Saturday, April 12, 2014

Digging deeply into "Found" by Micha Boyett

I first read passages from Micha Boyett's debut book Found: A Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer squashed onto an Ikea sectional with a dozen aspiring writers from our church.  Micha passed around a Word doc print out of words that are now tucked into the lovely folds of her completed, published book.  Another writer's group, when Micha signed with an agent, we celebrated with strawberries and champagne in plastic cups.  

When I received an advanced copy of the book I read it immediately -- in one sitting.  I was not disappointed. Not only did I discover that the best of what we'd imagined together for the book had been kept intact, but the words had grown into a lyrical, hospitable 343 pages of Micha's story.  

And not Micha's story only. Her story of gaining children and losing prayer is not a solo story, but a community story. This is one of my favorite elements of the memoir and where I believe Micha does her best work. 

I've watched the responses in Twitter, on Facebook, in blog reviews like mine and hear the echo of gratitude from other mothers.  "Yes.  This is how it is.  Thank you for sharing a way through."

I'm a mother, too.  I gave birth to my fourth child more than sixteen years ago.  I remember the intensity of discouragement, exhaustion, loneliness that Micha describes. Truth is, those feelings don't evaporate when the kids grow up.  Neither do I remember if anyone else was talking about these feelings in a way that embraced grace.  I didn't have the immediacy of social networking to gauge my own feelings of inadequacy.  

I did have my own mama.  My grandmother.  Other women in my church.  On any given day that provided comfort or condemnation, depending on the circumstance and my own state of mind.  I think Micha's strength is due not only to her own skill and passion as a writer and a woman who follows after Christ, but also in that she introduces us to a vibrant lineage of teachers who share with her -- and us, her readers -- wisdom, counsel and good humour.

I point this out because I hope it won't go unnoticed.  In one glance, the book is another published mama blogger befriending the rest of her demographic.  That would be only one small portion of goodness and would miss the layers of rich heritage -- from the West Texas dust-bowl heartiness of Boyett's great-grandmother all the way to the earnest Benedict himself whose teachings flourish into the 21st-century and teach a young mama to pray. 

"Prayer is not as hard as I make it out to be. Again and again, lift and unfold. Lay that line out, let it meander a little. Do it again. I am not profound. I am not brave in spirit. My faith is threadbare and self-consumed, but I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.(p. 227)"

I closed the book equal parts encouraged and gladdened -- with a dash of trouble in my spirit.  It took me a few weeks to understand how to describe the trouble until I connected a conversation I'd had with my seminarian husband about the roots of monastic living. He'd recently reminded me that the monastic orders were originally founded in response to the decline of persecution in the Church. Monastic rules for life provided spiritual disciplines that could be passed along through generations to help us stay connected to the Suffering Servant when our own suffering is a dim memory. 

In my mind, the discerning reader would dig into that richer layer Micha provides: a call to spiritual discipline for those of us raising children in one of the most affluent locations in human history.  Might the very hardship of parenting we discuss in our social media forums and parenting essays be a sub-cultural response to a relatively soft life?  

If my suspicion is true, then Micha wisely leads us toward the same response of Benedict: find freedom and community in the daily disciplines of work and prayer.  
"Saint Benedict wrote about stability for a reason: committed community leads to humility and humility leads to wisdom. A life of skipping from church to church and being hailed as a gifted "man of God" usually creates a heightened sense of one's own power. Power without community makes for carelessness. The culture of evangelistic revivals was often meanness disguised as eternal concern."
I don't mean to say that this book is only for parents.  In fact, I found myself resonating most deeply with a sub-context in the spiritual memoir -- that of moving from place to place.  Before that writer's group I first met Micha through her blog.  I met her just about the time she was posting the account found in the last pages of her book.  Arriving in Austin in the heat of summer, without neighbors or home, clinging to the life-giving, grace-filled prayer of gratitude. I moved to the same town the same month and the two of us -- previously unknown to each other -- landed in the same church family at the same time. I knew Micha first as a new person in a new community.
"I arrive at the recycling bins and pull the bags out of the stroller. "Mama Mac would've understood what to do with this heat," I explain to Brooksie. She'd shake her head at it, I think. She'd say it was the hottest summer she'd ever seen. She'd pray for rain for the dried-out cotton crops. and then she'd send the kids out in the heat to get the chores done. She'd work in that blazing sun: scrubbing clothes, tending the vegetable garden, feeding the cows. 
...Then I walk into the red-orange sky and feel a settling in me, a root easing down. (p. 342)"

Since the day our little writer's group workshopped one of Micha's chapters, she's moved again.  Taking with her the wisdom she's gleaned about holding her identity as a woman, writer, mother, wife, neighbor and friend lightly under the beams of grace that find her wherever she lives. Not alone, but taking us along -- this tribe of fellow grace-finders.  

We raise our plastic champagne glasses to you, Micha, and toast this good work.  Well done, friend.

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