Monday, February 06, 2017

Crossing Myself (Greg Garrett) -- A Review

CROSSING MYSELF: A Story of Spiritual Rebirth. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2016. Xviii + 206 pages.

Spiritual memoirs are tricky things. Often, they move from dark places to places of enlightenment or salvation. Luke Augustine’s Confessions, the writer shares with us the path of discovery taken, with the hope that the story can help others find their way. With mention made of the Confessions, it’s clear that this kind of a story has a long pedigree. It can also be very effective. On the other hand, a reader might feel like a bit of a voyeur, reading details that can seem private and personal. Still, testimony like this can have a powerful effect on people, which is why the stories get told whether in a revival meeting or a memoir.


Greg Garrett’s book Crossing Myself is in many ways a conversion testimony, for it is the "story of spiritual rebirth." As with Augustine’s Confessions, Garrett’s story moves from darkness to light. It’s the story of a successful author and professor of English at a major private university. Despite what might seem on the surface as success, underneath that fa├žade was the reality of a life marked deep depression and spiritual doubt. The book begins with Garrett’s considered but unfulfilled attempt at suicide. He had definitely thought it out, making decisions that would end his life but allow for his family to be taken care of. Standing on the precipice (the curb) he couldn’t bring himself to take a step into traffic. The story takes place largely over a period of five years, beginning with the attempts at suicide and concluding with his finding a new lease on life. Being of Baptist origins, he can speak in terms of being “born again.” He It ends with a sense of being born again. Along the way, the movement from despair to hope involved a call to ministry in a tradition different from the one in which the author began life.

Greg Garrett is an author of both fiction and non-fiction. He's a professor of English at Baylor University. He's a graduate of Seminary of the Southwest, an Episcopal Seminary. Raised Baptist and employed by a Baptist university, his journey to health took him into the Episcopal Church, where he found a spiritual home and new lease on life. In fact, in his “Author’s Note” for the 2015 edition, he writes that the book is “about how The Episcopal Church saved my life” (p. xi). The book was written, according to the author, as an offer of hope to those who, like him, dealt with severe depression.

The book was originally published in 2005 by NavPress, an evangelical publisher. It's been republished with minor revisions by Morehouse Publishing, an imprint of the Episcopal Church's publishing arm. Garrett states up front that he hadn't made a lot of changes between first printing and this one, except that the change of publishers allowed him to be more expressive of his feelings.  Thus, he suggests that this edition is closer in many ways to what he originally wrote, with some improvements in style and grammar. That's an intriguing thing about the book. It was originally published by an Evangelical Publisher, likely because he was already publishing with them, and because Evangelical publishers like conversion stories. That this is! 

            The title, Crossing Myself, is taken in part from the growing habit within the Episcopal Tradition to cross oneself when praying. It may also have a connection to some concluding thoughts that speak of crossing a bridge to a new life and new sense of identity.

              This is the kind of book that's difficult to review. It's a personal story, and you don't want to be seen as critiquing a story, especially a spiritual testimony. Besides, you don't want to reveal to much about the nature of the story. So, without revealing too much, this is the story of a spiritual rebirth but also an emergence from deep depression. At points in the book, I felt overwhelmed by the lengthy descriptions of despair. Just when you thought you were moving on, Garrett returned to the depths. You will want to continue on, because hope does emerge. It emerges largely once Garrett finds a spiritual home in an Episcopal Church. It's there he finds himself and then a calling. 


I appreciate the story. There is joy in the end. But in some ways, there's something missing. While Garrett notes that every book is a snapshot of a particular time and place, and this is a book that largely takes him from the depths of 2000 to the heights of 2005, I would have appreciated an epilogue. When we end, he's still a seminarian, though ordination is on the horizon. Since then he's finished seminary, been ordained, and continues teaching at Baylor. An Epilogue might have allowed the reader to share the joy of new life in a fuller way. Obviously, Garrett didn't choose that path. He likely had a reason, but for this reader, that would have been helpful. 

So, if you're wanting to read a spiritual memoir that moves from darkness into light, this is a good place to go. If you’re experiencing depression, this might also be a word of hope. Garrett is a good writer. He’s an English professor who teaches writing, so you would expect some professionalism here. It’s thoughtful and theologically consistent. A worthy read then!


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