catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 8 :: 2009.04.10 — 2009.04.24


Hard lessons

Grace.  Redemption amidst struggle.  God’s presence revealed in the hard places.  Grace common and not so common.   Gracious insights are not easily wrought, at least if they are not cheap, and they come best from a life lived aware of God’s good ways.  A fabulous memoirist and blogger extraordinaire, L.L. Barkat, released last year her collection of Bible reflections, based not only on her solid and sane reading and her articulate understanding of the Bible, but on her own troubled life.  Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places (IVP, $15) is much more than a typical “basic Christian growth” book of insight into discipleship—she tells with an artist’s eye the keen memories of her difficult childhood, her coming of age, her college and young adult years.  The second half of the book unfolds insights from her marriage and relationship with her multitude of stepparents and stepsiblings, narrating in gorgeous prose snapshots from her life, memories of her past as they come into God’s healing light, and moments of her on-going steps toward a sane lifestyle and faithful discipleship.

This glorious book is thoughtful without being laborious, literate without being self-conscious.  She has a great eye for details, and a luminous style that revels in God’s presence in the day-to-day.  She is drawing lessons from life, and is candid about her ups and downs.  And, has she had some!  Yet, God’s great grace in her life has kept her from bitterness and she has emerged as an obviously mature, wise and articulate citizen of God’s healing land.  I had to fight back tears last year on Good Friday and Holy Saturday as I sat with this, dropping the book to my knees as I looked to the heavens to whisper a thanks to God for her fine work, and Christ’s reign over the cast of characters on this stony road.  This story of unfolding grace is perfect for this time of year.

Yes, stones are the main metaphor here, as she steps on stones in the rivers of her youth, picks up smooth ones to cherish, visits caves and walls and works and reworks writerly memes and theological themes that have to do with the rocks, stones and stonewalls.  I really enjoyed her deft handling of these images, and, more importantly, learned much, and was reminded of even more, of how God’s grace works to bring healing and hope to a rough-hewn life.

Barkat loves Annie Dillard, and quotes other creative types (from Mako Fujimura’s essay in Comment magazine or Toni Morrison to a particularly powerful story from a Salvador Dali biography or the John Donne stuff in the play and film, Wit.)  She is delightfully fluent in solid Biblical scholarship, too, citing good authors—Lyland Ryken to Tremper Longman to Iain Provane. It isn’t too far off when Scot McKnight (on the back cover) likens her to Eugene Peterson.

Each of the 20 chapters of memoir/Bible study/story unfolds a particular theme—forgiveness, inclusion, doubt, humility, baptism, gratitude, to name a few.  They unfold increasingly, showing her growth and maturity, even though the book is technically not a biography.  Still, as she tells her story and opens up Scriptural insight, we come to see not only a life touched and graced by the Resurrected Christ, but we see just how tangible—solid as a stone—-God’s grace can be. There are discussion questions, too, making it ideal for a book club or small group.

This is a perfect book for Eastertide; it is real, hard, and yet, gently triumphant.  God is at work among His people, slowly, but surely. Stone Crossings chronicles this joyful, good, truth—graciously and helpfully.  

Visit the Stone Crossings web site where you can read an interview with Barkat, see some PR stuff, and listen to some chapters being read. 

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