Saturday, May 16, 2015

'Travelogue of the Interior' by Karen Dabaghian

Most travel tales begin and end with the book in your hand. Not this one.

As Karen Dabaghian shares the adventure of her year in the Psalms, you’ll embark on an ancient journey for those hungry to know God more intimately.

The Psalms were the hymnbook of the Hebrews, Jesus, and the early church. Today, we tend to pluck a verse here and there for a word of encouragement, but we have lost the Psalms as a guidebook for spiritual formation.

You can rediscover the Psalms as a traveler. Explore the terrain where your interior life and the Word of God intersect. Begin speaking to God with raw honesty. Listen as God replies with personal, life-giving words.

Above all, discover at the feet of the poet-king how to “taste and see that the LORD is good.”

Some books are best read slowly and reflectively. This is one of them. Karen Dabaghian was invited by her pastor to attend a course he was running on David's Psalms. Participants were to study them along with the corresponding narrative in 1 and 2 Samuel, then write their own poems of lament and praise in response. She expected to feel out of her depth, but it turned out to be an amazing and enlightening time of personal growth.

Dabaghian is convincing in her appeal that we should all write poetry. She believes that if she can rise to the challenge, anyone can. She wishes poetry were not the 'exclusive domain of the intellectual elite', because this scares ordinary folk from believing that we too may capture the ebb and flow of our lives, if we only dare try. Each reflective chapter ends with a beautiful and heartfelt poem which almost does encourage me to have a go.

Here are just a few of her interesting musings inspired by the Psalms.

1) She ponders the chicken and egg conundrum with regards to faith and works; which comes first? We assume that God has a master plan which we need to figure out like clues in a mystery novel, but what if the process is actually more malleable, and our perspectives and desires shape God's heart, as well as the other way around?

2) She challenges us to consider our motives to be sure why we even want to worship God. Is it because He gives us good things, or simply because of who He is? And she looks at the problematic aspects of using exclusively male terminology when referring to God.

3) If joy is the sensation we have in the presence of God, then what if the term 'worship' simply covers the spontaneous things we do in response to this. It would follow that these will be way different for everyone.

4) She tackles what I think of as 'the big question' stemming from what seems to be taken as a given in many Christian books. What does the prolific phrase, 'God told me...' really even mean? Since people generally agree that it's not audible conversation, could our personal feelings be signposts along the way? They seemed to be springboards for David in his writing.

5) Then she gets into another 'big question' about sin. Could it be hardwired into our cells and tissues, making it impossible to ever completely squelch? I took notice because I'd just finished reading a science article which told me our selfish impulses are wired into the brain. But even if this is true, isn't it what the Gospel is all about? I have to say, it's refreshing to see a Christian author tackle the sacred cow of creationism versus evolutionism, making us wonder whether it's even worth arguing about.

There were personal lessons for me too. At first as I read, I got the impression that Karen might be the sort of person I hate to find myself stuck with in small groups. Just from random remarks she made, I pictured her as the type who monopolises sessions with questions and comments while others can't wedge a word in. There's usually at least one in every crowd. I might be totally wrong here, but my feelers were waving. Yet as I got used to her style, I came to love her depth, honesty and wisdom. Even as our methods of approach may be different we're pretty similar in many ways. Personal doubts about our own worth, depression and feelings of floundering may be common to all types of personalities, although we wouldn't believe it of others who appear to be going along just fine. I love the appreciative way she writes about her family and friends.

What are my favourite parts of this book?

Honest, probing quotes, such as, 'The only thing we could safely say when asked, "What would Jesus do?" is "Probably some option I'm not even considering at the moment."'

Overall, the beautiful, over-arching sense of God watching over our lives, not so that He can fix what is broken, but simply because He delights in us. Kudos to Karen Dabaghian for writing this, and I hope she has more to come.

Thanks to David C. Cook and Net Galley for my review copy.

4 stars


  1. Hi Paula, Karen Dabaghian here... I just have to tell you I seriously laughed out loud at the "there's one in every crowd" comment about dominating the conversation. You must be a prophet because I have totally struggled with that my whole life. Fortunately, less in the past few years as i think i just get older and less argumentative and get more from listening than talking. But that was so funny and kind of amazing you picked that up! Anyway, thanks for reading and for writing out your experience with my book. I love the ways you engaged with it -- its so encouraging! Cheers, Karen

    1. Hi Karen,
      I'm so glad you stopped by to comment, especially as I'd been toying with the idea of deleting that bit. It has nothing to do with the book's content after all, but I decided to leave it in anyway. I've often been more the opposite, and not dared to speak up. I really enjoyed reading your book. Somebody from David C Cook sent me an email asking if I'd like to read it, and I'm glad I accepted. Thanks for writing it, and for being a good sport :)
      Cheers, Paula

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