“So what is your book about?”
I have gotten that question more than once in recent days, people checking the menu and the price before sitting down to order. So, let me give you the recipe--in a couple of different versions.
Here is the “formal answer.” My book is a spiritual memoir, a slice of my life set in the context of a single “day” of my ministry. It begins before first light as I wake, dreaming of Jesus standing at the shore of my dreams and calling me back to land. I go on then to narrate and ponder the various dimensions of my life and work. Framed and intersected by three of the traditional services of daily prayer (morning, noon and night), I tell stories about my family and friends. I baptize babies and sit bedside church members as they die. I recount a few of my more obvious failures (and confess some that are not so obvious). And I bless God for the little rays of light that have come to me and, I pray, through me. In sum, I look at the movements of a day: the goings and comings, the separations and reunions, the chance encounters and happenings which, as John Baillie put it, are part of God’s “gracious plan for the education of my soul.” There are chapters on time with the family, study, counseling, teaching, visits, choir, returning home and making ready for bed. I pull back the curtain on my life in hopes that others can see themselves there (my friend Frederick Buechner says that we each of us look to find our own faces in others’ picture albums, that being the reason memoirs are the least bit interesting).
The informal, and in some ways truer answer is this: ten years before I came to Stanley I went through a profound crisis of faith and life. I had lost or was losing almost everything precious to me and found myself in a terrible wilderness of exile and despair. The weekly grace of a Christian gentleman named Bill Lovett, the monthly support of my long-suffering mother, the abiding hospitality of my saintly sister helped me keep body and soul together till I could heal, or begin to (the process continues). During that time I had to learn to pray, not as a public part of my job but in the deepest and most private parts of my soul. The book I have written is a chronicle of that process—of learning to pray, learning to examine all of my life and work by the sometimes scorching, sometimes soothing light of God’s presence. Hard to imagine, I guess, that a preacher had to learn to pray, but I did (or am beginning to: the process continues), and while this book is not a “how to,” it is a kind of “how I”: how I live and move and have my being in the One who ever calls me from my dreams and illusions to ever greater wakefulness, ever greater faithfulness, ever more (God, I pray) selfless service.
It is not always an easy read, this book of mine, though a friend wrote even today to tell me it was much more of a page-turner than she would have expected. My daughter said that reading it, she felt I was in the room with her. Another friend said to my wife, “It is so Tom.” Yes, for better or worse that really is me there, warts and all. And so I guess that is the best answer to the question. "What is the book about?" The book is about me. And God. Him, too.