Sunday, January 5, 2014

'Sensible Shoes' by Sharon Garlough Brown

Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey
Sharon Garlough Brown tells the moving story of four strangers as they embark together on a journey of spiritual formation: Hannah, a pastor who doesn't realize how exhausted she is. Meg, a widow and recent empty-nester who is haunted by her past. Mara, a woman who has experienced a lifetime of rejection and is now trying to navigate a difficult marriage. Charissa, a hard-working graduate student who wants to get things right. You?re invited to join these four women as they reluctantly arrive at a retreat center and find themselves drawn out of their separate stories of isolation and struggle and into a collective journey of spiritual practice, mutual support and personal revelation. Along the way, readers will be taken into a new understanding of key spiritual practices and find tangible support for the deeper life with God. 

If you were given a flyer from a local retreat centre inviting you to take a sacred journey and learn the unforced rhythms of grace, would you be tempted to take part? If you answer 'no', this book probably won't interest you. Otherwise, it's an invitation to a terrific virtual course, through the eyes and experiences of four very real and complex women. We're even given the worksheets to make use of too. Frequent flashbacks to the worlds of the characters' girlhoods and youth gradually reveal more and more secrets, keeping the story moving and vividly displaying when some of their vulnerabilities and fixed attitudes first formed.

Mara is a lady familiar with rejection, first from kids at school, later from her husband and boys who take her for granted. Though she comes across to others as a colourful, confident person, she's nothing of the sort deep down.

Charissa is a beautiful, intelligent, high-achiever who aims to be an English Professor. Her husband, John, dotes on her and does all the cooking. Yet she feels very uncomfortable in situations which she can't control, and can't help looking down on people who haven't reached her high standards by their self-effort.

Hannah is a burned-out pastor who is forced to take a long sabbatical, yet finds it impossible to rest because being a busy servant, responsible for everyone else, is her whole life. Her part of the story became my favourite. What a satisfying ending for her.

Meg was hardest for me to deal with, at the start, coming across as too mousy by far. Come on, woman, you're facing a series of workshops, not a firing squad! Yet as her story unraveled, she grew on me and I found myself loving and understanding her.

How different they all are, yet how easy to see parts of each of them inside myself. Having a school history like Mara's, I totally understand her not being able to shake off the wounds years later. Like Hannah, I know how easy it is to build a false identity around not wanting to let people down. I get some of Charissa's attitudes too, such as her impatience for unstructured brainstorming, and wanting to be told definite answers to the elusive questions. And after deploring Meg for awhile, I realised that her imagination is just like mine, only my intense fears are in different areas.

I was torn reading this book. Part of me wanted to slow down and ponder the revelations deeply, while the other part wanted to gallop on and find out what would happen, or be revealed, next. Luckily, returning to Katherine's virtual-class worksheets is easy to do.

This book was full of pithy quotes, and here are just a few.
Hannah - 'Busyness is my socially acceptable addiction.'
Charissa - 'I've spent years investing energy into keeping up appearances, wanting everyone to think I've got everything together. Dr Allen calls it "impression management"'
Mara's son, Jeremy - 'I had a mom who loved me. And that's a lot more than some kids get.'
Meg - '...her imagination had always seemed more a liability than a gift, the vehicle by which she reaced at breakneck speed to worst case scenarios. She had lived in thousands of potential realities over the years, most of which had never materialised.'
Nathan - 'When Laura walked away from our marriage into an affair, her sin was condemned publicly. But for years, my sin had been congratulated and affirmed. I was such a good and faithful servant.'
And finally, one lovely image for the book lovers among us. "Hannah had forgotten what a prolific book-marker Nathan was, and his margin notes were undressed windows into his mind and spirit."

4.5 stars

Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey available from Amazon


  1. Some great quotes there Paula. This book sounds really interesting.

  2. Hi Dale,
    Yes, I started it straight after the new year and found it perfect for that tie of year. The characters and their course were great.