It is in the very midst of our struggles and imperfections that Christ can be found
|It is in the very midst of our struggles and imperfections that Christ can be found. As Christ is found, it becomes evident that he does indeed right wrongs, heal wounds, and call the lost out from the shadows. In Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner recounts her difficult journey from Judaism to Christianity and, in fact, onward to a realization that Judaism and Christianity complement one another in many ways.
The journey outlined in this spiritual memoir essentially begins with learning the disciplines of prayer, ritual and study within the Jewish context. As Winner spends the bulk of her teenage years within the synagogue, the foundations of her future faith are laid. Growing up in Judaic communities within North Carolina and New York establishes a strong desire to solidify and confirm her personal beliefs. Winner officially converts to Orthodox Judaism during her first year at Columbia University in New York.
Perhaps the inevitable diversity within a secular university allows room for Winner to explore her spirituality. However, the network of people she is most actively involved with consists largely of fellow practicing Jews. Should she convert to the Christian faith in which she becomes increasingly interested throughout university, certain bonds and friendships may potentially be damaged beyond repair. This is a recurring theme underlying Winner’s journey. During many chapters, it seems that all has been lost in order for her to follow Christ. The final chapter sees part of her Jewish heritage regained to complement her relatively newfound faith.
England seems a fitting place in which Winner may officially convert to Christianity. Her experiences of communion are shaped around the culture in which she converts and, while emotionally detached from the experience for some time, the significance of the act is realized. The significance of Christ’s act on behalf of humankind is realized. Communion becomes central to Winner’s faith.
Winner’s baptism is a pivotal moment in her life. While her conversion to Christianity is indeed a process, her baptism marks her commitment to it. This is how my own conversion occurred. Although I may not have realized it at the time, my baptism marked my personal commitment to the process I had begun years earlier. Indeed, Winner’s conversion process began as early as high school, as Christianity began to peak her interest. While the initiation of the process may not be datable, the conclusion of it occurs only at physical death.
Important ground is broken in Winner’s Christian walk during Lent, some of which challenged me in my own life. The act of carrying a dust cross on her forehead may have seemed obligatory, but the fact is that Winner may have washed it off at any point throughout the day. However embarrassed she may have been, Winner demonstrates boldness in Christ on a secular college campus. This action caused me to ask myself these questions: “Is it my own lack of boldness that prevents me from enrolling at a secular institution? Am I at a Christian college because I’m afraid of the potential necessity for boldness in my faith?” These are questions I have yet to answer, and must take the time to ponder as a result of reading Girl Meets God.
Also during Lent, Winner discovers the reality of genuine fasting. To genuinely fast is to give something up that seems too important to give up. It may or may not be food. For Winner, it is books. While reading defines her life, it is God who should have the place of definition in each one of our lives. In my own life, I began to think about the things that may prevent God from defining me. It may be reading. It may be music. It may even be calculus. Whatever the case, Winner’s fast is pivotal in her walk with the Lord. It gives her more time to pray.
Time with which to pray leads to time with which to discover that prayer is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It can be quite difficult. This is one struggle Winner faces that I can relate to. At times, prayer seems like a foolish thing to do. It sometimes seems unfruitful and unnecessary. It is only past experiences with prayer that prompt me, oftentimes, to continue praying.
Inexpressible gratitude is something of Winner’s life with which I am familiar. As she discovers during Pentecost, a God-given tongue to obliterate the limits of the English language would be beneficial. She does not receive this experience because the expectation of it soon replaces the gratitude. However, I have been blessed with the gift of expressing my gratitude in other tongues when it becomes necessary. Without this, there have been times at which I may have burst. The realization of what Christ did for us, in its fullness, is overwhelming. He gave up absolutely everything. In light of this, our rightful response would be to give up everything for his sake. Yet we are faulty human beings and, in our gratitude, it becomes evident that we are incapable without his help.
While Winner is speaking with her friend Hannah, she makes a statement that causes me to stop, re-read, and reflect. “You know how we ask God in the Lord’s Prayer not to lead us into temptation? Well, I think He honours that best when we don’t go marching into temptation ourselves.” (68) This is a statement loaded with piercing truth. While we ask God to keep us from temptation and sin, it is necessary that we recognize and keep our end of the bargain. At times, I have ironically been tempted to give all this responsibility over to God.
In the midst of Winner’s ongoing battle with heritage, prayer, and sex, the grace and mercy of God becomes increasingly evident. As she struggles with her Jewish roots, God opens the door for her to realize the intertwining elements of Judaism and Christianity. He even directs her back to shul, where she has a revelation of his goodness. As she struggles with her prayer life and with sex, God offers her the comfort of confessing these things to a priest who tears her list of sins to pieces.
It is okay to be imperfect. It is okay to make mistakes. As I’ve learned from reading Lauren Winner’s spiritual memoir, the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ is sufficient and all-encompassing. Through the recounting of her own spiritual battles, Winner points the way to the truth, and consequent fulfillment, she has ultimately found in Christ.
Reading this memoir has been a stepping stone in my own spiritual journey. It has erased previously acquired ideas regarding Judaism and its relationship to Christianity. Whether originating from television, movies, books, or other sources, to read the story of Lauren Winner was to remove those preconceived notions and realize that Judaism and Christianity share many common factors.
When Winner states, “I want what they have” (60), I realized that this is the response Christianity as a whole should evoke. It is unfortunate that this is not often the case. However, a common element can be extracted from the global church – the noise presented by the human nature. It is this inner noise, this drive to please or gain, that prevents us from allowing God to break through and further the spiritual journey. “Maybe that is what the Holy Spirit does. Maybe He silences all the voices in our head that keep us from hearing God.” (233)
Spiritual journey, as Winner’s story illustrates, is an ongoing process. It is a process in which God continually calls the wayward soul closer to himself and to his likeness. In and out of seasons, God is always faithful to lead, guide, teach, and even challenge. Struggle is inevitable, and the Lord is so good that he even uses this factor of human life for our benefit and, ultimately, for his glory.
Winner, Lauren F. Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life. New York: Random House, 2002.