Despite facing some recent (and valid) criticism, the spiritual memoir remains beloved among many people of faith, as it has been since St. Augustine first invented the genre. And while I’ve certainly encountered my fair share of mediocre memoirs through the years, when I think of the books that most influenced my faith, many are shelved in the spiritual memoir section of my library: Take This Bread by Sara Miles, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lit by Mary Karr. What makes a memoir worth reading isn’t so much the story the author tells, but how she tells it. Like good poetry, a good spiritual memoir excavates everyday life for beauty and truth, grabs the reader by the shoulders and says, “Pay attention! This is for you!”
To this genre, my friend Preston Yancey has added a delightful entry with Tables in the Wilderness, which releases today. At just 25, Preston really shouldn’t be allowed to write this wisely or skillfully, and yet over and over again he surprised me with his insight, talent, and brilliant integration of literary classics into his own story. (The “Suggested Reading” list at the end is worth the price of the book.) Tables in the Wilderness follows Preston through his college experience at Baylor University, so fans of Donald Miller’s early work will especially resonate as much of the story deals with school, relationships, and all the beauty and angst of finding one’s way in the Church these days.
To mark today’s release, Preston has shared with us an excerpt, as well as the opportunity for one reader to win an original painting made by Preston himself. (See details below.) I specifically asked Preston for this excerpt because it was these paragraphs—the first six of the book—what pulled me into the story. Enjoy!
by Preston Yancey
(excerpted from Tables in the Wilderness)
When you grow up evangelical in the South, you hear God speak all the time.
Over the mashed potatoes, under the watch of the calligraphic Scriptures on the walls, in Carl Kasell’s voice over the radio on your way to school. You invite God to coffee to study the Bible with you, and God sits beside you on the bus to church camp and laughs at all your jokes. You hear God that night on the jungle gym and that time you stood at the corner downtown with a sandwich in your hand wondering why you got up in the middle of the Ash Wednesday service and fled. And you keep hearing, years on end, even on thatSunday you sit in the parking lot of the small Episcopal church after the Baptist-based ministry you felt God call you to do has crumbled, and you are so vacant and so wavering that you tell God you’re done, you’re empty, and God tells you to walk into church.
But one September morning, when you least expect it, you’re sitting in a friend’s apartment after a belated celebration of your twenty-second birthday the night before — in which you read aloud a short story you wrote about lighthouses and champagne, after which your friend tells you you’re still in love with the girl you broke up with a year ago and you should call her, find out where things stand — and you’re reading the Gospel of Luke when you feel suddenly, keenly, that Christ the Lord is sitting beside you on the couch as you’re reading, his voice almost tangible.
“It’s going to be about trust with you.”
Eight words. Ten syllables.
Then he’s gone. And you stop hearing God speak altogether. It’s just you, the King James, and the Silence. And you think it might be the middle of something, or the end. Eventually, nearly a year later, you see it as a beginning. But the seeing takes time. For a little while, it’s just going to be you and the Silence…
Makes you want to read more, right?
The original painting Preston is giving away is entitled “Martha of Bethany” and is pictured below. (I have a companion piece entitled “Mary of Bethany” and it’s just beautiful.)
Here’s how you can enter to win: Leave a comment in the comment section that 1) names your favorite spiritual memoir, or 2) tells us what the first line of YOUR spiritual memoir would be, and I’ll randomly choose a winner from the entries. (Be sure to sign into DISQUS in such a way that I have access to your email address so I can contact you if you win and get your mailing address so Preston can send you the painting.) One comment per person, please!
Note: While I did receive a complimentary copy of this book for review, I was not paid by the publisher or author to review and feature it.