I want to give the highest commendation to Sharon Garlough Brown’s book, Sensible Shoes. First of all, we are blessed at our church to have a husband and wife pastoral team, both our pastors, and each do well in all pastoral work. Jack does a good share of the preaching, and Sharon the pastoral care, but actually they each do all the above. Sharon has what I’ve witnessed to be an unusual prayer ministry, both in leading us in prayers on Sunday morning, and in praying one and one with us after service. And she has a passion for knowing God and being known by God through what has often been called spiritual disciplines, practices that are ancient in the church, and which can help us become open to God and God’s working in our lives.
The book actually came from a group of women who have met at our church weekly for years now. And even the title is rooted in reality, as there is a real “Sensible Shoes” group. In fact though this book is fiction, it rings so true to life, that not only do the characters become as real as people we do know, but I easily identified with them, or identified them with people I have known. We see the journeys of a number of women, along with a man (or two) added.
We find a group of women whose individual stories are striking and interesting, but no more so than the stories that each one of us have. They struggle or are lost to some extent in one way or another. An array of issues as different, and interesting as each person themselves. One, Hannah, is a pastor who is buried in her work, and finds her identity in that, but is largely lost in understanding that she is loved and known just for who she is as a daughter of God through Jesus. Meg has suffered a lot from a rather mysterious (to her) troubled childhood which holds her mother in a denial which results in Meg not knowing the truth of what happened, has lost her devoted husband who died in an accident, and simply feels out of place and out of step with the world. Charissa has her act together all the way around. She is a perfectionist to the nth degree, who does quite well in everything she puts her hand to. That includes her Christianity. Mara is the one whose classmates always chose for games, only because she was the only one remaining. In fact she remembers vividly the time she was invited to a birthday party only to be told later that she couldn’t be included–maybe next time.
Interestingly, as the story would have it, we begin to look at each of these people because they end up coming together at a spiritual retreat center for a retreat. We enter into their inside worlds, and outside. We see them as they are, and begin to enter their world in such a way, that we long to see what happens next, and what will happen over time in each of their lives. In some ways I could identify with each of them, but especially so with one I think. It is interesting to meet them all, and then see how in halting, difficult, and really true to life ways, they change over time through God’s working.
Sharon introduces her readers to a number of spiritual practices, called disciplines, some of which I’ve had the privilege to participate in the past few years such as the labyrinth, lectio divina, praying the examen, praying with imagination, confession. The explanations of these practices directly and in the story are clear, concise and thus quite helpful, and all the more so as we see them come to life as the story of these real people unfolds.
It is wonderful in the end to see how God brings these people into a renewed fellowship with him, and within that brings them all together. There is a sense of community within this new living hope, the kind that God always brings about in Jesus. A community of joy and togetherness in the way of Jesus, which means a community not existing only for itself, but for the world.
As one who has the privilege of knowing the author, that only adds to my enthusiasm for the book, but the book stands well on its own. Sharon really lives out what she shares in the book. And the women in the story, though certainly women, ended up not detracting me from being able to identify with them from my male perspective. The book is not a book for women, but for the entire Body of Christ. And the book is not mere psychological ploy. It is rather the transformation that comes through Christ by the Spirit changing lives of people with issues like we all have.
Sharon is working on the second book of what I’ve heard is to be three books in this series. I look forward to the books to come. And I think someday, I hope I live to see it, her husband our other pastor, Jack–who went to Ohio State University with Hollywood film directing in mind, before the Lord intercepted him in grace, and called him to the ministry–that someday he will direct a film which I’m sure will be first rate, telling this excellent story. In the meantime I pray this book, and more to come will be to the blessing and transformation of many lives in and through Jesus.