursued and zealously implemented in all sorts of ways. David Ulin and Nicholas Carr have both written about the way the Internet is changing the way we think, and making us less able to concentrate. But what they don’t really talk about is how very much that distraction is something we crave (or at least, I do). It’s not that our technology is doing to us something we didn’t expect. It’s performing exactly as we’ve created it to perform, and perpetrating on us exactly what we want. Or what we think we want. Until we realize it leaves us tired and unfulfilled.

For instance, blogging. For several years I’ve blogged, and I really enjoy it. It even has had the virtue of developing a discipline of regular writing. The problem is that it has become the only writing I do, and it is writing with some built-in limitations. I don’t get too personal in a blog post. I can’t go on for very long to develop an idea. Even at its most intellectual, it’s by nature a fairly superficial form of writing because of these limitations.

Writing in my notebook that no one else will ever read, I realize that in a way, blogging is a distraction from the things lurking under the surface that fascinate a writer and demand to be given shape and expression. My notebook writing goes a little deeper and has a different purpose than blog writing. It’s writing as exploration, writing as excavation, writing to generate more writing. Perhaps it’s writing as prayer, with God as the ultimate Muse. It can be that because it’s not written for anyone’s consumption. I’m realizing how much I’ve missed journalling. But it’s work. Writing longhand forces me to slow down. My handwriting doesn’t look as nice scrawled across the page as print does on a slick blog template with a few images thrown in. And always, in the back of my mind, is the little voice saying, “Maybe nothing will come of this. This writing has no audience. What’s the point?”

There is a point, Little Voice. I’m not sure what it is yet, but there is a point.

Another pleasure that easily tips into becoming a distraction is reading. There is not a thing wrong with reading, and I will always be a reader. But I reach for a book whenever I have a spare moment. It’s a way to keep my mind “busy.” After three years or so of reading about a book a week and churning out a book review for my blog, I feel glutted with books — books I’ve swallowed quickly and moved on to the next one without pausing for very long to reflect or process along the way. Rather than stopping to figure out how the books are being incorporated into my thinking (and most of them are becoming so incorporated, whether I notice or not), I’m moving on to the next one.

Why am I so bent on distraction?

Maybe it’s because joy, as I think of joy, comes through fully experiencing life, and the moment I turn away from the things I’ve instituted to keep me busy, I’m faced with a raft of things I don’t know how to deal with. I’m good with long-term goals. But working them out is usually much more mundane, and I have a hard time staying engaged in the mundane. Turning off the computer and picking up a pen, or turning to my mundane life for today, the first thing I feel is frustration and uncertainty. Why would I want to “fully experience” those? So much easier to turn to one of my distractions.

The reason I like to read John Eldredge from time to time is that he talks about the heart — the heart, which I’ve given to God, the seat of my deepest desires. It’s so easy to put it on the shelf. But God draws us along into his purposes for us through the desires of our hearts. I keep myself busy enough to ignore those desires, maybe because I figure they won’t be met or because I don’t know how to deal with them. But somehow, that’s where joy is: keeping the heart engaged in the impulses and disciplines of my mundane life.

Eldredge quotes C.S. Lewis, from “The Weight of Glory,” where Lewis says that the things

in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust them; it was not in them, it only came through them; and what came through them was longing. These things… are good images of what we desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself.

The challenge for me is to keep blogging and reading (neither of which I have any intention of quitting), and the other things I’ve used to distract and busify me, as mere “images,” and not “dumb idols.”

I thought too of this passage from George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons. He’s speaking of how God will not force his way into our hearts, but must be invited in:

The door must be opened by a willing hand, ere the foot of love will cross the threshold. He watches to see the door move from within. Every tempest is but an assault in the siege of love. The terror of God is but the other side of his love; it is love outside the house, that would be inside — love that knows the house is no house, only a place, until it enter — no home, but a tent, until the Eternal dwell there. Things must be cast out to make room for their souls — the eternal truths which in things find shape and show.

Somehow what he’s describing there sounds to me like joy. Here’s to the search for those eternal truths behind the things I have used to keep me busy.

Walking with God

John Eldredge is a needed voice. He writes about something that might seem obvious — how to walk with God daily. But lately, listening to others, I’ve realized that this is something many people don’t know how to do. They know how to have a “conversion experience.” They know how to go to church, how to sign up for activities there, and how to talk the talk. But how to listen to God’s voice in their everyday lives? Not so much.

That’s where John Eldredge comes in with Walking with God. He takes us through a year of his spiritual journal, essentially. He demonstrates what it means to seek God through the Bible, and through prayer, and through being willing to stop and listen at moments that we might be tempted to blow right by — moments of heartache, or heaviness, or decision in comparatively small matters.

I have to stop here for a moment, because it’s so easy to judge what “small matters” are. I remember a Bible prof speaking on God’s will once when I was in college. He wanted to make the point that it’s okay to use common sense about some things, and at one point he leaned into the mic and said emphatically, “God doesn’t care what color tie you wear!”

Point taken — sort of. The same issue came up recently in our parenting class at church, where some of us questioned whether the author of the book we were reading was over-spiritualizing when he stopped the family and suggested asking God whether they should go to Disney World.

But really, couldn’t everything we struggle with here in our mundane lives be considered trivial to the eternal mind? The truth is, I’ve prayed for some embarrassingly trivial things, and when God has answered it has communicated his love and involvement very compellingly. In other more “important” matters, he remains silent. So who am I to judge what’s important and what’s not important to God? He has his own scale of values, his own plan that he’s unfolding. And more to the point, who am I to judge what’s “trivial” for someone else? Walking with God brought me back to this issue and reminded me that seemingly small, quiet moments can be the most significant of all in determining the course of our lives.

I struggle, though, with Eldredge’s warfare emphasis. Many times he comes back to the need to pray against demonic activity. Scripture teaches that there are demons, and they are active in the world. But reading this, the dark spirits come off sounding more powerful than God. If Jesus has already won the war, why would we have to re-fight every day by praying the incredibly specific prayers Eldredge gives here — prayers that imply that Jesus will not protect us unless we give him specific instructions as to how and against what.

In II Peter, we’re told that “his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, according to our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” The battle is already won for those of us who are in Christ, and here Peter is telling us how to walk in that victory: through our knowledge of the truth. This is one of the things I loved about Spiritual Depression — its emphasis on the importance of knowing, and structuring our lives according to, Scripture. It’s not about going out and vanquishing demons by naming them and giving God instructions on how to fight them off. He’s already done that.

So much for my reservation about Walking with God (a reservation I also feel when I read Waking the Dead, another Eldredge book). But the basic model Eldredge provides is very useful and truthful. Eldredge has a realness, a grittiness, that carries a lot of credibility. He doesn’t sound churchy, or use evangelical-speak. He writes about real things that real people struggle with: runaway thought life, heart desires that we bury rather than trusting God with, the impulse to do life on our own. Dallas Willard writes that prayer is “talking to God about what we are doing together,” but it’s Eldredge who shows us what this looks like in an accessible way.