Over the Thanksgiving holiday (thanks, Orbitz Worldwide, for TWO WHOLE DAYS OFF!) I read Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith. It is in the same genre as Rhoda Janzen’s recent book, mennonite in a little black dress, and Miriam Toews’ a complicated kindness.
Oh my goodness! I just realized that Miriam’s book has the title in all lower case, just like Rhoda’s. And their names are both in BLOCK CAPS. It must be the style.
Martha’s book is a memoir. She is an academic and a sociologist, a mystic and survivor of religious and sexual abuse. Like Miriam and Rhoda, she had a difficult father, someone who was rather too much in his head to be raising up children. Martha’s father, as she describes it, starting using her as an Abrahamic sacrifice when she was five years old. She describes the process of remembering being laid on the altar and terribly mistreated, and she describes how she confronted her father about it much later. Through much personal growth work she has learned to live with memories that nobody should have. What gets her through is a Leaves in the Stream philosophy, which is kind of Be Here Now. What keeps her alive and thriving is what looks to me like a mixture of:
- pluck and perserverance
- the love of God
- love from all kinds of friends, relatives and strangers
- pure grace
I have to confess that I skipped over some of the mystical experiences. It’s hard for me to read someone else’s experience of the ineffable. Sort of like listening to another person’s dream. In our household we have a stock phrase for that, spoken mockingly, which is what my dream analyst used to say to me almost every time, as I wrapped up yet another nocturnal epic involving crystals, angels, garden rakes, ice cream, dirt, flying saucers and trips to Paris: “That’s a very important dream.”
So yes, I failed to be caught up in the visions and illuminations which she describes, but I was fascinated by the inside look at Mormon life. For example, I learned that Mormons wear special underwear which is supposed to give them protection. I also learned that Mormons are very well organized to take care of own another, should that underwear protection fail. Martha paints a fair picture of a Mormon people whose theology, cosmology and ontology seem, to me, irretrievably misguided, but who nonetheless, by and large, are humans, with the ability to love and live together.