Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Unlikely Emergence of Faith

by Mary Karr

Mary Karr is just hilarious. I remember reading her memoir The Liar's Club several years ago and laughing out loud in a number of places. It is about her childhood, growing up in a nutty family in hardscrabble Texas. Her second memoir, Cherry, is about her young adult years and her participation in the drug scene of the 1970s. This latest one takes us through the painful days of her marriage, her battle with alcoholism, and her coming to faith in Christ in spite of herself.

Karr (who is also a poet - she might even call herself primarily a poet) has a remarkable way with words. He writing does not plod in the least, it just zips right along. However, you do not want to go too fast because you might miss some of the stunning images or insightful turns of phrase that pop up all over the book. In describing her withdrawal from alcohol, at one point she says that her skin felt like "sausage casing, with the flesh straining to pop out." Ouch. Karr is not afraid to laugh at herself, and she takes total responsibility for the mistakes that she made and the people whom she hurt when she was under the power of booze. Even when she acts like a brat, the reader wants better things for her. Her need for attention and reassurance is understandable, given the inconsistent way she was parented. Her dependence on alcohol likely had a genetic factor (both of her parents had substance abuse problems), but may also have been related to her feeling like a poser in the intellectual, literary world.

In any case, she was headed for a complete physical and mental meltdown (her marriage was already damaged beyond repair) when she finally began going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She had always thought that faith in some kind of Supreme Being (or "Higher Power" in AA parlance) was just a bunch of nonsense, and for a long time she was hung up on that acknowledgement of a Higher Power as part of her recovery. Over time, she developed relationships with other people in recovery and found people with whom she could talk frankly about her struggles with the whole concept of belief. She gradually moved from utter disbelief to wanting to believe to finally, deep within the recesses of her heart and spirit, surrendering to the truth that there is Someone who loves and cares for her and wants her to experience life in all its fullness. There is something really powerful about someone embracing faith and making the conscious decision to go through baptism as an adult.

Karr's writing is honest, funny, and moving all at the same time. She still wrestles with some of the doctrinal issues of Roman Catholicism - who among us does not struggle with the abstractness of doctrine at times? But she has grasped the concepts of living relationally with God and with family and friends. She has come to understand that dependence on God and dependence on each other are all part of the same package. She has received and unwrapped that package, and her life is better for it.

Thanks for sharing, Mary Karr. Blessings on your continued journey of faith.

Reverent Reader


At 9/11/10, 8:18 PM , Anonymous Susan K. Dwyer said...

Will pick this one up--- sounds like something I would enjoy. Still love this blog, and turn here all the time when I find myself in need of a new book.


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